Hol­ly­wood cos­tume con­cept de­signer Dar­rell Warner

The cos­tume con­cept il­lus­tra­tor be­hind some of Tin­sel­town’s great­est block­busters doesn’t re­side in the Hol­ly­wood Hills, but in a lake­side stu­dio near South Cer­ney. Can­dia Mck­o­r­mack went along to find out more

Cotswold Life - - CONTENTS - Find out more about Dar­rell Warner’s work by vis­it­ing www.dar­rell­warner.co.uk Dar­rell ac­cepts both por­trait and equine com­mis­sions. Call him on 07881 877854 or email d.warner123@icloud. com to dis­cuss your re­quire­ments.

This Som­er­set boy done good.

One day you’re a hard­work­ing art stu­dent, beaver­ing away and hon­ing your skills at col­lege in Fal­mouth, then 20 years later you find your­self cre­at­ing the cos­tume con­cept art that be­comes the iconic look for Johnny Depp’s best-known role as Cap­tain Jack Spar­row. And then of course there’s Won­der Woman, King Arthur, Doc­tor Strange, Malef­i­cent and The Lone Ranger.

I think we prob­a­bly need to back-track a lit­tle, so a cuppa lake­side at Dar­rell Warner’s South Cer­ney stu­dio is in order…

“Even as a stu­dent I was work­ing,” he says in his charm­ingly soft-spo­ken man­ner. “I’d been do­ing some ed­i­to­rial stuff for Time Life mag­a­zine, and this guy saw the qual­ity of work and ap­proached a group of us say­ing ‘I’m think­ing of set­ting up a stu­dio; would you all be in­ter­ested in com­ing in as a group?’”

It was 1984 and Dar­rell was think­ing of the strug­gles he may have to en­dure set­ting up as a por­trait artist and try­ing to make a liv­ing at it, and so nat­u­rally he made the de­ci­sion to get on­board. To the young artist, it seemed the per­fect sce­nario as it would take some of the pres­sure off be­ing an art grad­u­ate with no solid prospects of long-term work. Also, as he didn’t want to fol­low the well-trod­den con­ven­tional course of get­ting an agent and seek­ing his for­tunes on Lon­don’s ‘streets of gold’, he de­cided to go for it.

At the time a com­pany called Li­no­lite was leav­ing its Malmes­bury premises, and so

Dar­rell et al bit the bul­let and de­cided to take on a mort­gage and set up in busi­ness. Al­though it was a town­house, it was per­fectly set up for their needs.

The fledg­ling busi­ness was in­cred­i­bly suc­cess­ful and con­cen­trated on the M4 cor­ri­dor, get­ting work sent their way through ad agen­cies. “We were all self-em­ployed, and ob­vi­ously there was a lit­tle bit of hi­er­ar­chy in terms of who was bet­ter at cer­tain things.”

In 1986 Dar­rell found him­self pro­duc­ing an enor­mous print for Ford Europe cel­e­brat­ing 75 years of their deal­er­ships in the UK, start­ing with a por­trait of Henry Ford at the top, then all their ma­jor land­mark achieve­ments up to 1986, when they launched their new Ford Gre­nada. “It took me three months to do and was a bit of a bap­tism of fire,” he says. “It was pure illustration, be­ing a paint­ing, but also it had to be de­scrip­tive and went on to sell as a lim­ited-edi­tion print. This be­came the start of ten years of work in that genre for Ford, and so I guess I cut my teeth in the com­mer­cial world of Ford.

“As a stu­dent, my first job for Time Life was £75, which I was amazed at… and then my sec­ond job was £1,500!” Imag­ine, if you will, be­ing a stu­dent in 1984 when a job of that cal­i­bre comes out of the blue from Win­can­ton Trans­port. Prob­a­bly un­heard of now.

The Malmes­bury stu­dio ran from 1985 to about 1992 when, be­cause of the amount of work they had com­ing in, they had to em­ploy other il­lus­tra­tors. “We be­came man­agers, which I loathed,” says Dar­rell, “and, in­vari­ably, things started to fray around the edges and even­tu­ally fell apart. It wasn’t quite as much fun, I guess.”

As com­put­ers be­gan to play a big­ger part in de­sign in the 1990s, Dar­rell re­alised that he didn’t want to be part of that world, as his work was “very fig­u­ra­tive, with a painterly style. It felt like the rug was be­ing pulled from un­der my feet, and I thought where on earth do I go from here?”

At this point he de­cided that, al­though he would re­main as an il­lus­tra­tor on the com­pany’s books, he would go it alone. “On re­flec­tion, though, it was a fan­tas­tic ap­pren­tice­ship,” he ac­knowl­edges, “most stu­dents don’t think they’ll be able to make their liv­ing as we did. So, my ad­vice would be to them now, if some­one de­cides to take you un­der their wing I’d say go and do it as it gives you an in­sight into the busi­ness, from pro­duc­ing the art­work to deal­ing with us­age and copy­right.”

Right from the be­gin­ning, though, Dar­rell de­cided he would do things his way.

“I’ve al­ways very much wanted to be in con­trol of my own destiny. I re­mem­ber in the sum­mer of 1997 go­ing to all the top artists’ agents in Lon­don. They were all very im­pressed with the work, but then there was one guy who said ‘Yeah, yeah, your stuff is re­ally good, but you don’t spe­cialise’. When I asked him what he meant he said – and I’ve al­ways hated this phrase – ‘the cream just rises to the top’.” Dar­rell was de­ter­mined not to be pi­geon­holed, though, en­joy­ing the var­i­ous as­pects of what he did and want­ing the va­ri­ety and chal­lenges it pre­sented. “It was a cathar­tic mo­ment and I de­cided there and then that I re­ally didn’t need an agent and that I was go­ing to do things my way.”

And you can see this in Dar­rell’s work now. Al­though he has built up an in­cred­i­bly suc­cess­ful ca­reer as a cos­tume con­cept il­lus­tra­tor for many of our block­buster movies, he is also a tal­ented, in­de­pen­dent fine artist, pro­duc­ing both equine art and as­ton­ish­ingly sen­si­tive por­traits, such as his wa­ter­colour of sculp­tor Ian Rank-broadley.

One of the many high­lights of Dar­rell’s ca­reer was win­ning the ‘Best in Show’ award at the So­ci­ety of Eques­trian Artists in 2013 for his wa­ter­colour por­trait of a beau­ti­ful bay

‘Cos­tume con­cept illustration is very much about push­ing the bound­aries of what’s pos­si­ble’

called Car­los. Be­ing su­per­sti­tious, how­ever, the woman who com­mis­sioned the paint­ing didn’t want it done un­til af­ter the horse’s death, and so Dar­rell had a call when it be­came ev­i­dent he was reach­ing the end of his life. He went out to meet the horse and take ref­er­ence pic­tures, and the re­sul­tant paint­ing cap­tures the spirit of the an­i­mal that Dar­rell came to know. An emo­tional and soli­tary ex­pe­ri­ence, and a very dif­fer­ent process to that which he ex­pe­ri­ences in the world of film.

“In the cos­tume world you come to­gether as a group on a film – I’m loosely termed as part of the de­sign team – and you work to­gether with that team on a num­ber of projects. The great thing is that when you go your own ways at the end of the project, they take your name with them and you get rec­om­mended to an­other de­signer, or as­sis­tant, or su­per­vi­sor.”

Work­ing as a cog in an enor­mous, mul­ti­mil­lion dol­lar ma­chine, though, does it mean you can’t be too pre­cious about what you pro­duce, I won­der?

“Yes, I churn out loads and loads of draw­ings,” he says. “My stan­dard day is do­ing lots and lots of con­cep­tual pro­files of char­ac­ters and their cos­tumes for film.”

But it must surely be a chal­lenge for any cre­ative, I per­sist, and there must be times when per­son­al­i­ties and art styles clash?

“Ev­ery­one has their own way of work­ing,” he says. “There’s a de­signer called Penny Rose who works on the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and I’ve done all of them with her. I’ve known her 20 years – she ac­tu­ally got me into film – and I’m full of ad­mi­ra­tion for her work.”

Part of Dar­rell’s job de­scrip­tion is to find a so­lu­tion to a prob­lem. Un­der­stand­ing how cos­tume works, how leather­work­ers and ar­mour­ers do what they do, and li­ais­ing with them is an in­te­gral part of a cos­tume con­cept il­lus­tra­tor’s role. As an ex­am­ple, he cites the work­ing re­la­tion­ship he has with Alexan­dra Byrne, who works on the Marvel films and won an Os­car for her cos­tume de­signs on the film El­iz­a­beth: The Golden Age. “She has a very dif­fer­ent ap­proach and says ‘OK, Dar­rell, this is what I’ve done, this is the stuff I’ve re­searched, here’s the set of char­ac­ters, there are all your ref­er­ences, now go and have a play’. She recog­nises that I’m there on my merit, and that’s great as I then want to de­liver much more than she’s ex­pect­ing of me. “Cos­tume con­cept illustration is very much about push­ing the bound­aries of what’s pos­si­ble with the ma­te­ri­als, what we can make of the char­ac­ter, and will that make the char­ac­ter? Some de­sign­ers are per­haps more stylists, oth­ers are more de­sign-led and oth­ers still are more fash­ion-led… and some are com­pletely bonkers! You very much have to try to get on to their way of think­ing.” I re­alise at this point I’m prob­a­bly look­ing slightly non­plussed, and ad­mit to Dar­rell that this is a big, won­der­ful, ex­otic world which I’m com­pletely un­fa­mil­iar with. “Cos­tume is all purely me­chan­ics,” he says mod­estly. It may be me­chan­ics, but it takes an artist’s eye such as his to breathe beauty into it.

Black­beard from Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Cos­tume wa­ter­colour. ©Dis­ney Stu­dios

Above: Ian Rank-broadley, Bri­tish sculp­tor. Wa­ter­colour by Dar­rell Warner

Above: Dar­rell Warner in his stu­dio

Jack Spar­row from Pirates of the Caribbean. Cos­tume wa­ter­colour by Dar­rell Warner. ©Dis­ney Stu­dios

Above: Dar­rell’s award-win­ning por­trait of Car­los Be­low: Peter Quill from Guardians of the Galaxy. Cos­tume wa­ter­colour by Dar­rell Warner. ©Marvel Stu­dios

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