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Designing for Doctor Who

June Hudson

June Hudson reviews work from students in the May Term course, "Designing for Doctor Who."

June Hudson is a natural teacher. When the former BBC costume designer describes her 2014 May Term course at the University—“Designing for Doctor Who”—she frames the conversation in the lessons she wants her students to learn.

Lesson 1: Inspiration is everywhere.

Hudson teaches her students that inspiration doesn’t come out of mid-air. “You have to research it, to look for it—in photographs and magazines and in museums. You can find it anywhere, and everywhere.”

Noted for her work on the science fiction series “Doctor Who,” Hudson shared this and other experience-based lessons in the course she co-taught with Dr. Piers Britton, University of Redlands professor of visual and media studies.

“The skills that we teach have a wide application,” Britton said. “To be a costume designer, you don’t have to be a brilliant draftsman. You do have to be an effective communicator, who works to be persuasive rather than adversarial in dealings with the director, the producers, and so on. You need to be able to manage a budget, be meticulous in your research, and find an array of ways to communicate your ideas and vision. If students have learned some of these practical, aesthetic and interpersonal skills in our class, we have done our work.”

Each student was required to create a portfolio of costume designs for one of two “Doctor Who” screenplays—“Nevermore” or “Human Resources.” The portfolios were reviewed by Hudson and Britton, student peers, and guests at a reception to honor Hudson.

Lesson 2: This isn’t fashion designing.

“This is designing for drama and that is a very different thing,” Hudson said. “You are designing for an individual playing a part—their shapes, their needs.”

Hudson shares with students her techniques of using matte poster paint to begin, then adding texture, shadow and other effects with crayon and pastel.

“Students are amazed at how the crayon and pastel can bring the drawing alive.”

The course began in 2006. Britton met Hudson many years previous while researching the book he co-wrote with Simon Barker, “Reading Between Designs.”

“One of our aims for that book was to work against the longstanding cliché that "Doctor Who," a relatively low-budget BBC production, was characterized by “wobbly sets” and “cardboard monsters.” Contrary to this stereotype, the show featured some spectacularly rich, inventive and evocative design imagery, and some of the most fascinating and inspiring costume work was done by June, who was principal costume designer on the show from 1979 to 1981,” Britton said.

Years later, Britton mentioned Hudson to a University administrator who suggested he invite Hudson to co-teach a May Term course. Hudson and Britton have taught the course six times.

Lesson 3: Help the actor toward the realization of their character.

“An actor has to face the camera, and a design has to give them all of the confidence they can have through the costume. You have to develop and use your judgment to make them look their very best in the role they are playing,” Hudson said.

She teaches students to read the script, be able to read between the lines and understand the script, then talk to the director before designing.

“Then we teach the students how to present their ideas as a costume designer to the director.”

Students also presented their work to University President Ralph Kuncl during a class visit, where he met Hudson.

"Few people could, on first meeting, be as gracious and charming as June Hudson—sweet, kind, affectionate, caring of others, and deep in both thought and emotion. But more than anything else, she is a great and wise teacher about how to deal with colleagues.

“In her wonderful way of weaving together stories from her personal experiences with actors who have immense egos, she taught memorable lessons about how to use persuasion, rather than cajoling or suggesting or directing. With admiring sincerity, a smile, and only a little guile, she had persuaded a star actor who only ever wore cream colors to be costumed in a dashing red suit because of the way it would enhance him and make him stand out from all the other actors. I wanted to go out and buy a red suit!" Kuncl said.

Lesson 4: Don’t overspend.

“And if you do, make sure it is going to win an Oscar, or some kind of award similar.”

Hudson said this was advice she received after a lesson she learned the hard way in her early years. A producer asked her to create an additional monster costume but she didn’t realize she had to request additional funding for it.

During the course, students spend a day in the Los Angeles Garment District, where they hopefully get inspired by the fabrics, Hudson said, and get an understanding of textile costs. The students must include an estimated budget for realization of their designs with their final portfolio.

“In the consideration of many things, cost is among them, and we designers can’t always get what we want,” Hudson said, grinning.

Haley Keim ’10 said once she stepped on campus at the University, she knew it was a school that could change her life. She credits Hudson for igniting much of that life change. Keim took the May Term course three times, and integrated it with her independent study.

“What I got was a wonderfully challenging and inspiring four-week intensive course, an introduction to one of the most incredible women I will ever meet, June Hudson, and the illumination of the career path that I would take post-college,” Keim said.

Though most students in the course take costume design, Keim opted for production design. “It was a wonderful opportunity to design the world that June's costumes would inhabit, and it introduced me to the challenges of art direction for the screen.”

Her work in the course led to being mentored by production designer Carey Meyer, which opened the door to an internship in the film industry. Now Keim works as a full-time graphic designer for film and television.

Hudson said 2014 was her last year to teach at Redlands. She reflected that she was concerned when she left the BBC that she might never feel the same excitement and satisfaction as she did there. “But I did, when I started the classes—discovering bright young talent and the treasures that come out, ones that might not have had they not taken the class.”

Posted: August 12, 2014
Written by: Jennifer Dobbs


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