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3D technology setting the stage for faster, more efficient theatre costume design

Posted at 3:14 PM, Nov 28, 2022

DENVER, Colo. — Costume-making for theater hasn’t changed much since electric sewing machines were invented more than 100 years ago. It’s a time-consuming and expensive process, but using existing technology for a new purpose could bring a whole new dimension to costume design.

“Traditionally, costumes are made by using paper and pencil and math. It's a very long, hands-on process,” said Alyssa Ridder, who is a lecturer on Costume Design and Technology at theMetropolitan State University of Denver.

Ridder has dedicated her career to costume design, but, oftentimes, her passion has come with a high price.

“Because as theater makers, we love what we do, we will stay those extra hours to make up the fact that we don't have enough time, labor or energy to create the thing that we need to make. It's kind of it's a toxic environment, but we all kind of accept that,” said Ridder.

Now, Ridder has realized she and her team no longer have to accept that environment. Ridder is pioneering one of the first costume design programs in the nation, putting technology center stage.

“There were entire productions that I would not have been able to do if I hadn't integrated this program immediately,” said Ridder.

The program, CLO3D allows her to create designs that are then projected onto fabric to create a three-dimensional outfit she can cut out and sew together.

“That cuts down on the entire process of taking the paper pattern, cutting it out of a cheap fabric called muslin, bringing in the performer for a fitting, putting it on the performer, taking small, sometimes minute alterations, sometimes big alterations, and then doing it again,” said Ridder.

Ridder said a corset she sewed, made the usual way, would take her 40 hours. Incorporating technology cuts her production time in half, with little to no need for alterations.

Ridder’s partner at the MSU costume shop, Connor Sullivan, is also embracing 3D technology by making theatre costume accessories with a 3D printer.

Sullivan said 3D printing saves time making jewelry, masks, buttons and custom accessories for a fraction of the cost.

“You can get a pretty high-quality 3D printer for under $200,” said Sullivan. “So, it really can be accessible for even public middle schools, high schools, things like that.”

Accessibility for schools and small theatre programs across the country is something both Ridder and Sullivan hope to show in their work and teaching at MSU Denver.

They’re working to show their students and others in the industry that this technology, used widely across theatres large and small, will open the stage doors to more people and help programs with a tight budget and small staff survive.

“It feels like there's a lot of potential to help everyone in the industry, and so it feels good,” said Sullivan.

“You're making theater in some ways, like more accessible,” said Ridder. “This type of technology just allows us to actually be able to do our jobs, meet our deadlines, and then go home to our families.”

If you’d like more information on MSU Denver’s design programs, click HERE.