Carolina students bring sci-fi to life

With hours of hand-sewing and creative crafting, Carolina’s graduate costume production students are working their way onto a platform even bigger than the stage.

The Washington, D.C.-based Museum of Science Fiction was in its early developmental stages when subcommittee chair Steve Dreyer was tasked with finding precise costume replicas from famous science-fiction feature films and television shows. Dreyer and the museum found what they needed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“We want the best and we want experts in the field to develop these things,“ Dreyer said. “When I found the faculty at UNC and saw their qualifications and what they brought to it… it was a win-win.”

Assistant costume director at UNC-Chapel Hill Jennifer Guadagno said the University’s graduate students are seeing a benefit as well. UNC’s costume production students, in the Department of Dramatic Art in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences, were tasked with creating two replicas that will go into pop-up museum exhibits. Those replicas will eventually find a home in the brick-and-mortar museum in Washington, D.C.

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Graduate student Denise Chukhina

“Normally after a production the costumes go into storage,” Guadagno explained. “This is a wonderful opportunity to showcase the work and the level of skill that we produce here in our graduate students.”

First on the production line was a flight attendant suit from the film “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Graduate student Denise Chukhina handcrafted the replica with guidance from department instructors.

“I’d estimate this will be about a hundred hours of work,” said Chukhina.

Her process included mock-ups, cutting and stitching the actual fabric, and creating shoes from scratch. One new tool, however, proved to be a time machine of sorts: the Makerspace 3-D printing lab at the Kenan Science Library.

Instructor and costume crafts artisan Rachel Pollock said recreating the Pan-Am medallion on the flight attendant’s turban would have taken hours of tedious labor. But with the help of librarians at Makerspace, 3-D printers churned out the piece in a matter of minutes.

“I’m very excited that digital fabrication — 3-D printing — as another tool in the kit is something our students are learning about from the get-go,” said Pollock. “Here at Carolina we are figuring it out. We’re part of the ongoing research for applications of that technology to our art.”

Chukhina’s flight attendant suit is scheduled to go on display with other sci-fi artifacts and re-creations in August at a pop-up exhibit at Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia.

Students have more time to artfully fashion a stillsuit replica from the film “Dune.” That project is slated for completion in the summer of 2016.

“With the stillsuit, we will allow first-, second- and third-years to participate in whatever they can,” said Guadagno. “It allows first-years to foray into something they never had a chance to, and for the third-years to stretch a skill they’ve already learned in a new way.”

Story and video by Carly Swain, UNC Office of Communications and Pubic Affairs