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Archive for the tag “Costume Design”

UNC School of the Arts

UNC School of the Arts (visited 3/17/17)

UNCSA statues 2This is a really impressive school! I walked away ready to gush over it to students looking to go into the arts. Although there was not an information session, per se, they did show us the school’s “Awe and Wonder” video before taking us out on tour; it’s worth a watch.

This is UNC institution, but the admissions rep told me that they are not bound by the 18% out-of-state rule, and in fact, they pull almost half of their student body from outside North Carolina. Although run very much as a conservatory, students do need to complete liberal arts coursework, usually 1-2 classes per semester. “Our liberal arts classes are usually in the morning. By noon, we’ve moved onto our major classes and are there well into the evening,” said the tour guide. He has design classes for set-building that run until 11pm twice a week.

UNCSA display 3

Some of the student-made costumes

There are 5 main areas of study:


  • Dance: modern ballet or contemporary dance
  • Music: Composition or Performance
  • Design and Production: This has the most options within the division, including Scene Design, Stage Properties, Stage Management, Wig & Makeup Design, Sound Design, Scenic Technology, Lighting, and Costume Design & Technology
    • UNCSA lighting specs

      lighting specs for a current production

      They go through all the rotations as freshmen to understand what all the different areas do and are more able to work together since none of this exists in a vacuum.

    • In the 2nd year, they choose a concentration
    • They have a prosthetics studio!
    • This is the only school with a Wig and Makeup Design specialty
    • Costume Design and Costume Tech are 2 different things:
      • Design creates the 2D conceptual drawings and do the initial creative work.
      • Tech takes the Designers’ drawings and create the pattern, take actors’ measurements, and then create the actual physical costume. They need to understand how fabrics work. “They’re kind of like engineers.”
      • They do have a Dance Costume class to give students a sense of what this entails, but most students do not specialize in this.
      • They usually bring in 6-9 students a year (out of about a dozen accepted).
    • UNCSA display 2

      Wigs, Prosthetics, and props for past productions

      Drama: acting or directing

      • The 3 main theaters on campus serve as production spaces as well as classrooms.
      • The Thrust Theater has a turntable on it
      • The Black Bock is huge and everything is movable. There’s a tension grid for the techs which can be walked on. This will be updated soon. “It was state-of-the-art 8 years ago, but technology changes.”
    • Filmmaking: Screenwriting, Animation, Cinematography, Directing, Producing, Production Design & Special Effects, and Picture Editing & Sound Design
      • There are soundstages on campus, but students are also allowed to film within 20-25 miles of campus. “Those trucks over there will get loaded up on the weekends and off they go.”
UNCSA soundstage

One of the sound stages

Facilities are outstanding; we walked through sound stages, prop rooms, design workshops, theaters, costume making workshops with literally walls of fabric, and “Narnia,” a warehouse of costumes stacked 2-racks high. In prop rooms, our tour guide said, “We have lots of connections: different places will lend us equipment or even donate their old stuff.”

Although there are only about 1000 students on campus, they manage to put on 1000+ events annually. “We don’t have sports because we don’t have time,” said the tour guide.

UNCSA set design

Set and prop design

UNCSA is the only conservatory-focused school on Money Magazine’s list of more than 700 schools, and is the #1 school in NC. Program standards are high. Students are creative as well as having a business focus; they think about budgets and schedules. They make things happen. “That’s imperative in this world,” said the sophomore Design and Production major who was leading the tour. This pays off with 96% of graduates having a job in their field within 6 months of graduation.

UNCSA posters

Some of the student productions on campus

According to the Awe and Wonder video, “Top professionals in their fields come here to teach by doing. Students are ready to go into the workforce.” During our tour, we got to talk to 2 students concentrating in Wig and Makeup Design who were working in one of the labs. They couldn’t say enough about the program or the faculty. I asked how many of the professors were still working in the field. “All of them. I’m pretty sure it’s a school requirement that they’re active. A lot of them come in a few days a week to teach because they’re still working.”

UNCSA display 4

A miniature set-design done before the full-size was created

“I really love the faculty. They’re willing to work with us and let us try things out. The attitude is ‘Let’s figure it out and make it happen!’” said the tour guide.

Masters Classes are held regularly. Producers, directors, and lots of other people come in to run these. “There’s even one on how to live in New York!” The students said that these are great ways to start making connections with people in the industry. They’ve lead to internships and shadowing opportunities. Students are always out working and getting experience whether its with a local festival or in LA, NYC, or another major area.

UNCSA dorms 2


There are a variety of dorm options from traditional to apartments, but “many students move off” after the 2-year residency requirement. There are plenty of rental places in town. Cars are allowed and parking is decent. Shuttles run periodically to the mall and to downtown. Food “is a 7. It’s nourishment, but there are some options around.”

UNCSA 4Admissions requires a portfolio, and interview, and/or a audition. Often students will sit with faculty in their intended area to talk through their preparation and what they hope to do/their trajectory. This helps them make sure they’re in the right program and lets people counsel out students who might do better at a different type of institution (like a comprehensive school). “This is not a fit for everyone!”

“If you’re a loner, think you can do it all on your own, or are arrogant, you won’t make it here. That being said, you don’t have to fit into a mold. There are lots of quirky people here and that’s cool! We all get along.”

© 2017

FIDM: Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising

FIDM balcony

The balcony off the library on the top floor of the building.


I knew nothing of FIDM before going on the Counselor Tour in San Francisco; once I knew we were going, I looked it up online. Because it is so specialized, a proprietary institution, and primarily a two-year college, I probably would have skipped the visit if I on my own, but I’m glad I saw it.

FIDM has four campuses: the primary campus in Los Angeles hosts about 4,000 students. The San Francisco campus has the next highest number of students, usually around 1,000. The Orange County and San Diego campuses have 300-500 students each. Students do not need to stay at the campus at which they begin; enrollment is flexible between all of them, and almost all majors are offered at all the campuses. LA is the only campus with dorms; it is also the most popular for majors such as Costume Design because of the access to the entertainment industry.

The San Francisco campus occupies floors 5 through 8 of a building downtown. A security officer in the lobby was checking Student IDs and checked all of the counselors off of a list of expected visitors before allowing us to proceed up the elevator. On each of the floors (except the top floor which is taken up by the library), the walls are covered with displays from students to showcase work from all the majors from fashion design to interior design.

Even during the summer, students were in classes, in the library, and in and out of the building. Because they’re on the quarter system, this is not unusual; in fact, they even encourage first year students to start in July rather than wait until October. If they go straight through, they can complete their degree in 18 months. Most of the degrees are AAs, but they do offer one BA in Business Management for students who want to add to their credentials; this is only open to students who completed an AA at FIDM (even if they leave to work for awhile, they are welcome to come back later for the BA). There is an advanced certificate program in 4 areas offered on a competitive basis. 10-15 students are selected for each of the 4 areas from all the FIDM students across the 4 campuses. Regardless of major, students get a great deal of hands-on experience both at the school and in internships. Job placement rate is high; the alum network is strong, and the school hosts several job fairs a year. However, graduation rate is only about 59%. A large portion of this, however, stems from students deciding that they really don’t want to be in the program and that the major they selected wasn’t for them. They are addressing this through changing their application and admission procedures.

The application and interview process is extensive. They are committed to admitting people who really want to be there and understand the specific nature of their degrees. For out-of-state students, they should apply directly to the campus they want to attend; there are virtual tours online to help students see what is offered at each location. The students then complete a phone or skype interview that takes up to 1.5-2 hours to determine if they should even apply to the school. They also complete a career survey to help them focus on the major. Because the majors are specialized, they need to declare a major coming in. (They can change majors, but they’ll most likely spend additional quarters at the school to finish.) Once students move into the application phase, they need to submit the application, transcript (students tend to be very strong in art and humanities), 3 recommendations, 2 essays, and a portfolio – however, if they don’t have a pre-created portfolio, they can complete one specifically for FIDM. They call this the “Entrance Portfolio Project” and prompts are given in the application. Acceptance rate is about 65%.

The admissions people were up-front about this being a proprietary institution. One of the big differences between this and some other for-profits is that this is accredited for academics and for the design programs. Classes can be transferred, although if a student decides to go to a more traditional college or university, it might be harder to transfer the design classes. However, students do have distribution requirements such as history, English, and science – but much of it can be geared more towards the students’ majors such as “History of fashion in the US” or “The science of textiles.” Another difference with FIDM is that it is privately held and not on the stock market, so business decisions are not made with shareholders in mind.

(c) 2012

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