We had the pleasure of virtually sitting down with Gina DeDomenico, a costume concept artist for movies and television who’s known for her stellar designs, including ones in the DC Streaming Universe.
After her recent Gnomon workshop, we reached out to Gina to talk more about her work with Daz Studio, only to find out that she had reached out to us at the same time! We are incredibly grateful and humbled to have been able to meet with her, hear her story, and see the incredible art she creates.
For your viewing pleasure, please enjoy the recorded interview to experience Gina and her story in all its glory. If you’d rather read it, there’s a transcription below.
Gina DeDomenico’s Story
Your concept costume art is amazing! You know, I found your website and I was scrolling through all the amazing projects you’ve worked on. How did you get involved in art?
Honestly, I’ve always been an artist. As a kid, I was drawing on everything — on the walls and making messes for my parents — but through my teen years, I was also expressing myself as an artist. But I didn’t even realize it. I painted all the sets in the theater for the shows, and I did all the cartoons for the school newspaper.
I identified myself, and I felt special because I was doing those things and everybody liked it, but I never knew that there was a career in art. I hold my parents responsible a little bit for that because they were academics, and they were like “Oh, that’s so cute that you could do that, and everybody loves when you do those little drawings.” But I had to go to college for academics, and art was something that was just a fun thing that you do that could never be a career. As I started growing up and going through my teen years, I loved being an artist, but I didn’t know I was because I just thought it was a hobby.
So the passion just came naturally to you, and it just felt inherent to who you were.
It did. But I just thought it was a little personality trait. I didn’t think it was a lifelong, fabulous experience. So what happened was I went to college, and I really couldn’t identify with anything, other than I was also in all of the theater productions. So I thought, well, maybe I want to be an actress — which I can’t imagine was any better than being an illustrator! You know, I was just like, wait a minute! Now that I look back, it was way worse than being an artist, being an actress, oh my god.
So I thought I wanted to be an actress, and my parents didn’t seem to fight me too much on that, I guess, probably because I wasn’t academic at all. I went to a regular college, went into their acting program — which was a good acting program — and after a couple of years, I decided that it just wasn’t for me. The only thing I could think of that I could even do remotely was art. So I switched to an art school in San Francisco and took ALL the different art classes, and that’s when it was like, oh, this is who I am. This is what I’m going to do. I just didn’t think about, you know, working and having income. I just thought I’m just going to get through school and see what happens.
That’s awesome. So — just a sidebar question — as you took all those different art classes, is that when you discovered that you wanted to do costume concepts, or did you just fall into it?
I took all the different classes, and the one that I felt the best about was fashion illustration. At that time, photography hadn’t taken over, and in the newspapers, it was all illustrations — black and white illustrations. I thought I’m going to be a fashion illustrator. I got to my second year of art school, and someone from Parsons School of Design in New York was visiting the school and saw my work. They pulled me aside and said, “Come to Parsons. You should be a fashion illustrator who can also design, so you’ll be a fashion designer. If you’re able to illustrate, you’ll do really well.” I thought, okay. And at that time, I had the ability to move to New York and go to school there.
So I did that, I graduated — I did really well and I was really happy — and I was hired by Bob Mackie right out of school, who did the Carol Burnett show. I looked at his proposal, and basically what he was offering me was not quite enough for me to pay my rent in New York. I did the numbers and thought, I can’t stay here. I’ve got to leave. So I moved to Los Angeles and thought, what can I do in Los Angeles? I went to work for a sportswear company, I did that for two years, and I was unhappy. Everything I had learned in fashion design school wasn’t at all what happened in the real world of fashion. I just found the fashion world depressing.
I thought, okay, now what am I going to do? I had this LONG arc of figuring out what I wanted to do. After two years of working for this sportswear company, I thought, okay, I’ve got to quit. What else can I do? I thought, oh, I’ll get into costume design because that’s fashion design — costume design is kind of the same world, and here I am in L.A. I did some research and found out that you have to get into the union, in the Costume Designers Guild, to be able to work. And there were three categories: costume designer, assistant designer, and illustrator. I thought, okay, how do you get into each one, and you had to have all these credits to get in as a designer or an assistant designer, even though that’s what I thought I wanted to do. But this illustration one, you could get into the guild if you just had a portfolio. I called and said, “What do you need in a portfolio?” I illustrated everything they needed, and I got in. Knowing that the only way to work in movies is to be part of a union, I got into the union without having any credits, and I started working as an illustrator at that time. And there’s a little difference between a costume illustrator and a costume concept artist, but we can get into that a little later.
In the early years, I started getting small jobs as an illustrator because the guild is like a family, so once you’re in, there’s a members directory, there are events, they help each other, and they support each other, and so I was able to find little jobs here and there and get myself going. One of the first people who hired me was Ruth Carter, who just got a star on the Walk of Fame, and she’s won an Oscar. She was my first job, and she was just kind of starting out too. We were on Meteor Man and we had done a couple of movies together early on for Spike Lee. That was my start, and it was all because of the Costume Designers Guild, which was great.
I had no idea about this illustrator job; I was just trying to get into the guild. Once I started working as an illustrator, I thought, this is great! The reason I went to fashion design school was because of my illustration talent. I thought I’m fine here, this is where I’m staying, I love this. That was the early 90s, so I’ve been doing this for a while.
What a fun start though! I mean, finding that path and that feeling of “this is where I’m meant to be and this is what I’m supposed to do.” When stuff like that clicks, you’re like, “Yes!”
It took a while though! And my daughters — one of them is going into college and one just got out of college — are like, “Mom, I’m taking this job and I’m taking that job, and it just doesn’t feel right.” And I’m, “Don’t worry, just keep moving forward. You will find what makes you happy. You don’t have to know right now — it’s impossible to know right now. You just have to follow your nose. Keep moving forward, staying positive, and working hard, and you’ll get there. You’ll get to what you’re supposed to be doing.”
But don’t panic, you know? Because they know my story; it took me a while. Then, once I hit it, I hit it. And now, once you figure out what you want to do, it’s putting in the hours to become the best at what you do. It’s a lot of hours, and it’s constant learning. Like learning Daz!
Which we’ll talk about in just a minute! But I’d love to ask you what inspires you and sparks your creativity when you go into these projects or just in general.
When I start illustrating a character, there’s someone who’s worked very hard to get me all the research that has to be done. I get a multitude of research from history. For example — the superhero characters that I work on now — I’ll get information on their powers and their character from the 1920s to now. And sometimes they go through 20 different changes in costume, and you have to figure out their arc too as people. I’m inspired by all the research, and then the designer sits with me and says, “Here’s my take on this character and where we need to go with this character.” I find inspiration in the research and the designer’s vision, and I bring those two things together.
How a Costume Concept Artist Uses Daz Studio
That’s awesome. You slightly mentioned Daz, so we’re going to bring it back to Daz. How did you discover and start working with it?
So what all the designers were doing for a long time is go on the internet, and we’d find poses that were 2D. It was rare that we could find them nude, which we need nude poses, so we’d find bathing suit poses. We’d try to find the most minimal amount of clothing, like a workout outfit or something. So we’re struggling now with finding the right pose for the character. Because once you figure out who your character is, you know exactly how they need to stand.
There’s a lot that goes into choosing a pose for your character because the clothing and the character say everything about who they are and just the way they’re weighted. The pose describes them just halfway, you know, and the look on their face. So it was really hard for us. We were chopping bodies up. I’d find the lower half of a bathing suit model and an upper half on a girl working out, and then I’d have to go to sites that were, um… porn sites… to find images. And some of them were really elegant, but it was still like, oh god. It was not a great feeling to find your poses. So we’re Frankensteining the arm from here and the leg from here — and we’re working in flat 2D.
Then, we’d have the problem of the lighting coming from the upper right on the arm, and the light is coming from the lower left on the legs. It was horrible and it took a lot of time and a lot of work to pull our poses together. And we could rarely use a pose from a previous character for a future character. They’re just different. Also, the actor has measurements, and sometimes the actor has shorter legs, or longer legs, or the long torso, or the heavy in the hips, or really square shoulders. So we were having to do it that way.
Then, two years ago, an incredible illustrator was working on the Madonna tour, and he was desperately looking for a posing software. And he found Daz. And it worked. After using it for a couple of months, he called all of us and said, “You guys, you have to do this. You have to use this.” He was just so excited about it that we thought, okay, we’ll take a look.
Now, there are probably ten of us where it’s part of our process. It’s how we start. Now, we have everything at our fingertips. We can create whatever measurement, whatever skin color — I just did the Borg Queen for the Gnomon workshop, and I was able to purchase an alien figure and tweak it. It’s incredible how you can make the veins pop or go back down, and make the arms long or shorter. To have that freedom and not have to chop everything up has made us more successful at our jobs.
So would you say that it has helped improve your workflow and conceptual process?
Oh yeah. I can’t now imagine starting an illustration without it. It’s part of why I’m good at what I do. I can create these characters just using Daz, and a lot of the illustrators now — which I haven’t done yet, but they’re showing me and saying I’ve got to do it — are using environments, and they choose all of the lighting, which is what’s incredible about Daz. You can light it from every different angle, which I haven’t had to. I just get in, the interface is really easy, and I pop out. I get exactly what I need. But I’m seeing how they’re really manipulating lighting, they’re now buying all the environments and setting the character in the environment.
They’re also using clothing. For example, I’ll have a character that’s in a walking pose, and it’s really hard to figure out what the right shoe is going to look like lifted up and in the background. But if you use a shoe that Daz has, even if it’s not exactly right, it gives you, “Oh yeah, I see the foreshortening, I see how it’s going to look.” Then, I pop it into Photoshop and put the right shoe on it. It’s given me so much information that, again, makes my life easier and makes me better at what I do, because now, that shoe doesn’t look funny anymore. It’s a lot harder to imagine it. Sometimes, I would take my daughters and make them pose so I could see what things would look like in that exact pose, you know? So it’s nice because it gives us so much information.
That’s amazing! I mean, I love to hear that you love using it, that’s great, but I have to ask: What has been one of your favorite projects, whether it’s been a movie or series, that you concepted while working with Daz?
“The Boys” and “Titans”. Most of the stuff that I’ve used it for I still can’t talk about because I’ve used it for two years and I have about a year of work that I can’t say anything about. There’s so much more I wish I could show you! But maybe next year, if we do this again, I’ll show you all the secret stuff I’m working on now.
That’s such a tease! But I guess we’ll have to come back for more since you’ve got us waiting in suspense. We can’t wait to see what else you’ve concepted using Daz!
So the two characters from “Titans”, Starfire and Blackfire, were really fun, and as you can see, Daz made a huge difference there.
And the second season of “The Boys”, I started using Daz. In the first season, I wasn’t using it, and you can see the difference in the illustrations. I mean, using a 2D image versus the 3D and lighting of Daz makes all the difference in the world.
I love to hear that! That sounds great. Did you have to go through this whole process of learning Daz, or did it come somewhat easy to you or was it easy to adapt to?
I am terrified of 3D. I’ve been trying to learn ZBrush. All the other concept artists have ZBrush figured out, AND they’re taking their Daz poses and putting them in ZBrush. So they’re modeling 3D over their Daz poses. All the armor we have to build, they’re using Daz for that and then bringing it into ZBrush.
So I’m afraid of 3D and I’m trying to get over it. I went into Daz going, oh my god, how am I going to do this? And literally the first time I went into it, I had a pose done in maybe 20 minutes. The interface is easy. It’s intuitive, it totally makes sense, it’s just easy for someone who’s afraid of it or doesn’t even know it. And I swear every day, I have to take a Daz tutorial today because it’s like I’m in a house that has 20 rooms, and all I’ve done is walk into the entryway. Like I stand in the entryway, I grab what I need, and I’ve left. And I’m a better artist just by going in the entryway. There are all these rooms that I don’t even access yet.
I know there’s so much, and I’m watching the other illustrators show me things. Oh my god, just putting our characters in an atmosphere — there’s a complete Western town that another concept artist was showing me. He was taking his pose and putting it over there in that part of the town, then taking it over there to that part of the town. We always have to do backgrounds, and now we’re starting to use Daz for backgrounds also. We choose our backgrounds by kind of where the script says the character is, and there’s all that available to you in Daz also. What I do now is enough, but I know I can be a better artist if I just start taking the time to figure out all those other rooms. I have to do that.
That’s a great analogy! I love that. You’re just opening the door, and you still have this whole new world to explore. The fact that you can create a whole 360 concept for your costume is amazing, and again, I love to hear that you enjoy using Daz and that it’s helped you with your creative process and workflow.
Something else that we’ve had to do when you’re a costume concept artist is a front, a side, and a back. So in the beginning when we were chopping up all those bodies, those 2D images, and then having to paint over them, I would THEN go in and find a back view that matched the front view that I just chopped up, which is so hard. With Daz, I get my front view, I turn it and get my side view, and I turn it and have my back view within seconds. I have everything at my fingertips right away so I can be really good at my job.
More About the Gnomon Workshop
You’re obviously really good at your job just by even looking at the photos behind you! This has been really great. I’ve loved talking to you about all of the things that you’ve done with Daz, all the amazing work that you’ve come up with, and you briefly talked about your workshop that you participated in. Do you want to give us a little tease of what that is, and we can link it out for people to access?
Well, in the 90s, I was a concept artist for “Star Trek: First Contact”, and I illustrated the Borg Queen. What I did is I took the original Borg Queen illustration and put it through what it would be like if I did it now using Daz, Photoshop, and all digital art. I’m teaching people how to be a concept artist and showing them the before, here’s the after, and here’s how you do it now. And Daz is a huge part of my process that I show. That was fun because it is SO different, the difference between the old way and the new way. Now, the old way, you do end up with a painting that’s tactile, and you could frame it, and there’s that feel to it. But if I wanted to make it blue, red, or green or shortened this or take away this, I would’ve had to start all over again.
Every single time.
Every single change, you would have to start all over again. So as much as it was cool to have a piece of art, the way it is now is so much more effective for really working and really seeing our options. Even now with the budgets — like we have a budget for a full armor suit, and our budget just got slashed, and now let’s do half of the armor. So you just whip it off. You have all these layers and you just turn them off, whereas before, it would be like, okay, we’ll start the full character all over again. That’s what I did, and it was fun showing the before and the after. The workshop was done for the Gnomon digital art school; it’s incredible and I’m so proud to have a workshop on their site.
That’s amazing. I’m excited for you and excited for them! We’ll link out to the workshop so then if people want to view it, they’ll have the opportunity to. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today and tell us a little more about your experience with Daz and all the amazing art you have come up with. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your time.
It’s my pleasure. Daz is such an important part of my life right now, so I’m honored.
On behalf of the entire team at Daz, we’d like to thank Gina again for working and meeting with us and for her incredible kindness. As promised, enjoy all of the links so you can see for yourself the incredible costume concept artist that Gina is and maybe even find inspiration for your next work or your path as an artist!
If you haven’t downloaded Daz Studio yet, do so here via DazCentral.
Browse Gina DeDomenico’s website.
Check out her presentation in the Gnomon workshop.