Becoming a Costume Concept Artist with Phillip Boutte Jr.

Costume concept artists work closely with costume designers to visualize a character’s appearance and bring the look to life.

Phillip Boutte Jr. is a costume concept artist and production designer with more than 12 years of experience working in film, music, and television. He has contributed to titles like Black Panther, Captain America, Avengers Infinity War, The Greatest Showman, and Man of Steel and worked on music videos with artists Ariana Grande, Panic at the Disco, and Busta Rhymes, just to name a few. Recently, Phillip co-founded 9B Collective, the first Black-Owned concept art studio made up primarily of BIPOC artists along with Mike Uwandi, and Aldis Hodge.

In this interview, Phillip shares insights and advice on becoming a costume concept artist based on his many collaborations and years of experience in the film and music industry.

Phillip Boutte Jr’s Demo Reel

What path led you to where you are today?

I’ve always been into the arts and I have been drawing since I can remember. I grew up in the industry as a child actor so transitioning into finding a way to combine my love for character/illustration with my film background is what lead me down the path that I am on now. I went to San Diego Comic-con and saw a panel of Costume Designers speaking about their jobs. With a push from my mentor Robin Richesson, I decided to show the Costume Designers my portfolio which eventually led to me joining the Costume Designer’s Guild. I got hired by Costume Designer Sanja Hays on The Mummy 3: Curse of the Dragon Emperor and I have been working ever since. To date, I have 70 film credits to my name and I feel beyond blessed to be able to provide for my family while making art!

Costume concept art for The Greatest Showman

How did 9B Studios come to be?

9B came about after a Drink and Draw event put on by Nicole Hendrix Herman and Rachel Meinerding of the Concept Artist Association. They asked if I would be interested in participating in sponsoring the event in February for Black History Month. We picked the theme of Afro-futurism and had both a male and female model dressed in an Afro-punk vibe. It was the most packed event that they had to date. The bar was filled to capacity with a line outside.

In a historic way, it was the most Black artists I had ever seen in one place. Artists from all backgrounds were there; Live action, animation, video games, etc. We all knew of each other but had either never met or been in the same place at the same time. It was such a great vibe. The energy there inspired the idea of starting to have more Drink and Draws where we could all get together but the pandemic shut that down in the best way possible. It is because of the pandemic that co-founders Mike Uwandi (concept artist), Aldis Hodge (actor), and I realized that we were thinking too small.

We not only wanted to get artists of color together, we also wanted to get them working together on big projects so that we could fix the issues of diversity and inclusion within the concept art community at large.

What do you think are the key qualities that great costume designers have?

 Great Costume Designers are great character designers. They are literally the same thing. I find that a great costume designer ALWAYS starts with locking down who the character is while desperately seeking “the why”. Why does this character wear what they wear? Why do they choose to express themselves this way through their costume?

Concept art for Madonna’s Rebel Heart Tour

What previous experience do you think best prepared you for the job?

Being an actor prepared me for having reverence for the characters I was tasked with helping to create. I think there is something great that always happens when you are able to lock into the mind of the character. I also really love doing research. Research is probably one of my favorite parts about the job. You get to learn about ancient civilizations, science, cultures, locations, customs, traditions, etc. It is the BEST. I love it sometimes more than I do drawing.

What does your day-to-day look like? 

My day-to-day normally consists of collaborating directly with the costume designer of the project. It is my job to ensure that the designs sell to the director, producer, and heads of the studio. I am the first wave of attack of being able to show what the costume designer has in mind for the characters that you will eventually see on screen.
We start with looking at mood boards, research, and the script. From there, I start doing thumbnail sketches to figure out shape language and get ideas out quickly. We pick some combinations and decide what is working and then I begin to flesh out costumes and character illustrations. The process really is a back and forth dialogue between the Artist and the Costume Designer. It is our job to understand fully what the vision is, execute it, and often add in our expertise/ideas as well.

Costume concept art for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

How important does your portfolio factor in getting the job? 

A portfolio is VERY important to get a job in costume and I find that the more varied it is, the better. I try to switch up my styles a lot depending on the project.  I find that being flexible is what keeps me going and keeps me able to work with so many different designers. My style is not so rigid that you are hiring me for my “style”. But rather, I am such a chameleon of sorts that I blend in no matter what is asked of me.
AFRO-KIRA: “Kaneda”

What are some of the biggest challenges you have to deal with in your role? 

I think one of the biggest frustrations we face is working on projects that are comic book based and watching some of the powers that be dismiss the source material. As a super nerd, I love trying to stay with the source material. I also love when you are able to expand that source material to a cinematic place that is beyond the fan’s wildest dreams but still maintains the magic of what made them fall in love with the character in the first place. When you find that sweet spot, it’s the best feeling in the world!

What were some of your biggest takeaways you have after working on many Hollywood movies? 

People like to work with people that are pleasant to be around. You don’t always have to be the best artist in the room, but if you are kind, follow instructions, and are generally pleasant to be around, people will continue to hire you and allow you the opportunity to grow. This extends far past Hollywood and I try to live my life like this as much as possible. You only live once, be kind to others because it cost nothing and is free!!
Costume concept art for Marvel’s Black Panther

What advice do you have for any aspiring costume concept artist looking to get started?

If you are interested in this job, it is important to get your portfolio in order first. Give yourself assignments. Take a celebrity, cast them in a role, and give them a character illustration. But not just that, also draw old people, children, people of diverse backgrounds, period costumes, fantasy costumes, and regular contemporary costumes. Just vary it so your potential employer can see that you can do it all. And then after that, it is important to seek out Costume Designers to see if you can collaborate with them. If you are in a state that has a union, it is a great idea to see if you can join it as the union allows you to work on big projects.

Visit the 9B Collective Website to contact the team about joining the collective on an upcoming project.

Follow Phillip on ArtStation > 


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About the author

Sierra is the Editor of ArtStation Magazine.