High School Junkies: Dressing up characters

By Fred Fernando


Costume design plays an integral role in defining a character’s story on screen while adding glamour and tone to the film itself. The costume of a character alone can convey the idea of when the film is set (if it is a period piece), or else define the genre at times.

While costume design plays an important but silent role in filmmaking, it’s sometimes overlooked. But even the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences understands how vital costume design can be to a picture, which is why there is a separate Oscars category to award the best in the given field each year.

So, what do costume designers do? How do they approach a project? We spoke to fashion and costume designer Nipunika Fernando, who also has her own line of costumes and does cosplay plus did the costume design for The Knight Out.

Finalised sketches vs. finalised costume designs


Approaching a projectx


Nipunika stated that she immerses herself into the story during the preproduction stage of a film and understands the world that she will be designing costumes for. This includes the era, theme, genre, and characters of the given world. She added that the story is without a doubt what drives the inspiration, fabrics, techniques, and the final styling of the costumes.

Sometimes, there are compromises that will need to be made due to various factors such as fabrics not giving the initially envisioned look and feel, or to facilitate other ideas that crop up during pre-production. “Every film has a style and the costume design is intended to complement that.”


Fashion and costume designer Nipunika Fernando

Working with a director


To begin with any project, Nipunika revealed that the first thing she will consider is the director’s vision. It essentially informs how she reads the screenplay and subsequently conducts research for the costuming process. Hearing out the director, about what they have planned for the film, is a vital task, since there are so many departments that work together to bring a vision to life, and when some of them overlap, more care needs to be taken to ensure everyone is working towards the same goal.

Nipunika sketches out her foundation for the costumes and shows it to the director and makes any changes needed on paper before going about to stitch an initial mockup version of the garment. Any subsequent changes will be made once actors come in for fit-on and camera tests.


Collaborating with departments


Nipunika added that she will also collaborate with various other art departments such as hair and makeup and also concept design. The visual artist’s designs sometimes inform how the costume should look and she bases it off this foundation and builds on top of it, while adding elements of her own. For instance, in The Knight Out, Roshan de Selfa’s flower, sun, and moon motifs were part of the costume design itself.

She also takes into account hair and makeup when styling the final costumes on the actors. These two departments also collaborate when helping to maintain continuity on a film set to facilitate on-screen injuries, wear and tear, etc.




According to her, when costuming for film and theatre, functionality is definitely important. However, it depends on the actors’ movements as well as what fits the character. For a character that does not need to move as much, a garment with more constricting movements might be needed to serve his or her place in the story. But if you have two fighters weaving around each other throwing punches and kicks, making sure the costumes allow their movements is paramount.

“Overall, my job is to use costumes to bring the characters and story to life for the viewers,” she shared.


In 2015, filmmaking collective High School Junkies started creating short films out of passion and soon gained momentum as a film production house that championed frugal filmmaking. Their second short, EIDETIC, became the first-ever Sri Lankan film to be screened at the San Diego Comic-Con, and has subsequently been screened all over the world. They host guests from Hollywood on their webinar, Junkyard Theory.