Back in April, we spoke with Roseanne McIlvane, Al's longtime make-up artist, about her experience working on The Weird Al Show. Now, we proudly present the other end of the character design spectrum. Julie Rae Engelsman, a costume design veteran of screens both big and small, was given the awesome assignment of creating the wardrobe of every colorful character on the series. From extravagant psychic dresses to a sleek superhero suit, if something involved clothing, it was handled by Julie. Sit back and join us as we chat with one of The Weird Al Show's most prominent visual artists....

ATY: How did you first get interested in costume design?

JE: I started designing clothes for myself and my Barbies at age ten. I took a formal sewing class with the "older ladies" at age eleven. I designed costumes for silly school plays in grade school and for plays in high school, and in college I worked in the costume shop as a seamstress and designed plays there, as well.

When I graduated, that looming question "What are you going to do with your life?" was hanging over me and I thought I wanted to go into fashion design, as I did an internship my senior year of college with a fashion design house. I knew I loved costume design, but I went to a Liberal Arts college that churned out investment bankers, lawyers, doctors, and advertising execs. Not really geared toward the arts. I was a psychology major, too. And since I went to college BEFORE the internet became commonplace...(heck, when I graduated, Windows 3.0 had just been released!)...there wasn't the vast wealth of direction and search engines to help you research what you would love to do and how you might go about doing it. Our college career center only had one listing under "fashion design" and none in "costume design."

So, I graduated in 1988 and moved to NYC and was offered a job from the fashion house that I did the internship with my senior year. I lasted three months before I quit. I hated it ultimately. It had little to do with design and ALL to do with marketing, trends, and money. I was a costume designer in my heart and I wanted to create characters, not mass produce clothing lines. So I thought long and hard about what it is that I was good at, with regards to making a career decision, and costume design became my path to pursue. I took classes in NYC at FIT in rendering/sketching, draping, and pattern making so that I could learn the technical aspects of design. I do not believe that you can truly fancy yourself a designer if you do not know how to design a costume from script to character breakdown, to sketch, to fabric and notions selection, to pattern making, to fitting, to completion.

Anyway, in school, I met another woman my age who was about to design a low budget movie, and she hired me as a costume designer's assistant on my first movie, Tales From the Darkside: The Movie. After that, I worked at a costume shop for a pathetic wage as a slave seamstress and we made Off-Broadway costumes. Colleen Atwood, an incredible costume designer, came in to the shop and conducted fittings for her movie Married to the Mob while I was working there, and I thought, "I wanna do what she does." And after doing my share of free projects, low budget movies, and lots of commercials and print ads to pay the bills, I finally did start getting better gigs and better pay, etc. And here I am.

ATY: Who or what have been some of your influences?

JE: Van Gough, for one. I love his use of, textured, and layered. That's the way I like to design, in layers and textures. I also love upholstery fabrics, because they are so dimensional and unconventional.

I also incorporate psychology into my design process. I have a lovely theory of my own that as human, we tend to get stuck dressing the way we dressed when we were at our happiest. Example, an elderly woman/man may still be wearing her/his clothes from the '70s, not only because she/he came from an economic period of time when one did not discard their clothing regularly as we do now, but mostly because those clothes come from a time when she/he was younger and they are reminiscent of happy times. Younger times. Often, women cannot discard of their "favorite" dress with hopes that they will fit into it again. Happier times. See? Also, I have noticed that people of my generation still dress kinda, well, '80s. Those were the college and high school days. They are clinging to the past. So, I design with a past in mind at all times...just as Freudian psychology holds to the belief that our pasts determine how we live in the present. I personally like to move forward with fashion, so as not to be left behind and be "old school," and so that each time period can be my happy times. Some characters I design may be the same way.

My other influence, the person who inspired me to want to actually be a costume designer, was costume designer Colleen Atwood--Edward Scissorhands, Married to the Mob, Beloved, Something Wild, Gattica, Mars Attacks, etc. I watched those movies, and the costumes truly spoke to me, cliche as it sounds. I got pleasure from her color palettes and the harmony she designed. I got her. I see it in each of her films. I understood her sense of humor being played through costumes. So, she truly was an inspiration and I still highly admire her work today.

ATY: How did you come about working on The Weird Al Show?

JE: Usually, as with most shows, I get a call from a producer, usually one I have worked with before, who is crewing up a project. In this case, Craig Anderson, the producer on the project, called me because a friend of mine recommended me to him. Rarely do we ever get cold calls from resumes we send out. It's the ol' "who you know" theory. Anyway, I interviewed for the job, and showed Craig Anderson and Brad Bishop, the other producer, my portfolio. They told me they were interviewing others, as well. But the next day, they called me and hired me to do the job.

ATY: How familiar were you with Weird Al at this point?

JE: I had seen Weird Al's videos and was familiar with his songs. I loved his sense of humor and thought his parodies were hilarious. I didn't actually meet Al until the second week before we started shooting. He was very mellow and quiet and, most of all, extremely intelligent. As a designer, what I appreciated about Al the most was that he let me design whatever my brain could think of, within the boundaries of the script. Rarely, if never, did he get involved in the costume design process. He trusted me enough to let me go and design the show. That is very rare in this business, and coveted, as well. Often too many "cooks" want to put in their two cents as to how or what a costume should be and it therefore alters the continuity of the show's overall "look."

Corky's costume in sketch form ATY: So, you pretty much knew what you were getting yourself into. What was pre-production like?

JE: They had scripts available for the crew so that we could prep the show during pre-production. As with any project, we are always aware of what we are "getting into" as far as the scripting goes. I prepared sketches of the various characters during pre-production, i.e., The Hooded Avenger, Val Spy, Corky, and Madame Judy. After the sketches were approved at pre-production meetings, I would then move on to execute them. In other words, the sketch was given to my seamstress, as well as the fabrics and notions that I had selected for the garment, and she made patterns from the sketches and brought the costumes to life.

We made numerous costumes on The Weird Al Show. From Al's stretchy arm workout wear in the fake aerobics commercials; to The Hooded Avenger's neoprene suit, which ultimately made him extremely hot and very sweaty; all of Madame Judy's costumes; and all of Val Spy's costumes, her matching capes and gloves. Many of Corky's costumes were custom made, as well. One in particular was her Valentine's Day dress. And of course, Harvey's capes were custom made, too. Some of Weird Al's other custom made costumes included the outfit he wore in the parodied Prodigy music video, his outfit and hair piece in the parodied Aerosmith "Livin' In The Fridge" music video, the Mr. Molasses suit, and a few of his Hawaiian shirts, to name a few.

ATY: Speaking of which, what about something like Al's Hawaiian pajamas?

JE: Actually, they were purchased from a store in Venice that sold Hawaiian print everything.

So with regards to "did I know what I was getting in to," the answer would be YES! And I loved the opportunity to do it all. As a costume designer, for me, the more wackiness, the better. The show provided me with a wider canvas to create on. With all of the material I was given, I was able to actually design and construct costumes, versus just shopping off the rack for a show. Granted, we did shop (for) many of the costumes, as there were so many faux commercials and faux TV shows, talent shows, etc. We probably frequented thrift stores the most for many of the characters. Mrs. Fesenmeyer, however, was mostly all rented. I selected her costumes from the 1960s section of the costume houses. I chose matching purses for her and shoes and her glasses were her own, but perfect for the character.

Anyway, I am sure I more than answered that question. But I guess the point that I was trying to relay most was that, we usually know what we are getting into creatively, because we almost always have scripts to work from well before the project begins shooting. The only time we may not know ahead of time what we are getting ourselves into would be (when) situations that occur on the set due to different personalities or talent or crew or what have you. The unpredictabilities are unpredictable and you deal with them as they occur. And to that I say, you cannot learn from something if you have not lived through it first.

ATY: You already brought up some of the characters' costumes. For a character such as The Hooded Avenger and his outfit, were you pointed in any specific direction as far as style? Considering the character was a play on superheroes as a whole, he had a surprisingly unique look to him.

JE: If I recall correctly, I had come up with The Hooded Avenger's costume...I should go try to find my original sketch...and then the actor, Brian (Haley), was interested in being involved in the design process. He had a friend do a rendering of what he thought The Hooded Avenger's costume might look like. In his rendering, The Hooded Avenger wore a huge cape with a hood and a mask like the Lone Ranger.

From a design aspect, I pointed out that although the cape and hood looked very "superhero-esque," in the long run neither would be very functional to him as an actor. Since Hoodie was suppose to be a neighbor friend of Al's, the cape and hood seemed cumbersome and not at all useful. Capes are good for fluttering in the wind while flying or for disguise. But the costume and character, from my perspective, was supposed to be, well, kinda doofy, and in true Al mode, a parody of superheroes. So, the costume ended up mostly my design, but with Brian's help.

Plus, if you recall, we got to have fun with him by putting a smoking jacket on him, a Santa suit, and a terry robe in one episode with reading glasses, as well. I think that's what made him more of a parody, superhero meets Odd Couple Felix. And I have to say, when Brian embraced the character from that perspective, instead of trying to make the character a macho guy, he was ultimately quite pleased with the silliness. The director, Peyton Reed really encouraged the quirkiness, as well. In fact, insisted upon it.

ATY: You mentioned that you had a lot of freedom, but were there any limitations when you had to parody a clear target, such as with Al's Prodigy and Aerosmith outfits or the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air take-off? Al has said in the past that he's very meticulous about having parodies look identical to their sources.

JE: I definitely watched the real videos and copied the looks as best I could. We all did...production design, hair, makeup, etc. In the Fresh Prince parody, we copied the look of the family but the "Fresh Prince" was obviously a costume of my choice, as scripted.

ATY: Were there any designs that you made that went unused, or any designs that changed radically as they evolved?

JE: Ya know, I can't think of any. Like I said before, they gave me a lot of room to design, so I don't recall anything changing. Well, come to think of it, The Hooded Avenger costume took some tweaking. At one point there was a chest plate that Brian requested be worn beneath his neoprene suit, but it got nixed after the very first episode, which was a good thing. He really didn't need the fake chest, as he was quite buff anyway. Plus, his real chest was ultimately more palatable for children's programming. As far as unused costumes, none.

ATY: The entire set and props were literally thrown out after the show was cancelled. Since it's unknown if Dick Clark Productions also destroyed the costumes unlike studios that save their wardrobe for decades, were you ever able to hang on to any of them throughout the course of the show?

JE: I remember boxing up all of the wardrobe and doing an inventory. Judy (Tenuta) kept all of her outfits, Al kept his Hawaiian shirts and kooky Vans. And yes, I did keep some of the costumes that were custom made. I usually try to keep a few items that I designed from every show, if I can. The Hooded Avenger costume, however, went into that inventory box. Despite the numerous washings, it was heavily soiled, as you can imagine how hot it must have been to wear that all day--each day! I heard that Dick Clark Productions keeps all their wardrobe and then auctions it every hundred years or so. I wouldn't be surprised if they still had it locked up in a storage facility. I can't believe that all of the sets and props were destroyed! The production designer Larry (Wierner) works on Passions. Maybe he can direct you to where the eyeball chair is. I can't believe Al doesn't have that!!!

Corky in the final costume ATY: Oh yes, Al found a good home for the chair! You have worked on a good amount of both movies and television shows. Are there any differences for a costume designer between working on a series and working on a movie? Do you have a preference between the two mediums?

JE: Working on films is hands down 1000 times easier than television. You have ONE script to work with. ONE director. One set of actors. And usually, you have time to prepare for the shooting schedule ahead of you. You know what you will need and when you will need it. And although things change, it's nothing like working on television.

Soap operas are by far the most rigorous in terms of scheduling. They do one sixty-minute episode a day!!!! The cast is constant but changes periodically, and there are many day players. Lots of stunt doubles, and they wear the same outfits forever due to the script. So you have to have four of each outfit at times. Regular television series are fun, once they get into a groove...meaning, once you have your steady cast members and sets and crew. The directors change for each episode in television, except Weird Al Show. So, that's always an adjustment, to work with the different wants each has...but you get to know those, as well.

But the thing I dislike about TV versus film is the reading of scripts. On a series, you have a never-ending number of scripts to constantly read and break down. It really is endless. On a film, you have one script to break down, so you can put your energy toward the creativity in costume design, versus the technicalities of constantly breaking down scripts and figuring out what you will need for each episode. I am getting tired just thinking about the endless reading.

ATY: What has been the biggest challenge you've had to do in your career thus far?

JE: Scarily, the work is not challenging. The challenge is finding the perfect balance between work and a personal life. Our long hours and dedication to our craft sometimes causes us to lose sight of all else.

ATY: What would be a dream project for you?

JE: Most projects are what you make of them, so pretty much any project is my dream project once I get into it. But, I guess a visually oriented movie with great costuming and production design potential...Lord of the Rings, for instance...or any one of the period movies Sandy Powell has had the opportunity to design.

ATY: What advice can you give to someone who may be interested in the field?

JE: It's hard to give advice to someone, 'cause you ultimately have to be extremely driven as a person and personable, if you ever want to be hired back or recommended. But most of all, you have to truly love your work. I wouldn't trade my job for any other. I love my craft and love creating. What else can I say? I think luck has nothing to do with it in the end. You make your own destiny. You carve paths that lead to other roads. And there may be bad roads, but learn from them and know what not to do next time. That is my sage advice.

ATY: Before we go, I just wanted to thank you so much for doing this for our little cause.

JE: I hope that helps you. I realize it is more about costume than you may have expected, but I am a costume designer, and that was my job on the show, so obviously I saw the show through the eyes of a costume designer: In short, I read the script and visualized characters in costumes...and had a ball doing it.

Images courtesy of Julie's web site,
where you can find many more exclusive pictures from her work!
(not to mention video clips from The Weird Al Show)

Want to check out Julie's finished work?
Here are a few of her films available on home video!

(click the format links if you'd like to buy them from Amazon)

Dark Side of Genius
What better title for a psychological drama co-starring Moon Unit Zappa!

Ed and His Dead Mother
Because Steve Buscemi isn't creepy enough on his own, here he plays a guy who reanimates his mom!

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday
Yeah, suuuuuuure it is!

Primary Motive
Judd Nelson and Justine Bateman star in a legal thriller......uh, yeah.

Chuck Norris, Joe Piscopo, and that scrawny dweeb from that Seaquest show (no, not Ted Raimi) do you NOT like it??

Tales from the Darkside: The Movie
Julie's first film project...with a screenplay co-written by horror master George A. Romero and The Nightmare Before Christmas's Michael McDowall (and, based on stories by Stephen King and Arthur Conan Doyle)!

The Weird Al Show ©1997 Dick Clark Productions, Inc.