Kaelen Novak

Kaelen Novak, MFA student, theatre arts

Fashions real and virtual costumes

“Kaelen is an exceptionally talented visionary in costume design, with mad creativity and the drive to make new connections possible.” Eric Stone, associate professor, theatre arts

Hometown: Slidell, Louisiana

Faculty mentor/advisor: Eric Stone, MFA, associate professor, scenic design, director of graduate studies, and head of the design program (My scenic mentor) and Loyce Arthur, MFA, associate professor, costumes, masks and puppetry (My costume mentor)

What is your degree program and expected graduate date? Master of Fine Arts, theatre design – costume and scenic primary concentrations. Expected graduation of May 2023.

Please describe your research: My research focuses on using a variety of computer programs from the fashion, film, and video game industries to establish workflows that enhance and improve the production of live and virtual theatre and entertainment. My focus over the past year has been using a computer program mainly employed by the fast fashion industry to drape and design costume garments tailored to specific actor measurements, along with testing their viability and range of motion without ever wasting resources such as paper or fabric to create a physical garment during the process. The final product is a garment that can be used on a motion-capture-ready avatar for virtual productions or can be printed out and sewn for the actor’s real-life body with no modifications, fitting, or alteration. My current research is an extension of this past research—taking those techniques and programs and using them to make nonhuman characters that will be acted in a virtual reality theatrical production using the university’s new motion capture lab.

In simple terms, why does this research matter? This research matters because it advances the field of theatre for the future, along with the ability to collaborate and intertwine with other forms of entertainment. COVID-19 started a revolution in what it takes for something to be a theatrical experience through things like Zoom theatre, audio dramas, and outdoor interactive performances, and takes those basic ideas and expands upon them for the betterment of the craft. My research allows incredibly lifelike theatrical productions to occur fully virtually with actors from all over the world working together, but also maximizes that creation process in a costume shop by allowing incredibly complex and unique costumes to be produced for an actor without ever needing to waste materials or fitting time to make the perfect garment function with a minimal team. It also creates bridges between the fields of theatre, film, video games, fashion, and graphic art in ways that can be beneficial for more expansive comingling in the future.

How soon after starting at the University of Iowa were you able to participate in research? After my first year – summer 2021 being the start of the research as funded by the university.

How has being involved in research made you more successful at the University of Iowa? Being involved in this research has opened many doors for me since I began it—between utilizing my techniques to benefit a realized production, to being involved in the creation of a virtual reality production that is in the works now, my research has broadened both my opportunities at the university and what I may do once I graduate and take that knowledge into my multiple career fields.

What are your career goals and/or plans after graduation? Designing in a variety of fields— theatre, film, fashion, virtual reality, and photography in a variety of overlapping ways that interest me. This research broadens that field of overlaps extensively in ways that excite me on where it will take me.

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