Marcel Damen tracked down and talked to Haleen Holt, who closely worked with Jean-Pierre Dorleac as a costume illustrator on the Emmy Award winning Battlestar Galactica costume designs. Haleen talks about how she became a costume designer/illustrator, her work on Camelot, the Battlestar Galactica series, the Centennial miniseries and other projects like the Ocean's Eleven movie.
Did you already like drawing as a child and when did you decide you wanted to become an illustrator?
I was always drawing as a child and I decided to become an illustrator in high school. I had a college preparatory course, but when I found out I couldn't continue with my art classes, I changed my course. I was an "A" student in costume design and doing well, but at a career day a costume design rep was very discouraging about the reality of the business. The commercial art rep was really encouraging, so I decided to become an illustrator.
When I was watching an Academy Awards Show the costume sketches were shown up close. They looked really interesting and fun to draw. At the time I was working at this place called Fashion Ads. An artist friend of the owner dropped by with whom I discussed the sketches on the Academy Awards. He recommended I call his former teacher, Costume Designer Marjory Best, at Warner Brothers. When I called I found out she had retired, but they gave me her home phone number. We had a nice conversation on the phone and she suggested I call Al Nichol, president of the Costume Designers Guild. After several phone calls we finally connected.
I mentioned Marjory Best and got an interview. Al was very encouraging, but there were no jobs. I decided to leave Fashion Ads so I could do more fashion illustration work. Some weeks later I received a call from Al Nichol. He said Warner Brothers was interviewing illustrators for a new movie called Camelot, with costume designer John Truscott. I was thrilled to go onto the lot and have a talented designer look at my portfolio. I had no expectations of getting the job, however John liked the detail in my renderings and two weeks later he called to hire me as his costume illustrator. He let me design Guinevere's jewelry, some of the court ladies, and people at the fair.
Haleen Holt and her work on Camelot
Were you supported by your parents in this career choice?
Yes, they were very supportive. They certainly wanted me to go to college, but they understood I just wasn't happy if I wasn't drawing. I did go to college at El Camino and took art classes there. I got my AA degree at Trade-Technical College in Los Angeles. It was through Trade-Tech I got my job at Fashion Ads.
What was so interesting about film costumes in comparison to normal fashion design?
Normal fashion is usually present day. In film I not only get to do the costumes, but I also get to contribute to the characters. I like that and enjoy doing period costumes. There's always a new challenge, you never get bored.
Who were your examples and mentors when you started out?
I liked Toulouse-Lautrec, because he illustrated characters. I enjoy drawing people. John Truscott was also a big influence on my work as an artist and a designer. He could design anything. He was a wonderful artist in his own right.
What was the most important thing they taught you back then?
Lautrec's strong character studies were very helpful as was his poster designs. From John Truscott I learned more about painting and fabric rendering.
After high school I wanted to make some money and not go back to school right away. I got an entry level job at an insurance company, but I was always doodling and drawing on my calendar. I was asked to do some posters for the main boss. There was an in house publication called The Pulse and the editor had seen my posters. He asked me to do some freelance work for The Pulse. I did some pen and ink drawings for him and his advice was to never give away your art work for free. (both laughing) It was good advice, since once people found out I could draw, other departments started to ask me to do various art jobs. However they wanted it for free because I worked there. Everywhere I worked I always ended up drawing, either on the side or in the company.
Did you try out many styles before coming to your current style?
In school I used watercolor and pen and ink. On Camelot John Truscott taught me how to use gouache. It's very similar to using watercolor. I had time on Camelot to do more complete illustrations. After Camelot, when working on other productions, time became more limited. I had to adapt, so I began to use Pentel pens and markers. I used them in combination with some watercolor washes when I worked at NBC.
My current style evolved when I was hired to work on the Centennial miniseries at Universal. I worked on that for over a year. I experimented how I could lay in a base of color with markers then shade with colored pencils. I adapted the style so well that most people thought it was entirely painted.
Haleen Holt's costume illustrations for the Centennial miniseries
What was the first professional work you did? Were you nervous?
Those were the pen and ink illustrations I did for the insurance company magazine The Pulse -- drawings of Quebec, Canada. I was a little nervous doing those.
Camelot was the first movie I did costume illustrations for and John had me on trial for a few days. He put me in a room all by myself, gave me one of his illustrations, the gouache paint and then he left. I had to figure it out on my own - make it look similar to his and also use gouache for the first time. He wanted to see if I could do it. I was really nervous on that, but I did it and he was pleased.
How did you get involved in Battlestar Galactica? Who hired you and who directed your work?
I was working at Universal and illustrating for the costume designer, Helen Colvig, on Centennial. Jean- Pierre Dorleac came to Universal because he was hired to do Battlestar Galactica. We were introduced and after I finished Centennial, I continued on to Battlestar Galactica. The costume designer decides who will work best with him or her. He or she is usually the one that hires you and the producer/director then approves it. Jean-Pierre and I did all the costume design illustrations for Battlestar Galactica.
What were you initially given to work with? Had you seen Ralph McQuarrie's paintings that were in the early pilot script?
Jean-Pierre would give me some rough sketches to work with and we would discuss what he wanted to do. I'd do a color palette and we worked together in this manner.
I was not familiar with Ralph McQuarrie's work at the time. Jean-Pierre did all the costume design research. I've done research on other projects, but not this one.
How was the work divided between you and Jean-Pierre Dorleac?
We worked in close collaboration, regarding how the costumes would be illustrated. He did a few all on his own, but I would draw the figure, emulating his style. If I look at the costume designs on your website it's hard to tell which I did and which he did, since I copied his style so closely. I remember the blue costume illustration of Lorne Greene/Commander Adama, was completely done by me. There's definitely a figure style that I emulated and then rendered. They all look familiar and I probably worked on most of them. I did not do the one for Fred Astaire/Chameleon. That's all Jean-Pierre.
Haleen Holt's illustration of the Commander Adama (Lorne Greene) costume
for Battlestar Galactica
That was from the episode "The Man with Nine Lives". He won the Emmy for the costume designs on that episode.
He deserved it. I think he's an excellent costume designer.
Did you collaborate with the props department on the designs of the helmets, laser pistols and things like that to see how they'd fit with the costumes of Battlestar Galactica?
No, I did not. Jean-Pierre might have.
Did you ever meet/talk to some of those illustrators at the art department, like Joe Johnston, Andrew Probert, Marty Kline, Dan Goozee, etc.?
I didn't meet any of them, however I met Marty Kline years later on a Fox movie called The Marvel of Haunted Castle with costume designer Aggie Rodgers. Marty was one of the storyboard artists on it. I was able to see Marty's great work. After two months they decided the film would be too expensive and cancelled it. I didn't know he had also worked on Battlestar Galactica. I was pretty isolated in wardrobe. During The Marvel of Haunted Castle they had us all in the same building, which made it a great working experience. Everybody from the art director, costume designer, storyboard artists to the prop people were all there, so you could easily visit and see what everybody was doing.
Did you ever visit the Battlestar Galactica set?
I enjoyed watching the series I worked on, but I rarely visited the sets. However, on this series I knew (costume supervisor) Mark Peterson, who took me to the set. I can't remember which episode it was because I don't know them by name. I finally saw the Cylon up close. On television it looked like they were wearing these heavy, shining metal suits, but on set I found out it was actually plastic. It was so fragile that they needed constant repairs. Mark said he would always have a roll of silver duct tape on his belt to make instant repairs.
In regards to the Cylons, I remember sitting at my desk when Jean-Pierre showed me the conceptual art for the Cylon costume (by Andrew Probert). The costume designer always has the prerogative to make changes to any of the costume concepts and the director always has final approval. So I redid Andrew Probert's costume design with minor changes. The Cylon costume design by Jean-Pierre Dorleac that you have online, is in fact my illustration. That's the final version and I also still have an unfinished version of it.
Haleen Holt's illustration of the Cylon costume
for Battlestar Galactica
How was the collaboration between you and the costume making department on the Battlestar Galactica series?
I don't get involved in that as an illustrator however, my illustration of the design is referred to by the mens’ and ladies' workrooms. I have been complemented on my detail and visualization which contributes to the making of the costumes The costume designer and the work rooms do work very well together -- they usually refer to it as the men's tailor shop and the ladies workroom. Sometimes there are several people making just one costume. They might even have an idea that the designer hasn't thought of before its construction. Or the other way around: the costume designer may have done a lot of it himself and give them input. So yes, they work well together, because they also have the same goal in mind.
Did you meet some of the actors who wore the costumes you did illustrations for? Did you know in advance who'd wear a costume you were illustrating?
I saw all the actors. I remember Lorne Greene was very gracious and quite a gentleman. I was never personally introduced to each one, but this particular group of actors were all friendly. They would come in to say "Hi". It was a friendly atmosphere. I always knew who the costume I was illustrating would be for.
Also for all the guest stars?
Yes, you have to have that in advance, to prepare.
Did you continue working on Buck Rogers and Galactica 1980 as well?
I never worked on Galactica 1980. I was working elsewhere. I did work with Jean-Pierre on Buck Rogers and also met Gil Gerard (Buck Rogers). I was introduced to him and he was really nice. I had some catalogues that had images of Erin Gray (Wilma Deering), when she was a model.
I continued working with Jean-Pierre on his movie Somewhere in Time in 1980, but I only did one illustration for that. He was just starting that film.
You've had a long career and worked on a lot of well known movies. What have been some of your most satisfying experiences on big movie projects, in terms of the environment, co-workers, challenge of the film production, etc?
The most satisfying was my first one, on Camelot. It was such a big production and working with John Truscott, who's extremely talented, was great. He passed away several years ago. We worked in a beautiful bungalow on the Warner lot, which Clint Eastwood now uses. I know exactly what that's like inside. (both laughing) Really nice! I would visit the lot and see other productions that were going on at the time. So that was kind of a stand out. Centennial at Universal was great to work on too. That was also for a full year. I love doing anything with my favorite: pioneers in the West.
All my time at NBC, 1967-1969, when they had all of the variety shows with people like Dean Martin, Elvis Presley and many more. Fred Astaire had a special and it was great watching him rehearse. When you watch someone dance like that in a movie or on television, then see them in person it is completely different. You really appreciate the talent. When I saw him on stage, no one was there, except for him and his dance partner. He was rehearsing with her. I sat way in the back and it was a joy watching them. He never made a single mistake. He was beautiful to watch, unbelievable. She made mistakes but they just did the moves over and over again until she got it right and he never made a mistake.
I also liked working at Disney Studios for Tom Bronson, the head of wardrobe. It was a very comfortable place to work. And I loved working with the people there.
Back on Camelot there was a special co-worker and we still know each other and continue to stay in touch. Her name is Judy Evans-Steele. She went on to do mostly television costume design and won an Emmy for her work on the Beauty and the Beast series. She continues to design as a sculptor.
Toward the end of my career I became a costume designer for Universal's Theme Park in Japan. We called it USJ, Universal Studios Japan. I enjoyed that and it was extremely satisfying. I must say I had two great bosses there. Sondra Huber and Karen Weller. Wonderful women. Universal, at that time, 1998-1999, was owned by Seagram which started the creative department. Disney had its own creative department and they also wanted that at Universal. They started doing theme parks and created everything: costumes, casting the actors, the music, the rides, etc. They repeated venues from Universal Hollywood for Japan. Our design team thought we might go to Japan but it did not work out. But there were a lot of perks and parties here. Everyone in the creative department thought it would continue, however, Universal began to change hands, and eventually the department was gone.
I left there and did a couple more movies and Ocean's Eleven was the last one. I decided I would retire after that.
It's a good movie to retire on!
(laughing) Yes, it turned out pretty good.
It had a fantastic cast. Did you meet any of the guys?
That's the unusual thing about it, we did not work on the Warner lot. A lot of times when you work on a film it will be at a costume house. They have offices that they rent to the film. They usually make a deal that they will also make some of the wardrobe. At the costume house I didn't get to see anybody.
Haleen Holt's costume illustration for Danny Ocean (George Clooney) on Ocean's Eleven
Haleen Holt's costume illustration for Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) on Ocean's Eleven
Haleen Holt's costume illustration for Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) on Ocean's Eleven
Haleen Holt's costume illustration for Saul Bloom (Alan Arkin) on Ocean's Eleven
(Alan Arkin dropped out and Saul Bloom was played by Carl Reiner)
Have you seen the new Battlestar Galactica series and if so what did you think of the costumes on that?
It's on cable and we do not have cable. Maybe, one day, when the show airs on regular television I will finally see it.
What are you currently doing?
I have my art projects and my family keeps me very busy. I'm quite happy with that. Even after I retired I got quite a few phone calls, but I won't be tempted back. The increasing high pressure, more deadlines, less time... When you get older, you want to relax a little bit more. I enjoyed all the work I did, for the most part. I had a good run, I enjoyed it, it was an adventure and a great time.
I still love to draw, whenever I can. There's some art I have up in the house and I'm working on a children's book. It comes and goes, when I have time.
What is it about?
It's about a dinosaur/dragon. It's a story my father told me when I was a little girl. I won't give you the name, because it's a very unusual name and I'm protecting that. I simply thought I should write it down and bring it to life. I have done some background drawings and some roughs of the dinosaur/dragon. We'll see how far I get.