Emerging Designer Wins Internship at Weta Workshop

Spirit Bone Guo Xiao Tong China test3Spirit Bone, Guo Xiao Tong, China. Image: WOW.

Among 147 designers from 17 countries, a dazzling creation took the stage at last year’s World of Wearable Art Awards (WOW). Spirit Bone, crafted by Chinese designer Xiaotong Guo, shone in the Reflective Surfaces section at the 30th anniversary of the international design competition, earning its maker the Weta Workshop Emerging Designer Award. As part of her prize, Xiaotong travelled from China to join Weta Workshop for a four-week internship in March.

WOW and Weta Workshop have united their formidable creative forces for more than a decade, resulting in a slew of awards and internships (to say nothing of that animatronic tiger, giving delighted show-goers more than they bargained for). Many of the Workshop’s own artists and technicians have exercised their creativity in the show as participants, entrants, finalists, and award-winners. The internship offered by Weta Workshop to an extraordinary designer is highly coveted. For 2018, the Emerging Designer Award was chosen from across all six WOW categories by a panel of judges, including Weta Workshop’s CEO and co-founder Richard Taylor, and Art Director and Business Development Manager, Sam Gao. The award recognises an outstanding and innovative entry from a budding designer.

“Xiaotong demonstrated the power of imagination and creativity with Spirit Bone – transforming such a simple material into a wearable work of art! We were excited for her to join us here at Weta Workshop to work on our upcoming projects.”
-Sam Gao, Art Director and Business Development Manager, Weta Workshop

Spirit Bone WIP
Left: The plastic garment material. Right: Spirit Bone taking shape.

Entrants in the Reflective Surfaces section were encouraged to use everyday materials that glimmer and glow to craft an eye-catching wearable garment. For Xiaotong, conceptual ideas start with the material. When scouring the markets in Beijing for budget-friendly materials, Xiaotong discovered plastic components that are commonly found on sandal straps. These metallic straps were to be her WOW material of choice! The plastic was already moulded into a workable shape, with a triangular base and oval attachment. She ‘only’ needed to interweave and thread the pieces together to adorn her costume – much easier said than done. As she experimented with the construction, inspiration for Spirit Bone struck. “Flesh rots. Bone is immortal,” writes Xiaotong. When you depart from this world, you leave behind a relic – your bones. With this idea in mind, she set about crafting a stylised exo-skeleton over two months.

Spirit Bone Profile smaller

Xiaotong estimates she used nearly 2000 plastic components in her costume. Using a black corset as a base, the designer stitched long chains of interwoven plastic onto the chest and torso. The work wraps around the back, before cascading into a lengthy train of chains. An external ‘spine’ descends from the helmet, which was inspired by a seashell. To complete the look, Xiaotong embellished the torso using LED lights and diamantes. The model was a vision in black and gold onstage. Only her face was visible; the rest of her body was concealed in a black stocking, fitted with metallic plastic armour. The costume both highlights and protects the feminine frame. Xiaotong explains:

“Costume is my form of self-expression. I wanted Spirit Bone to represent the modern woman; we can be our own warriors and also be elegant.”

This wasn’t the first time Xiaotong’s work has graced the WOW stage. Her first entry into the competition, Born to Die, was runner up in the Creative Excellence section in 2013. Designing costumes for the stage was a short step from Xiaotong’s regular work as a costume designer for the film and entertainment industry in China. Whilst studying Fashion Design at Donghua University, she assisted with costume construction and repairs on film sets. After graduating in 2013, Xiaotong joined the Beijing Baorong Baoyi Media Company, which specialises in design and production of film and television costumes. For five years, Xiaotong designed, fabricated and supervised the construction of traditional Chinese garments and dynasty costumes.

Xiaotong thousand faces of Dunjia

An example of Xiaotong's work for film. Her design (left) and final creation (right).

The internship at Weta Workshop provided Xiaotong with the opportunity to build on her costuming experience and develop new skills. On arrival, Xiaotong swapped her needle and thread for a paintbrush, spending two weeks with the Workshop Paint crew, learning how to paint collectibles and realistic-looking armour. Xiaotong then spent the remainder of her internship in the Costume Department working on an exciting Workshop project. Part sculpture, part costume, Xiaotong used a heat-gun to manipulate PVC plastic into giant ripples that mimic strips of fabric caught in the breeze.

After four whirlwind weeks in New Zealand, Xiaotong returned to China to continue her creative journey. A fresh intake of incredible creations will soon be heading to WOW’s Nelson headquarters from all over the world for pre-judging.  Weta Workshop will once again offer an emerging designer the opportunity to learn alongside its crew. Running for three weeks from 26 September, tickets for this year’s WOW show at the TSB Arena in Wellington are available now.

Xiaotong's stunning WearableArt garment, Spirit Bone.

Spirit Bone takes the stage. Image: WOW.

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