Creating Drama Through Fabric: Alayna Bell-Price on Transforming 9-1-1 with Color and Continuity

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

In the most recent season of 9-1-1, costume designer Alayna Bell-Price brought a dynamic new dimension to the series' visual storytelling. Tasked with expanding the color palette for Bobby and Athena’s characters during a dramatic cruise storyline, Bell-Price orchestrated a vivid contrast between the light, cheerful tones of the vacation setting and the dark, tactical colors of invading pirates.

Her work extended beyond mere aesthetics; designing costumes that performed well underwater and remained comfortable for actors posed unique challenges. Additionally, Bell-Price played a crucial role in maintaining continuity through meticulous aging of uniforms, incorporating realistic details like blood, ash, soot, and dirt. In this interview, she shares her creative process and the intricacies of crafting costumes that enhance both narrative and character development.

PH: Can you walk us through your creative process when designing costumes for the characters on 9-1-1, particularly in the recent cruise episode where you introduced vibrant colors and then shifted to darker tones during the pirate invasion?

Alayna Bell-Price: Absolutely! When I first had meetings with the directors and producers for the cruise episode, we discussed that we wanted the first part of the cruise saga to feel fun, bright, and tropical as people would wear on a cruise. Specifically, with Athena and Bobby, we see them wear colors that aren’t in their usual character color palette. When the pirates invade, I wanted to put them in colors that we knew that they were the bad guys and they didn’t belong. Black, greens, and grays made them stand out from the sea of bright colors and patterns we saw from our cruise passengers. 

PH: Dealing with water scenes adds a unique challenge to costume design. How did you ensure that the costumes not only looked good underwater but also remained comfortable for the actors? 

Alayna Bell-Price: Dealing with costumes and water scenes is a unique challenge indeed! First, I look at what will look good when it gets wet and if it will hold up. Will the colors bleed? Or does it become sheer? Those are some of the questions I ask myself and our shoppers when starting to shop for the look. Next, I look at how we hide a wetsuit and water shoes/socks under the costume. We usually have a matching skin tone 2mm or 3mm wetsuit built custom to the actor so that it fits perfectly and isn’t bulky under the clothes. I usually try to put each actor in long sleeve tops and longer pants to cover and protect them fully. Also, it is easier to hide the wetsuit. For comfort, my team and I make sure our actors have base layers to keep them warm in the water, robes and towels for when they get out of the water and also multiple changes of clothes so they don’t sit in the wet clothes for too long. It’s a lot to prep and get done, but once it’s all set up, the water work goes pretty smoothly!

PH: Maintaining continuity seems crucial in a show like 9-1-1, where characters often find themselves in intense and messy situations. How do you approach the aging of uniforms and the addition of elements like blood, ash/soot, and mud/dirt to ensure consistency across episodes?

Alayna Bell-Price: Continuity is definitely crucial on 9-1-1. A lot of times, our main disasters carry over a few episodes and we have to keep track of the progressions of aging/blood and such. My set costumers are phenomenal and do an excellent job tracking it all, aging things on the fly, and keeping the continuity. My assistant designer and I try our best to have things pre-aged by our ager/dyer and provide as many multiples as possible to keep the different levels of aging separate. We will label them by levels (ex. Level 1-Level 5), so it is easier to track.

PH: Background actors play a significant role in establishing the atmosphere of a scene. How do you work with such a large number of background actors to create a cohesive look that complements the main characters' costumes?

Alayna Bell-Price: Background actors are so vital to making scenes feel real in my opinion. They set the atmosphere and the tone of the scene. We usually receive a breakdown of the type of background and amount by scene before we start an episode. I then meet with my key costumer and assistant designer to decide the look for the scene, what season it is, or any specific uniforms might be needed. After that, we dress them each day and I approve each individual background actor and also how they look as a group. We don’t want everyone to be in the same colors or wearing the same thing as the main character, so we pay extra careful attention to those details.

PH: Can you discuss any specific challenges you faced while working on the costumes for the cruise episode, especially in terms of adapting to different environments and scenarios? How did you overcome these challenges?

Alayna Bell-Price: Besides the water challenges, I think the biggest challenge was shooting the episodes and the scenes out of order. A lot of the time, we shoot the last scenes of an episode first and we have to figure out how they would look by that point. Are they drenched or dry? How would their clothes look after being wet and now they are dry? If they are bleeding, how much have they bled out since then or how did the blood dry on their clothes? It’s a lot to think about, for sure, and a lot of pressure to keep it as realistic as possible. I think it looked great!

PH: The characters of Bobby and Athena have distinct personalities. How do you reflect their individual traits and story arcs through their costumes, particularly during significant moments such as the cruise episode?

Alayna Bell-Price: Their color palettes play a big part in telling who they are as characters. Athena is a female cop, and I generally try to keep her in darker colors when she is out in the field. Her jackets definitely tell a story, too! When she’s home, she’s usually in softer colors and silhouettes like silk blouses or sweaters. Bobby is a minimalist. He keeps it simple with a button-up or a polo and jeans. We like to repeat his looks because I feel like Bobby doesn’t have an expansive closet like Athena does. We definitely know who takes over the closets in their home!

For the cruise, I really wanted to show a different side of them. More prints and patterns, more relaxed styles, and make sure they wore things we wouldn’t usually see them in on the show. It still felt like Bobby and Athena and didn’t stray away too far from their character's styles.

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