We had the good fortune of connecting with Timo Elliott and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Timo, how do you think about risk?
I have always considered myself risk-averse. I make very, very few decisions without considerable forethought. So from my vantage, all my risk-taking is calculated and within acceptable margins of loss. That being said, I’ve discovered that my opinion towards risks is considered almost cavalier by most people, my family especially. My parents wanted me to be an engineer or a lawyer, you know, nice stable careers. Instead I got a degree in art and moved across the country to pursue contract work in entertainment. Risky? Probably. There is a certain amount of uncertainty inherent in contract work, but I knew going in this would be the case. My mantra is that someone out there is doing what I love and getting paid for it, so why shouldn’t that person be me? In that context, a lot of risks are acceptable, so long as they help achieve my end goal of doing what I love.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
The best way I could describe what I do is to ask you to think about costumes in film or on the stage. A lot of pieces are “normal” clothes made out of fabrics and either drafted from modified patterns or purchased as worn. I make everything else. All the pieces that aren’t made out of fabric, such as shoes, hats, jewelry, and armor (armor what’s got me into all of this so it has a special place in my heart) that’s my domain. I’m also the guy who makes all the weird things, like wing harnesses, puppetry rigs, or headdresses made to look like burnt branches. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t know there was a job like mine growing up. I kinda fluked into finding out about it when I was in college, after a series of strange honestly random events. See, I wanted to be an illustrator growing up, but I made the mistake of drawing a suit of armor and saying to myself “I could make this.” Spoiler alert, I did make it, and it introduced me to whole world of costume construction I hadn’t realized existed. The thing about building a suit of armor that nobody tells you (as if there are many people giving aspiring armourers sage advice) is that once you have it, you’re obligated to find uses for it. I made a maille shirt as part of my armour, and since maille weaving can be used for making jewelry I opened a jewelry business, because why not. Because part of my armor were made of leather, I started taking leatherworking commissions. Then came sewing and entering my armor into various art and costume construction contests and pretty soon I was in a world I had no idea existed even two years previously. Well, I got to college and in my first theater production class the costume shop manager came in and described all the various positions in a costume shop. She described costume crafts as the position in charge of hats, shoes, jewelry, armor, and fabric painting. I realized I made armor, and jewelry, my major was painting, and a good amount of hats and shoes are made of leather. So, I took a sewing class and applied for a position in the university’s costume shop. I’ve been working in entertainment production pretty much exclusively ever since. Honestly, I just do this because I love making things. I love the tactile nature of the art and I love the creative thinking and problem-solving it engenders. Very, very few pieces I make are alike and as a result, most projects require a large amount of thinking and experimentation during the build process. One day I’ll be making functional armor for historical fencers out of leather and high-impact plastics, and the next day I’ll be asked to make a bunch of hats that look like pancakes. I love the variety, it never gets boring.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
This is a tough one. I love Los Angeles, but I love it for the movie theater I go to on my way home from work a few times a week. I love it for the clubs of historical fencers I meet up with several times a week. Obviously before Covid for both of these, and hopefully again after all this is behind us. Alas, this means unless someone’s a very specific type of geeky cinephile, I probably don’t have much to offer in the way of travel suggestions. That being said, I highly highly recommend the Getty and the Getty Villa. I’m not only saying that because the Getty happens to have an early 15th century manuscript on Italian swordsmanship, though that certainly helps. I also recommend the La Brea Tar Pits, because who doesn’t love being reminded of the childhood wonder inspired by long-dead animals? And if an aspiring visitor does happen to be the correct type of geeky, I can recommend several Historical European Martial Arts clubs throughout the greater LA area. There you can learn how to fight with a variety of weapons including, swords, daggers, spears, and weirder things like lanterns and judicial shields; or stand around and argue about the economics of the late medieval and early modern periods. Whatever strikes one’s fancy.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Where to begin. I had several teachers in a variety of disciplines that helped me along the way. My extracurricular art teacher, Mary Reeder, who instructed me from sixth grade through high school graduation deserves considerable credit. Not only was her studio a safe place for me to explore artistically, but she also showed me that it was possible to make a living in the arts and helped instill in me the appropriate ethos to succeed. She also deserves the bulk of the credit for getting me into the illustration program at university. I found out about art scholarship applications three hours before the deadline and using pieces I had painted at her studio I was able to throw together a portfolio that not only got me a scholarship but gained me admittance into the major. I also need to give credit to my high school welding instructor, Brian Ostler. I pitched the idea of making a suit of armor in his class and rather shoot down my idea he backed it 110%. He arranged access to the welding studio after hours for me to come in and work on my armor and he sponsored me for a technical education scholarship my senior year of high school. He also got a kick out of me working on the “chainmail” components in the back of my other classes. My history teacher was considerably less pleased. I don’t know that I can sum up all the ways my college professors helped me prepare me for a career in the arts. There are too many of them, and their support is myriad, from technical skills to networking. Likewise everyone I’ve met in the industry since graduating have been wonderful and generous in their advice. I suppose the last person who really deserves credit is my buddy Joe. We grew up together, and we’ve been making films since I got my first video camera at the age of nine. He was always more into filmmaking than me, and he’s dragged me into more short film projects over the years than I could even try to count. We still push each other to excell in our different aspects of film production, and he was actually the person who convinced me to take the leap and move to LA to pursue filmmaking in the first place.
Photo credit for the green armor headshot (not the helmet) goes to Ben Blythe.