More Behind the Scenes Stories

Behind the Scenes: Getting Down and Dirty with Pirates

Heather Hust Rivera

by , Vice President, Consumer Products

I’ll often stop, shake my head and then start laughing when I think about some of the crazy things we talk about here at the Disneyland Resort, and this is one of those times. There aren’t many companies that have to come up with a way to make clothes look dirty. Here at Disneyland park, this was a very real challenge for the costume designers in charge of the Pirates’ costumes.

When the Pirates were first introduced as regularly appearing characters in 2007, Entertainment Show Director Glenn Kelman worked with Walt Disney Studios to develop the concept for how the pirates would come to life in the Parks. They quickly decided the pirates needed to be unique, have a sense of humor and, of course, be very dirty. This was a problem because we do not like our Parks costumes to be wrinkled, dirty or smelly in any way. So, what could they do?

At first, the costume designers distressed all of the costumes, staining them by hand, putting in actual rips and tears. But this solution, while great for a few days, had two problems. First, the costumes had a short shelf life and would need to be rebuilt far too often, and second, no matter how we tried to stain the costumes, our terrific laundry facility kept washing the stains out. Nobody likes a clean pirate! Clean pirates just don’t seem real.

So, the costuming team came up with a clever solution. They would pre-stain the fabric using a process called sublimation (where dye is added to the fabric in patterns) and then build the costumes using the “dirty” cloth. The fun part was designing a pattern of “stains” that could be applied to the fabric. This relatively new technology was being used to add stripes or floral patterns to material, but we might have been the first ones to use it to permanently stain costumes. Since then, the Resort has invested in its own sublimation machine and trained a team to use it. Now we are creating our own unique patterned fabric for Disney Parks and Resorts around the globe. And, it was the Pirates who helped us find this new “technological” treasure.

Today’s video takes you behind the scenes and shows how this sublimation process works. Let us know what you think.


  • What an amazing process. Disney always does things the right way to make the experience authentic. Thanks Disney!

  • That was awesome Wow! how could one ever imagine. God Bless Disney imagineers

  • One of my favorite Disney Parks blog posts in a long time — how interesting!

  • I love making costumes and always reccomend fullers earth for stains but this is Awesome!!Thanks for dishing the dirt;) The poor laundry people are probably going crazy trying to get those stains out. The next time I have a stubborn stain I will just tell everyone that the fabric is printed that way.

  • Thats is completely awesome. How new is this technology to costume making and how long has Disney being using it?

  • Love this post! Costume design is one of my passions so this was an special treat for me today! Thanks so much for sharing!!!

  • Very cool!

  • My son just spent time with the swabbies in the Pirates League and with Jack Sparrow himself at Pirate training. We noticed how authentic their costumes were and now we know the magic behind it! Thanks for giving us more reasons to smile!

  • Making costumes appear dirty is one of those things that you need to do so people won’t notice.

    A clean pirate wouldn’t look right. People will notice a clean pirate.

    It can be a great complement when people don’t notice things.

  • Never a sortage of creative solutions at Disney. I still want to know how I can get my foot in the door at the Architecture division of Imagineering.

  • Anything and everything Disney fascinates me. I totally dig what you did here with the Pirate costumes and I love that you totally let us in on it. How awesome! Thanks for sharing!

  • Only Disney would use an advanced printing technology to make dirty clothes. Nice work! 🙂

    Ricky B
    Inside the Magic

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