Thursday February 28, 2013
Dressing the denizens of Oz
By WILLIAM K.C. KEE
Costumes for Oz The Great And Powerful are created with each individual character in mind, regardless of whether they are main characters or extras.
FOR the movie Oz The Great And Powerful, nearly 2,000 outfits were created by costume designers Gary Jones and Michael Kutsche.
Working on all sorts of characters from witches to munchkins, the duo came up with looks for all the unique inhabitants of the Land of Oz.
Industry veteran Jones is not a stranger to the costume demands of big films. He reunited with director Sam Raimi for Oz, after having designed the wardrobe for Raimi’s Spider-Man 2.
In addition to his continuing association with Raimi, Jones has collaborated with filmmakers such as Garry Marshall (Valentine’s Day, The Princess Diaries), Brian De Palma (Dressed To Kill) and Sidney Lumet (Guilty As Sin, A Stranger Among Us).
Meanwhile, Kutsche is an award-winning German artist who works both in traditional and digital media. Kutsche’s approach to imaginative character creation led him to Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland, his first movie experience; he has since designed characters for John Carter and Thor.
Kutsche tasked himself with reflecting the characters’ environment in the costumes he designed for Oz.
He took inspiration from the sets designed by production designer Robert Stromberg. “I think that the most important thing for me was that the costumes weren’t just floating over, but actually part of this world,” commented Kutsche in the movie’s production notes. “Robert’s drawings and those from the art department really were a great starting point because they already had put some very distinct language into them.”
Director Raimi discovered Kutsche’s design skills while he was originating characters for the film. “Michael’s drawings depicted characters in their costumes playing a moment from the picture, and they were fantastic,” enthused Raimi. “Right off the bat, he had a vision for the picture that fit in with Robert’s environment. Like Robert, he’s a visionary and his characters really sprang to life out of those drawings.”
Kutsche began his process by drawing “a couple of pages of little pencil sketches,” reflecting how he perceived the character to look, given his or her environment, personality and social status. Once he had locked in the particular shape and design, Kutsche created an inked version of the sketch, which he scanned into his computer. Once it was living in his computer, Kutsche could colourise the sketch and create material and intricate costume detailing.
Jones and Kutsche had several discussions about the costume drawings and what materials the costumes could ultimately be made of. Kutsche had very clear ideas about how he wanted to portray the characters and what specificity there would be to their costumes.
It was up to Jones to flesh these ideas out literally and figuratively. About the process, Jones said: “In many cases, Michael’s drawings did dictate what the feeling needed to be, but we had to go on a real search to find the right element and the way to do it. That was a great adventure.
“We eventually printed fabrics, beaded fabrics and manipulated fabrics to make it individual and different. Although many of the things are not literally different, they appear to be. So, that’s kind of exciting,” he explained.
Jones worked closely with Raimi and star James Franco to conceive the look of Oscar Diggs aka Oz. “In preparing Oz’s clothes, Sam had a very clear idea what he wanted. I had met with James as well, and we were all heading in the same direction, which was terrific.”
Jones’ research for Franco’s tailoring took him on a journey that had nostalgic meaning for the veteran costumer, who has a history with Ringling Bros. “Our story begins in a circus, which is the most period-accurate part of the film,” the long-time designer said. “We researched everything from the largest circus to the poorest, most downtrodden carnival entertainers to the Dust Bowl. We covered the period between 1880 and 1930 in our research. Having worked with the Ringling Bros circus was an added joy because I loved that experience. So, to have another moment with a circus was really terrific for me.”
With inspiration and some vintage photos in hand, Jones met Franco in a SoHo coffee shop in New York, where he shared the photos he had brought from the turn of the century. Some were of Alexander Graham Bell and the Wright Brothers.
“Those were things that we started with and that’s how we got to Oz’s final wardrobe design – a black cutaway suit from the turn of the century, which I am very proud to have designed,” said Jones.
Commenting on his costume, Franco said: “I only have one look in this film, a three-piece suit that Oz wears in Kansas. I think it’s safe to say that that was my favourite outfit in the film. Knowing that people dressed really well in the old days, I enjoyed wearing that three-piece suit quite a bit.”
The witches’ wardrobes
There are three very distinct witches in the film – Evanora, Theodora and Glinda – who had to be costumed to reflect not only their personalities but their surroundings as well.
In creating the look of the sisters Evanora and Theodora, Kutsche explained: “For Evanora, the ruler of Emerald City, the starting point was looking at the architecture of the city. I really wanted her to not just be some person in this place, but to actually be this place.
“The shape and colour of her wardrobe reflect the feel of Emerald City, which was Art Deco inspired. So I could make her more of a mighty being that stands out against all the other citizens, and the other witches as well.”
Commenting on the costume for her character Evanora, Rachel Weisz said: “I wear a green dress pretty much all the time. It is slightly militaristic, because I’m sort of the military leader of Emerald City as well.”
Once Kutsche had sculpted the characters’ looks in a two-dimensional sketch, Jones began his process of bringing the illustrations to life with the chosen fabrics. “With Evanora, we took a little detour towards the Duchess of Windsor for a moment, and then came back to Michael’s drawings because of the iconic silhouette that you need to balance the sets and scenery.”
In defining the pair of opposing enchantresses (Evanora and Glinda) through wardrobe design, Jones described his approach: “The witches are very clearly light and dark to contrast good and evil. We used a mercury green colour, all having to do with Robert’s Emerald City design, to portray Evanora. Glinda, of course, is basically a white, pristine kind of girl in the story, and we created three different white gowns for Michelle Williams’ character.”
Speaking of whom, Williams liked the transitions that Glinda’s costuming took during the course of the story. “When we first meet Glinda, she’s more demure, cloaked in these very delicate fabrics. Then, as the battle dawns, she has a wardrobe change and appropriately suits up in something that is tougher, like fairy-princess armour.”
When we first meet Evanora’s little sister, the vulnerable Theodora, she is wearing a Victorian-styled riding outfit, with a large-brimmed red velvet hat.
“Theodora has three costume changes,” Jones stated. “In my opinion, (the first one is) a beautiful costume, structured with a hint of contemporary pizzazz. A big, handsome velvet riding hat, a red coat, black riding breeches and a white blouse. All very beautiful with a sense of the pastoral fun of the 18th century one might find in a Fragonard painting.”
“It’s in a fantasy world while still being a period piece in a way,” Kutsche offered. “So, I looked at fashion around 1900 when they had some pretty crazy hats. Theodora’s look is almost like a patchwork of different periods that makes it look like no distinct period. And that’s what I guess gives it this slightly fantastical feel.”
In comparing Evanora and Theodora, Jones stated that “one of the first times that the characters appeared together, you realise that they do have similarities in the cut of their clothes, but not at all in the feeling of the clothes. They’re two completely different worlds. Mila’s Theodora is a little more on the sporty, physical side, while Rachel’s costumes for Evanora are a little more of a reigning empress.”
In addition to the principal cast, Jones and his staff of 60 costumers, seamstresses, textile artists, dyers and agers also created the clothes for all the inhabitants of Oz, such as the Quadlings, Munchkins, Tinkers, Emerald City citizens and Winkies.
In devising how to best reflect these assorted Ozians (most of whom were extras with no dialogue), Jones chose to characterise the mood of these divergent groups through their clothing.
Before putting thread to needle or dye to fabric, Jones and his key collaborators (assistant designers Jessica Peel-Scott and Gali Noy and wardrobe supervisor John Casey) spent hours researching fashion trends from various periods.
“While our research was concentrated on the turn of the 20th century,” Jones related, “our costume designs came from both that historical point of view while reflecting a more contemporary style, a fashion point of view having to do with what our eye sees today, in 2013, as fashionable and attractive.”
In Glinda’s world, that of the Quadlings and Munchkins, these are the happy people of Oz. “They’re butchers, bakers, and the like, who toil in the normal ways of life. A rather happy, simple group of folks, who we defined with bright colours and pretty clothes. To contrast that, in Emerald City, we’re faced with people who are doing work under duress, under the thumb of the wicked Evanora.”
“Therefore a little more repressed, more buttoned up,” he continued. “So, we made their clothes in strong, jewel-tone colours (rich reds and greens and blues) but in a very formal and stylised way. Of course, with a little hint of extra green because of Emerald City. And the more ominous blacks and greys as well to portray that repressed mood. They have some of the same shapes that the people who live in Glinda’s world do, but they’re more conservative in every way. The people who live in Glinda’s world are all in pale pastels, earth tones, cream colours. Even their shoes and hats.”
As for the Winkies, “They are the guards at the palace in Emerald City,” Jones described. “Their military-styled costumes were inspired by Russian and Prussian uniforms.”
At the end of the day, when audiences watch Oz, they may not notice the smallest costuming details. But they may feel that the Land of Oz is a living, breathing place that – as fantastical as it seems – does exist. And Jones and Kutsche’s costumes play a great part in delivering that feeling.
Oz The Great And Powerful opens in Malaysian cinemas on March 7. Tomorrow Star2 takes a closer look at the witches of Oz.