Designing the Amazing Spider-Man costumes

Interview Sarah Dobbs 16 Apr 2014 - 06:56

We talked to costume designer Deborah Lynn Scott about designing the new Spider-suit, creating Electro, and tie-dye...

If someone handed you some colouring pencils and paper right now, you could probably draw a picture of Spider-Man. Most people know roughly what he looks like – he’s been around for more than 50 years, after all. But when it comes to translating a beloved comic book character to the big screen, it’s not quite as straightforward as it seems.

For The Amazing Spider-man 2, the responsibility for getting the costume right falls to Deborah Lynn Scott, an Oscar winning costume designer who’s worked on everything from Titanic to Transformers. We called her up for a chat about designing Spider-Man…

Hi Deborah! Let’s start at the beginning. When you sign on to design costumes for a superhero movie like Amazing Spider-Man 2, what does that process involve? Where do you start?

Well, let’s see. On pretty much every movie, you start with a ton of research, and in this case, it was mostly the lore behind Spider-man, the comic book references and the prior movies. And then you get a lot of information from the director, and how he views the movie. Then the process of how to actually physically make one of those types of costumes begins. There’s lots of exciting new technology being used to create costumes like this.

What kinds of new technologies did you use?

Well, computers – it’s quite amazing, because in the original Spider-Man movies with Tobey Maguire, the suit’s webbing would have been hand cut, but this was done on a 3D model on the computer to lay out a very precise pattern. And then using that computer information, you screen-print on fabric. So there are lots of different avenues to get very much more of a high tech kind of process.

Obviously, a costume like Spider-Man’s is very iconic and recognisable. But there have been lots of variations over the years, and you’ve also got to take an image that was originally drawn in a comic book and recreate that on an actual person, so how do you tackle that?

Well, it is an iconic character, and that’s one of the fun things about doing it, trying to reinterpret it in whichever way the filmmaker wants to. Marc Webb, the director, really wanted to go back to the comic book references and reinterpret more of a classic Spider-Man with a modern slickness to him.

We really researched everything, from what colours of red and blue to use, to the proportions of red and blue, and should we have a belt or not? And how big are the eyes? What kind of eyes are they? What colour are the eyes? Everything! We reviewed every piece of the puzzle.

And then you have to make a costume that fits on a particular body. It’s not like you can go and buy a pair of size 30 jeans; the actor has to have a whole body scan done in a computer and then you build a mannequin that’s exactly Andrew Garfield’s size, and then you start to sculpt it around his particular and unique body.

Yeah, that’s a good point, it’s not like you can just tuck something in if it doesn’t fit properly.

Right, it’s not one size fits all!

You mentioned the eyes in the mask, and that seems to be quite a contentious thing. It’s one of the major differences between the costume in the first film and this one, too, so can we talk about the eyes?

Well, again, Marc wanted to get a really iconic eye. He had done a different take on it in the first movie and he wanted to change it up, so we experimented with slightly different shapes. It’s interesting; if you just change an angle a tiny bit it would make him look angry or mean, so we played around with that for quite some time. And then we just made the eye as big as it possibly could be on the proportion of Andrew’s face and not look like an ant or a bug. We wanted to get that big, wide, white eye. I like it, it’s a bit different.

So what kind of expression did you go for, in the end?

I think it’s very dynamic. He doesn’t look one thing or another. It allows him to take on whatever emotion – it’s funny, if you cover someone’s face up, how do they convey emotion? It’s almost sort of neutral, and then whatever Andrew does with his body and voice, the eyes take on that quality. It’s a hard acting job, really.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that such a simple thing – the face is just eyes, really, there aren’t any other features – can change so much just by altering something a tiny bit.

We had several sets of eyes – because the eyes pop in and out – so we could see how they would change his expression when we tried different things. But he doesn’t have eyebrows, he doesn’t have a mouth, he doesn’t have anything to work with. So it’s pretty spectacular, the acting that has to go on behind that mask.

Andrew Garfield’s a very physical actor, too. He obviously has to be able to move around a lot, so how does that affect the materials you can use?

Yeah, it’s challenging, because you need a fabric that’s very strong, because the costume could get easily torn if he’s getting dragged behind a car or one of the things he has to do. At the same time, there’s a comfort level, which we really worked on, to make it more comfortable, to make it easier to get in and out of, and being able to take the mask off more easily, all those things to make Andrew more comfortable.

Also, it had to be stretchy, but not so stretchy that it wouldn’t stretch back. Because some fabrics stretch, but then they bag out, which I’m sure you’ve experienced with a pair of tights or something. So it took a lot of time to find the right fabric, and then it had to be something with all those qualities that could take a very intense dye.

Yeah, you can’t really have a patchy, tie-dye Spider-Man.

No! But we’d find a fabric and then dye it and find we couldn’t get a deep red, which was disappointing. That was quite a learning curve.

Apart from Spider-Man himself, you’ve got Electro and the Green Goblin and the Rhino in this movie, and all of those present a completely different challenge to adapt from comics to the screen. What was the most difficult thing you had to do?

Always the most difficult thing with all the costumes is to make something that the actor can actually perform in. Their physicality is very important and by nature those costumes are so uncomfortable, they’re very hot, their movement is restricted, and you have to work with all those things.

And all the costumes were quite different. Spider-Man was probably in some ways the most simple. Electro was mostly made of a lot of rubber, which is very hot. And then the Green Goblin is mechanised.

Also, it’s a challenge to make costumes that didn’t need a lot of CG enhancement on top so they can stand on their own. The Rhino is virtually all CG, obviously, but that was the fun part of it, to get it good enough that the filmmakers didn’t have to go in and add CG.

We had some brilliant costume-makers. The Green Goblin costume was made at Weta Workshop in New Zealand, and Spider-Man and Electro were made at Ironhead Studio in Los Angeles. They’re people who do those things and have spent years experimenting and learning how to make those kinds of costumes. They’re very cool to work with.

Which costume is your favourite?

I really enjoyed doing the Spider-Man one. Because it’s so simple, and when I started it was a little bit intimidating, because like you said, in your mind’s eye, you’ve seen Spider-Man and you know Spider-Man, but what’s going to make my Spider-Man different than the others? What’s different, what makes it cooler than the other Spider-man versions? Maybe it’s my competitive nature. I want mine to be the best one.

It is odd, because you know what it should look like, but there are things you could change, like the width of the lines, or how far apart the webbing is…

Yeah, it’s very precise. It’s mind-boggling.

Did you go through lots of different iterations?

Yes. Billions. Like the colours, and the faint patterns on the red, and what shape should the web design be? It changes, it’s a very dynamic pattern, it gets smaller and bigger and enhances the way his muscles move, so there were tons and tons of experiments. We could keep doing that forever but eventually you have to settle on one because you’ve got to make the movie!

What do you think defines your version of the costume, compared with the others?

I love the richness of the colour and I love the way it’s not flat, it has a kind of movement of its own, and I think when the proportions of how it fits Andrew, I think it enhances his physique, and I think it fits with the action really well. I hope people like it.

How involved were the actors? Did you get feedback from them, like “this is hideously uncomfortable” or “it’d be cool if it looked like this?”

Oh yeah. It’s a long process, and it takes a lot of fittings and a lot of patience. Jamie Foxx – Andrew too, all of them – they’re the most patient people in the world. Jamie also had a large makeup component; he would have to sit in the makeup chair for hours. It’s really hard for actors to wear those costumes, even just to sit comfortably or be able to touch their toes without something hurting.

Obviously there are other costumes in the movie – the characters’ street clothes, rather than their superhero costumes – so what do you take into consideration when you’re planning that?

You have to take into account that there’s a previous movie, specifically for Andrew and Emma, and you have to think about what their characters’ journey has been between the end of the last movie and the start of this one. Kym Barrett did the costumes for the first movie and she did a really great job of establishing who these people are. You know, he’s from Queens, and she’s Upper East Side, and then I looked at the movie and where they are now, and thought about what we’re trying to enhance character-wise, and took it from there.

Take Emma for example. You’re interpreting a comic book, so maybe there’s some enhanced reality there. You’re paying homage to a lot of things, and Gwen Stacy is such an iconic character. So what she chooses to wear says something – how stylish she chooses to be, you know? Harry Osborne, too, and Peter Parker; you take it a bit to the comic book side, to get an iconic kind of image.

Deborah Lynn Scott, thank you very much!

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is out in UK cinemas now.

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