labricoleuse: (mee)
This post is the first of more-than-one [1] concerning our final costume replica project for the Museum of Science Fiction in Washington, DC: a Stillsuit from the 1984 film, Dune.



So, first let’s consider the costume itself. Within the context of the film (and the numerous novels by Frank Herbert which predate the movie), a Stillsuit is a standard outerwear garment for people on the desert planet of Arrakis. It basically collects a person’s sweat and bodily wastes, filters/distills/purifies them, keeps the wearer’s body at a reasonable temperature, and turns all the waste into sustenance. It also makes everybody look kind of like a superhero in a black rubber union suit.

You can check out our Pinboard of research images here, to get a good overview of what we’re creating. In addition to my collection of these photos to work from, the Museum also provided us a DVD of the film to view and screencap as needed. We even held a viewing party at the theatre early on in the process, for those faculty, staff, and students who would be working on the projects—in addition to the Stillsuit, our props department is creating a replica of the Maker Hook (a kind of weapon-tool people use on Arrakis…it’s a long story involving huge sandworms that secrete a drug called the Spice and how that drug is harvested).

There are a variety of different Stillsuits in the film, all minor variations on the same basic look. They differ depending on whether the wearer is an adult or child, man or woman, and according to how the wearer’s frame is built. So, a Stillsuit for a tall skinny person might differ from a Stillsuit for a short broad person in minor details like, say, the arrangement of the pad shapes and tubing details down the length of the limbs. There are dozens and dozens of these costumes in the film, similar to how there are loads of the same military uniform in a war movie, all slightly different. And much like with the Neo coat we made from The Matrix, you can find some visual example of any slight variation in style-line because there simply were so many of the original.

For the Stillsuit we’ve been asked to create, we have a display mannequin which it must fit; and just as we dealt with in terms of our prior projects for 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Matrix, display mannequins have unusual, exaggerated bodies. They’re elongated, posed in an odd presentational stance, and their measurements are…well, outside the norm compared to human actors. (You also have to twist their arms and legs off to put their clothes on, which presents its own set of challenges…but more on that later perhaps.)

In the case of this costume, the original concept by costume designer Bob Ringwood  incorporated the pad structures in such a configuration as to boost and "feature" the musculature of the wearers—all the guys in Dune give the impression of being incredibly fit because the Stillsuits augment their shoulder breadth, pecs/abs, biceps/thighs/calves. We’re working off of a mannequin though who already has substantial shape in those areas, so we knew we’d need to approach this project with a mind to proportion in the pad shapes which took into account the idealized body underneath.

We were also asked to specifically look at the Stillsuit worn by Max von Sydow, who played the character Dr. Liet Kynes (on the far left in the photo above). Dr. Kynes has been stationed on Arrakis for much longer than some other characters, and as such his Stillsuits [2] are not shiny-black and brand-new like many of the other characters’ costumes. Dr. Kynes’s suit has been sandblasted and sun-baked so that it’s got an aged, distressed look. It’s dusty, it’s well-worn, it’s been keeping him alive for a long time. In some lights it even appears to have a brown cast. That’s the surface look we’re going for in our replica: a suit which would have been worn by an experienced veteran of life on Arrakis.

But when you look at these costumes, you may ask yourself: what am I looking at? Are they leather? Rubber? Vinyl? What are those things made of? How do they move like they do when the actors run across the desert or execute complex fight choreography? On our research Pinboard, you’ll also find a link to this video, which is a behind-the-scenes look at how the original artisans made the original Stillsuits back in the early 1980s: a complicated process involving full-body life-casts, latex rubber, and so forth. It provided excellent insight into exactly what we’re seeing when we watch the film and observe these costumes in action.

And for us as the costume artisans developing this display piece, it was an excellent document of methodology illustrating exactly why we shouldn’t create our replica for the Museum using the same process used by the original creators!

I’ll explain why in the next post in the series...




[1] I’m not sure yet how many posts it’ll take to fully cover this project. I’m going to guess, at least three For now, let’s just say that this is definitely not the only one!

[2] I use the plural here for a couple of reasons.

First, conceptually, I would not want to wear the same Stillsuit every single day on Arrakis. I’d want to rotate through a few because it just seems more sanitary, the way you don’t want to wear the same clothes every day. So i’m choosing to think that Dr. Kynes has several Stillsuits.

But second, in actual fact, it’s standard for there to be duplicates of costumes in film particularly of the stars, for any number of reasons—recall the Neo coat for which over twenty different versions were used. Unlike for The Matrix, we don’t have confirmation of the exact number of suits each performer might have worn, but just inspecting the film stills, press photographs, and the DVD, there appear to have been more than one created for Mr. von Sydow.
labricoleuse: (mee)
You may recall that last year, i wrote up our first costume replica project for the Museum of Science Fiction, the flight attendant costume from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Today i've got the next project installment to share, the Neo costume from 1999's The Matrix.

This one came about because a donor gave the museum a pair of Airwalk buckle boots which were purportedly used in the making of the film, and they wanted to create an exhibit around those boots, a display of the full costume look for the character of Neo (played by Keanu Reeves). Here's what we did:

First up, I created a Pinterest board for research images for the project, and rising second year grad student Erin Torkelson began to add specific screencaps to it, on top of all the extant imagery i found for the costume. Erin also worked with the folks at the Museum to set up a conference call with the film's costume designer, Kym Barrett, who generously took the time to talk with us about the original costumes. She gave us a lot of wonderful information about her concept for Neo's clothing, and also told us some fun facts, like that there were over 20 versions of the iconic Neo coat, made up in many different types of materials so that they would behave differently in various conditions--linen ones, wool ones, screenprinted ones, coats designed to be shot underwater, etc.

So ironically, our conundrum was, how do you make a replica of a costume for which there is no single costume to copy, something for which there were numerous iterations, all both identical and yet very different, and for which the icon itself doesn't exist other than as an impression in the mind of the viewer? (Isn't that so perfect, given the film in question?) So as we determined in our conversation with Kym, we were making a representation of the icon, a costume which anyone who walked into a room with it would know from 50' away: "That's the Neo costume from The Matrix."

We worked with a friend of mine, Katie Straker, who is an employee of Mood Fabrics, to swatch wools for the coat, and our assistant costume director, Jenn Guadagno, drafted the pattern for it following traditional tailoring methods. She then supervised its construction with a team of our graduate and undergraduate students serving as her first-hands and stitchers:

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Rising second year grad Michelle Bentley works on sewing the coat lining.

There's one close-up shot in the film where we thought we caught a glimpse of the digital drift imagery on the lining of the coat, and sure enough, when we asked Kym Barrett about it, she confirmed that that was true.

So using a still from the film, MFA '16 grad Erin Abbenante did the digital drift textile design you see here, which we had printed at Spoonflower.


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Rising third year grad Emily Plonski adjusts the capelet at the shoulder seam before the sleeves go in.


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Look how beautiful that turned out!


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Local news WRAL did a feature on us! Here they're filming rising third-year Max Hilsabeck working on the gun holsters, which were patterned and overseen by rising second-year Erin Torkelson.


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The donated boots were definitely not the ones worn by Keanu Reeves in the film--they were likely a stuntman or distance double or similar, because among other things they did not feature the iconic chainmail toecaps of Neo's boots, so famous from the giant closeup shot in the film. MOSF wanted theirs to have that aesthetic element though, so above you see a sheet of chainmail and the boot in question.


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Here's the finished toes! I worked on these with rising third year grad Emily Plonski and rising second year Robin Ankerich.



UNC undergraduate Glennda Campbell sewing one of our custom printed MOSF labels into the completed coat


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Obligatory mirror selfie with Neo in the PlayMakers Repertory Company fitting room. When the WRAL camera crew looked at him and said "It's like he looks MORE real than the one in the movie," I knew we'd succeeded.

You can see this costume debut on display at the upcoming MOSF extravaganza, Escape Velocity, coming to DC In July!
labricoleuse: (mee)
This past spring, we entered into a very exciting partnership with the in-development Museum of Science Fiction.

This article gives a pretty good overview of how we wound up getting involved, and you can watch a brief video about it at this link.

So, this post is a behind-the-scenes photoessay overview of what this first project entailed.


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Graduate student (now alumna '15) Denise Chukhina adjusts the jacket.
One challenge of this project was building the costume for a display form instead of a human being.
Look how tall our mannequin is!

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Mockup of jacket and hat - at this point, Denise was working with scale and proportion and figuring out the patterns for making the finished pieces. Denise drafted and draped the patterns for these garments from measurements and research images, and made the garments from materials provided by the Museum.


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We worked with Richelle Devereaux-Murray, Emerson College costume shop supervisor, to produce our custom embroidery of the jacket logo. (Note our sweet MOSF label in the lining, too!)

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The finished hat has this cool 3D printed medallion on it! We worked with science librarian David Romito, who helped us take the original PanAm medallion (which is much smaller than this one), digitize the shape, and print it on a MakerBot at the UNC Research Hub here on campus.


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We had three fabricated, just in case we needed extras. Here they are sprayed first with plastic primer...

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...then they were painted with metallic paint and foiled for reflectivity. Shown before foiling here with one of the research images.


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The Grip Shoes are perhaps the most iconic part of this costume!
The unusual shape of the mannequin's feet made this a particular challenge.

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Logo color/scale tests on the white leather.

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Ready for display! She will be on view at various preview events, fundraisers, and installations between now and the opening of the museum in DC.
See her and much more now at Reagan National Airport, where the first exhibition opened July 7.

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