‘It’s Sort of Liberace Meets Billy Idol': The Costumes Of ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’
‘Guardians of the Galaxy‘ introduces us to a strange world of new aliens and eclectic characters the likes that haven’t been seen since maybe even the Original Trilogy of ‘Star Wars‘ movies. Even with the comic book as source material, designing the costumes for ‘Guardians’ presented a brand new set of challenges for Oscar-winning costume designer Alexandra Byrne.
Byrne, who won an Academy Award for her work on ‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age,’ was introduced to the world of superhero movies at the request of Kenneth Branagh, whom she had worked with on ‘Hamlet’ and, in 2011, was directing ‘Thor.’ When I asked Byrne if Branagh was the one responsible for “roping” her into the superhero genre, Byrne corrected my terminology by answering, “He introduced me to it, yes. And it was about the steepest learning curve I’ve ever been on.”
Byrne went on to design the costumes for ‘The Avengers‘ and, now, her work is on display in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy.’ Ahead, Byrne takes us through a handful of the major characters from ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and explains the trials and tribulations of dressing the most infamous band of a-holes in the galaxy.
“[The challenges] were everything and nothing, in a way. Chris himself, he was obviously cast very early and one of the challenges was that when he was cast, he hadn’t lost the weight. So, we were trying to anticipate where his body would end up. Both in terms of the silhouette of the character, but, also, knowing that he can’t just have one costume on day one of shooting — because it’s action, you have to have repeats ready. You can’t make them over night. We can’t say, ‘Oh, now that we have the body, now we can start making them.’ So, there were both practical and artistic judgements to make there. And, really, just working with Chris, we made a lot of prototypes for him and a lot of work on the body. He’s got an amazing physique and he’s a big guy. And making that work on camera, it’s like spinning plates or a juggling act of having contradictory information.
[Making Quill seem alien and contemporary was] exactly what I wanted to do. We did a lot of fitting with Chris. One of the practical challenges were he’s got to get a lot of things in and out of a bag, he’s got guns, he’s got rocket blasters. And, again, giving some sort of credibility to the technology of his character. He’s got this amazing spaceship, the Milano. But some of it has a retro feel and some of it is completely incredible. It’s a balancing act.”
“I realize I work very instinctively with color and because we had so many alien species with brightly colored skin from bubblegum pink to yellow, it took me a long time to work out why I felt completely disabled and like I was wrapped in headlights. And suddenly driving in one day, I thought, Oh, It’s because I have to completely reappraise how to use color. So, yes, color was the big challenge, but also the joy. James [Gunn] is very clear that he wants to have this pulpy sense of color. She’s green!
You always, always start with the comics … Marvel has a visual development team and they are the experts on the comic book characters. But, also, the crucial part of creating one of these characters is the casting. So, you can draw and draw away and design and do all you want, but particularly with a character like Gamora — because she’s so physical — until you’ve got your casting, you don’t know what the physicalization of this character is going to be .. and making it work on the actress and making it into a practical action garment becomes another whole thing.”
“Sometimes when you’ve got a lot of costuming, you just keep adding more and more and more — you can get away with a lot more. The less there is, the more crucial it is. You know, where are the trousers going to fit on his waist? That becomes a major piece. But, then, Dave Bautista has such an incredible and unique physique, that you just work with him. You get the body and start working.”
Rocket and Groot
“Obviously it’s a collaboration, so everybody is present in the meetings and you need to know where it’s going. With Rocket, for the visual effects as a reference, he had clothes. We made the costume for them so they had the reference. And there is the whole look for the final battle where they all end up in Ravagers’ gear and that is part of the look of the film. And the prison uniform, we designed all of that for him.”
Ronan The Accuser
“It’s about the look, but he also has some big fights in that costume. So, again, it’s got to be practical. And the thing I felt very strongly was that his spaceship is so extreme, he needed to look like he really belonged in that. So, we referenced with the art department so that he kind of echoed — he kind of had an architectural quality that echoed his environment. It was quite late in the day that we decided on adding those kind of ritualistic daubings onto his armor, which, I think, just took it out of that kind of costume area into something else. It’s about trying to appraise where you’ve got to and not getting stuck in a tunnel.”
“Michael Rooker is a very strong personality. And you know it’s Michael Rooker, but, also, it doesn’t break the narrative. You’re still there with him being this extraordinary character. We did a lot of fittings and it was about movement and silhouettes and we wanted to keep kind of the coat idea as a kind of linking between Quill and Yondu and their history. A kind of symbol of the Ravagers’ look. So when you get to the Ravagers’ ship and meet all of the Ravagers, they’re a very random group, but there is a sense of an overall look. And we tried to make it back to five different generations of what the Ravagers were wearing. So that when out heroes emerge in the latest of their Ravagers look, it has kind of an evolution to it.”
“Once you have someone like Benicio del Toro, you know you’ve got an amazing actor. And, again, we talked and discussed it and he’s somebody who really can inhabit a take on a costume. So he used it and used the shape and I think that takes it out of being pretend dressing up. That was our nickname for him, we called him ‘The Liberace of the Universe.’ You don’t need to look [at Liberace’s wardrobe for reference], they’re ingrained in everybody’s mind. You get a sense of the scale and the decadence of them without having to over-research. It’s sort of Liberace meets Billy Idol.”
“Again, the comic book is the starting point. And then going from there, really. And, again, working with color. I think there have been quite a lot of films, which have gone very sort of dark and gritty and real. And James was very clear about his use of colors. And obviously Nova Corps was where we wanted to have a statement of the color.”
“Bizarrely, I enjoyed the Kyln uniforms. There’s a lot of detail in all of the clothing, but the Kyln in particular. Because I think to give these kind of big visuals films a sort of integrity and belief, you have to make it all work. So, within the prison uniforms, they had different kinds of aging and personalized graffiti on them, depending on how long the person had been in the Kiln prison. And we had a sort of bar code system of naming that linked to the crimes, so everybody had different crimes associated to them. And then we worked out a sort of trading system of beads and jewelry that they’d made for them in Kyln. So, we had a lot of fun with them, even though it reeks of a big yellow mass.”