‘Dune’ Costume Designer on Creating Stunning Sci-Fi Styles – The Hollywood Reporter

When Denis Villeneuve first approached costume designer Jacqueline West to work on Dune, she flatly refused. “‘No, I don’t do sci-fi,’” West remembers telling the filmmaker.

Decided, Villeneuve circled again weeks later and requested once more, however West wouldn’t budge. “Denis, I like your work,” she instructed him, “however this simply isn’t my style.”

A former high-fashion designer turned costume creator, West has been nominated for 3 Oscars, all for acclaimed interval movies: Philip Kaufman’s Marquis De Sade biopic Quills (2000), David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant. A lot of the remainder of her distinguished filmography sits in the identical style, typically with broadly acclaimed auteurs: Terrence Mallick’s The New World and Tree of Life, Ben Affleck’s Argo — and, subsequent up, Martin Scorsese’s Leonardo DiCaprio-starring interval Western, Killers of the Flower Moon.

West’s fame for deep analysis and character-driven design was exactly what appealed to Villeneuve as he was envisioning a sci-fi epic of unusual complexity and grandeur. “He saved saying the explanation he needed me was due to my background in historic work,” West says. “And he had learn some quote Brad Pitt as soon as gave saying that I used to be a ‘technique costume designer.’ It was all very flattering, however I simply didn’t suppose I might it.”

Dune‘s lead producer Mary Guardian, who had labored with West on The Revenant, then intervened. Guardian mentioned, “Jacky, you simply want to fulfill with him. Come to my workplace at Legendary alone; I’m going to place Denis on the large display screen with you from Canada, and I assure you, when you hear his imaginative and prescient for this film, it would be best to do it.”

“So I did that,” West remembers, “and she or he was completely proper.”

The Hollywood Reporter just lately related with West to debate her inventive journey with Villeneuve on Dune — and the way she turned to the aesthetics of the papacy, pre-revolution Russia and the Knights Templar to lend symbolic that means to the movie’s multi-layered world.

I’ve heard that you simply and your collaborator, Bob Morgan, created over 1,000 costumes for Dune. That looks as if an astounding quantity of inventive work. Is that typical of a mission of this scale?

We figured we really created about 2,000 costumes — 400 of which have been specialty costumes. In order that’s monumental. That most likely outdoes something in Star Wars or some other very huge sci-fi movie. It’s up there with one thing like the unique Ben-Hur or some traditional epic.

Once I first learn the script, I assumed, oh my god, 400 specialty costumes — that’s daunting. In order that’s after I requested [costume supervisor] Bob Morgan, who had by no means designed earlier than, to hitch me, as a result of he has supervised so many movies with specialty costumes and I knew he would rent the fitting crew for us and have unbelievable enter into what works and what doesn’t work on the human physique.

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‘Dune’ costume designer Jacqueline West speaks with director Denis Villeneuve on set.
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

What have been a few of your very earliest inventive improvement conversations with Denis?

Initially, Denis was most involved with two issues: What Barron Harkonnen would appear to be, and the way we’d create the nonetheless swimsuit, as a result of it’s described in such trivia in Frank Herbert’s ebook.

The Barron was going to be a 400-pound man that would solely transfer round with suspensors as a result of he couldn’t carry his personal physique weight, as within the ebook. Denis was involved that he wanted to look robust and menacing. He couldn’t look foolish. And the way ought to he be dressed? I instructed that perhaps Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now can be a superb place to begin — and that he might put on some form of lengthy black silk, nearly diaphanous, muumuu. Denis actually flipped out over that concept. I believe he really had been fascinated with these Brando-inspired references himself, as a result of he mentioned, “Precisely!” We have been instantly on the identical web page.

These Brando touches are a few of the most enjoyable particulars of the movie. And Stellan Skarsgård, in fact, simply nails it. So how did you get began on the nonetheless swimsuit?

I had an unbelievable idea sketch artist I labored with, Keith Christensen. He got here up with about 4 drawings of the nonetheless swimsuit, which I instantly put in entrance of Denis and Denis simply fell in love with them. As soon as I introduced Bob on we took a kind of 4 drawings to Jose Fernandez at Iron Head Studio, [the effects firm specializing in costume and creature design] right here in Los Angeles. Jose can be a complete Dune freak and he needed to create one thing that was completely true to the ebook. He’s a powerful sculptor and he found out a method to make it work and created a prototype.

Then, whereas I labored on the remainder of the designs with my idea artist, Bob took the nonetheless swimsuit prototype to Budapest the place we’d shoot. He went forward and employed essentially the most magnificent, proficient crew, principally from England, who got here to Budapest. He then received the crew working to create the 250 nonetheless fits we would wish, which all needed to be bespoke as a result of they have been so form-fitting. We had actresses which are 5’3″ like Rebecca Ferguson, to Jason Momoa who’s 6’5.” They have been made individually for every physique and every one took two weeks to create.

Denis beloved them and I believe they’ve been an enormous success. We’ve gotten plenty of constructive suggestions from individuals who love the ebook about how genuine they really feel. I’m most glad about the truth that they appeared like they may actually perform — and so they actually did preserve the actors cool once they have been capturing in Jordan.

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Denis Villeneuve
Courtesy of Chia Bella James/Warner Bros

Are you able to share just a little extra about their development? They functioned in the same method to how they’re described within the ebook, stopping the actors from overheating within the desert?

Effectively, they functioned to an extent… The actors weren’t consuming their very own wastewater (Laughs). Within the ebook, the swimsuit is a distillery. It collects human wastewater — perspiration, urine — and it distills all of the ammonia out of it, and thru the nostril piece oxygen is added to the hydrogen, which creates potable water. Within the ebook, solely a thimble-full of human water is misplaced throughout a day within the desert while you’re carrying the swimsuit.

What we did was create a bodysuit out of 5 – 6 layers of what we referred to as a “micro sandwich” of material. It’s not in contrast to a few of cloth that Underneath Armour makes use of to wick water away from the physique when soccer gamers put on it beneath their soccer padding. We chosen a stupendous Japanese cloth that might wick water from the physique after which it might form of cool the physique when the moisture hit the air of Jordan, by means of a mesh system of each cotton, nylon and acrylic. When there was a breeze within the desert, there was a cooling impact on the wearer — and the actors mentioned it actually labored.

In the actual nonetheless swimsuit of the ebook and within the movie, there’s a community of tubing that collects air from the skin by means of the nostril piece whereas additionally accumulating the absorbed physique water, which matches by means of a filtering system in these totally different pockets all through the costume, after which the distilled, potable water additionally creates a cooling system round the entire physique. It’s all mechanized by a pumping system that begins on the heels with the entire thing powered by the musculature and actions of the physique.

For us, that meant it needed to have all of those purposeful parts however be completely form-fitting. You had to have the ability to inform that it was all being mechanized by their physique actions. It was fairly complicated, making it look that manner, as a result of we needed to really create the accumulating pods by means of the costume and the tubing system that runs throughout it — throughout the legs, the arms, the chest and the neck. However we additionally needed to make it engaging and form-fitting. It was an enormous problem, undoubtedly.

We’d want one quickly in Las Angeles, with all the debilitating heatwaves from final summer season and the forest fires. I actually see Dune as a imaginative and prescient of our future, and I might see one thing just like the nonetheless swimsuit being one thing we have to use at some point.

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An idea drawing of Baron Harkonnen’s costume in ‘Dune’
Idea artwork drawn by Keith Christensen, courtesy of Warner Bros.

For the opposite costumes, how useful was the ebook? As you mentioned, the nonetheless swimsuit is sort of meticulously described, however I don’t keep in mind a lot different detailed description of how characters are dressed. Had been there different cues there for you within the supply materials?

With Dune, it wasn’t a lot description however this sense it provides you. I do know that after I did The Revenant, I actually relied on written descriptions of costumes and clothes that trappers and the native tribes wore in that interval. Franke Herbert didn’t go into these sorts of descriptions. He created a sense. That feeling is so deep in Denis’ intestine — he has such a powerful, intimate feeling for this prophetic masterpiece. So Denis grew to become my barometer.

I had some feeling for it too, although, I suppose. I’m from Berkeley and Frank Herbert wrote it within the space. Actually, he famously wrote plenty of Dune on Allan Watts’ houseboat in Sausalito Harbor, and my household’s houseboat was simply 30 ft away from Alan’s after I was a child. Then I went to the [University of California,] Berkeley years later and everybody was studying it. Dune was like a bible again then. They even bought it on the Entire Earth Entry retailer. So I at all times felt I had a reference to it.

I discussed to Denis, “I really feel like this can be a world beginning over 10,000 years from now sooner or later.” If you understand the story, computer systems have precipitated the world to go loopy and created all these intergalactic issues. So I mentioned to Denis, “I believe I’ve to look to the previous — the distant, distant previous — to discover a model for this film. I see it as ‘mod-ieval,’ a contemporary tackle medieval occasions.” And Denis beloved that. This was why he needed a designer with interval expertise.

What have been a few of your references?

I began then with Girl Jessica and used plenty of Goya, Caravaggio, Giotto. I used the traditional Marseille tarot playing cards, the Golden Tarot, for the Bene Gesserit and for Mom Mohiam. I used drawings and work for the Avignon tapestries of the Knights Templar for the Atreides armor. For the Harkonnen world, I used plenty of books of medieval drawings of bugs, spiders, ants, praying mantises and lizards. The monks did these completely stunning drawings of each form of insect and animal. The textured black leather-based of a few of the Harkonnen costumes all got here from concepts of bugs, lizards and spiders. I’d learn the Frank Herbert notes during which he mentions that Baron Harkonnen’s mom was referred to as “the Black Widow” and that she was spider-like, in order that gave me a touch there. The Harkonnen helmet got here from a large ant head.

There are hints all over the place like he aligns the Sardaukar with the planet Salusa Secundus, which is S.S. — and so they have been the Nazis of this universe. I felt just like the Fremen have been the French Resistance, so I felt like I needed to camouflage them the best way the resistance did within the South of France within the battle. Each world had an emblem for me.

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Certainly one of Girl Jessica’s costumes in ‘Dune’
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Lots of people will naturally surprise to what extent you reviewed or averted the previous interpretations of Dune — whether or not it’s David Lynch’s movie, the TV sequence or Alejandro Jodorowsky’s famed, failed try and adapt the ebook. Or perhaps even a few of the voluminous fan artwork that’s been created over the many years.

I got here to this a virgin. I’ve by no means even seen a single Star Wars movie, although I do know George Lucas as a result of we each grew up within the San Joaquin Valley. I’ve by no means seen the David Lynch film. I’ve seen some clips of the Jodorowsky work. A really expensive buddy of mine is a countess within the South of France and she or he lived with Jodorowsky in Paris when he was making an attempt to make that film. She is like my mom and I like her a lot. Due to her relationship with “Jodo,” as she calls him, she’s proven me clips of that documentary the place he was making an attempt to make it once they have been residing collectively in Paris. Past that, I had no reference factors moreover the ebook. I needed to not be influenced by issues that I knew Denis was making an attempt to keep away from.

He at all times mentioned he didn’t wish to make a typical sci-fi movie. He didn’t need anyone who was going to create online game costumes, or house fits, or one thing that he didn’t really feel was a part of this very layered, complicated masterpiece with mysticism threaded by means of it. He needed a completely new look that nobody’s ever seen.

I’m struck by that Brad Pitt quote that has adopted you round, about being a “technique costume designer.” Do you are feeling that’s correct to your strategy? Was it true on this mission?

It’s. I felt I needed to gown everyone from the within out, and I needed to present arcs for these characters. Plus, I used to be a up to date designer and after I was requested to do my first huge interval movie, which was Quills. On the time, I instructed my husband, “I’m a Totally Trendy Millie, can I actually do that interval?” And my husband mentioned, “Sure, in fact. You’ve unbelievable style — use that as your information. Simply take all of these characters procuring within the period of your movie and solely choose for them what they might choose. Learn the script seven occasions, and know these folks inside out after which gown everyone from the within out.” This has been my strategy my complete profession.

As soon as I put myself of their pores and skin, and eliminate all of the onion skins, the degrees between the within and the skin, I really feel I can then assist create the bridge from the actor to the character. I did psychological research on every of those characters. Girl Jessica is mainly a concubine however a really clever one and a extremely skilled Benne Gesserit. Not solely does she have a mystical aspect however she additionally has an clever, outdated soul aspect. I needed her outfits to be each compellingly nun-like, but in addition acceptable for a courtesan, which can be what she is. I needed to embody all of these considerably contradictory issues in her costumes.

So I went to Goya, who’s one in every of my favourite painters. I’ve at all times felt there are two painters from the previous who can be filmmakers in the event that they lived in the present day. One is Goya and the opposite is Giotto. I took from each of them — Giotto extra for the nun-like Benne Gesserit; and extra Goya for Girl Jessica, as a result of there’s a deep, Spanish romanticism in his work, particularly The Clothed Maja. That’s the place I received the thought for the laced gown for her. I didn’t use Spanish lace, however I had a lace made that appeared very very like the longer term, however with an actual romantic contact from the previous.

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Idea artwork of the Bene Gesserit arriving on Caladan in ‘Dune’
Idea artwork drawn by Keith Christensen, courtesy of Warner Bros

So, the costumes all through Dune are beautiful, however the scene the place I used to be actually overwhelmed by them was that ceremony sequence when planet Arrakis is formally being handed off to Home Atreides. It’s nearly like watching a sci-fi trend present rapidly, because the character’s face off and the costumes type a form of assortment. What was your course of for presenting all of that work in a single scene?

Effectively, as I discussed, I primarily based all the Atreides armor on the Templars, so this concept got here up in dialog with Denis very early on about how the Catholic Church condemned the Templars, so I assumed maybe the Spacing Guild ought to be fairly ecclesiastic. I assumed it was a superb image — with the ruling physique going after Home Atreides, identical to the King and the Church went after the Templars for essentially the most arbitrary causes.

So, these House Guild costumes, as they’re all lined up, have been executed all in white — and there are these huge dome headdresses. It’s all fairly ecclesiastic. I appeared to plenty of drawings and murals from the Avignon Papacy within the 1200s, however we made it look extra ominous with these huge dome headdresses. I labored on that without end with Keith Christiansen and he got here up with plenty of these concepts, which I simply thought have been beautiful and exquisite. Once I confirmed it to Denis, he mentioned, “Sure! Sure! Extra of this!” So the domes received larger and greater, and we had all the Sardokour kneeling of their house outfits with the blood-red stripe.

Piter de Vries, the Harkonnen Mentat performed by David Dastmalchian, is one other one in every of my favourite characters, as a result of he’s like a human stiletto. He’s simply wonderful. There’s one thing like a praying mantis about him, however in black. After which there’s the Messenger of the Change, whom I additionally made fairly ecclesiastic. We wanted you to really feel the depth of tradition of this world, and the references helped us get there.

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Courtesy of Warner Bros.

To what extent did you collaborate with Dune’s manufacturing designer Patrice Vermette all through your course of? Do you must keep in touch with each other indirectly to interweave the movie’s visible language?

I labored fairly shut with the manufacturing designer on this movie. They began their work manner forward of me, however my information was at all times Denis, as a result of he knew precisely what Patrice was doing as a result of they’d been speaking about it for therefore lengthy. So Denis can be my filter after I confirmed him one thing I used to be pondering of. Denis has unbelievable style and an unbelievable eye, and as a visible director he’s very, very sensible. He had such a deep feeling for this film and noticed all of it in his head. Every time I put one thing in entrance of him, I’d know if it was proper if I received this very visceral response, the place he’d get actually excited. “Sure! Sure, Jacqueline, sure!” I additionally talked with Patrice so much in regards to the coloration pallet.

I knew that Denis’ imaginative and prescient for this was fairly brutalistic so far as the structure for palaces on Caladan and Arrakis. Because it’s instructed within the ebook, this can be a world beginning over. Should you think about the brutalist architectural motion, it was large in Britain after WWII when a lot was destroyed and so they needed to rebuild a lot of Nice Britain. For these castles on these planets, they’re fairly brutalistic buildings with many easy, unadorned rooms, with huge areas that may be utilized. This made sense to me — that might be the aesthetic of a world beginning over. You don’t need it to appear to be Louis XIV’s court docket; you need it easy, stripped-down, utilitarian. I approached practically all the costumes that manner. I by no means needed something to look over-reaching, or overdone and baroque in any manner. The one ones I didn’t strategy that manner have been the costumes primarily based on the papacy, however I nonetheless simplified these enormously.

Additionally, when Duke Leto’s household is on Caladan firstly of the film, I checked out plenty of photos of the Romanov household simply earlier than the Russian Revolution, as a result of I assumed their costumes have been fairly elegant but easy. That they had way more simplicity than plenty of the opposite homes of Europe, but they have been fairly regal. I used work of the Romanov household as a result of I assumed they have been a doomed household, identical to the Home of Atreides, the place every little thing was about to be taken away from them. I assumed there can be some symbolism for the viewers to see and really feel that. Possibly they might make that connection, even subliminally.

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Courtesy of Warner Bros.

It should have been a pleasure to decorate this explicit forged, which is likely one of the most spectacular casts on a big-budget motion film in current reminiscence. There’s actually one thing for everybody on this forged — whether or not you’re an art-house individual or a big-budget motion fan, and even only a trend lover. 

Oh, it’s at all times simpler while you’re working with actually good actors who’ve their very own explicit physique language. I’ll always remember, I dressed Geoffrey Rush as soon as because the Marquis de Sade and when he got here in, he was languid and fluid, nearly limp like he had no bones. However when he placed on the Marquis de Sade costume, he grew to become this regal, wealthy aristocrat from the 1700s. The transformation of excellent actors, while you get the costume proper, is essentially the most rewarding factor about being a fancy dress designer.

With Dune‘s actors all being consummately nice actors, and with such grace and confidence as folks — sure, they have been actually enjoyable to decorate. Timothee Chalamet was so much like after I first met Geoffrey Rush, in a manner. Timothee’s mom was a ballerina and he has unbelievable grace and he’s very fluid in his actions — however he’s additionally younger and there’s an excellent coolness about him. However when he placed on that also swimsuit for the primary time, he grew to become a desert warrior — it was so stunning to look at.

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Timothée Chalamet in ‘Dune.’
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Photos and Legendary Photos

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