For costume designer Christine Bieselin Clark, making the costumes for a revolutionary film like Tron: Legacy was a dream come true. Plus, being able to make skin-tight suits for the movie’s stars, Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde, was the most fun and challenging she’s ever experienced.
While in L.A.. Clark spoke exclusively to Tribute’s Toni-Marie Ippolito about creating the revolutionary skin-tight suits, lighting them up and what it was like to bring the characters to life.
Tell me a little bit about the preparation you had to go to make these costumes.
Clark: It was all about how we were going to build these costumes with lighting in them, and trying to make them a little more high fashion, a little sexier, and a little edgier. But we just did tons and tons of research, and we would constantly be bringing things to each other and inspiring each other. We also had a team of costumers that would do samples for us, of fabrics, textures, people doing silhouettes of things up on dress forms, just to kind of inform the design process. Through all of that we got to the point that we had to figure out how to light them up. So that was a huge undertaking. Trying to use all the existing technologies that were out there wouldn’t work for us because none of them were flexible. Everything was rigid in some way, so we had to go on a manhunt, essentially for something that was a viable technology. So it was a good four-months of just designing and figuring out the lights.
You mentioned that you made about 148 of the foam suits. Did you ever have a point when you just thought, “ahh…what am I doing? What did I get myself into?”
Clark: Yes, a lot of those moments! I think that was going to be innate. As soon as we knew we had to light the suits practically, that was the first meltdown. Then it was just a collected succession of challenges that kept arising as we went. So yeah, there were many, many times where we thought we’re not going to make it, we are not going to be ready for camera. But you just dig your heels in. I think we had an amazing team of people working. There were about 275 people working in the costume department. When things got crazy they just pulled up their bootstraps and dug in and made it happen.
Do you consider the actors when you’re making the costumes?
Clark: Absolutely, yes.
Did you keep comfort in mind when you were designing them?
Clark: We definitely did, I mean of course there are limitations. I think our biggest challenge for comfort was the electronics. Really, you have to keep everything streamlined, and lined and sexy and close to their body. They really had to work very hard at their own patience. But yeah, you absolutely consider their physiques as they are, and how can we help them look even better, or more powerful, and you adapt designs for the actors. You want to keep them as cool as comfortable as you can. You have to consider their actions, like Olivia’s shoes for instance. We really had to be aware of what she was going to have to deal with as an actor.
Were they really delicate?
Clark: Yes, very.
Considering the actors had to do many action shots, did you have more than one for each of them?
Clark: We had many suits for each character. They are made out of foam latex, which is basically what prosthetic makeup is made out of. So it’s very delicate and very fragile. And then you put the electronics in there and you have a whole other level of fragility. So we had many suits and sometimes we would have to change out at lunchtime and send the other one to the “suit-hospital.” It was like a surgery centre.
They are so skin-tight, were they hard to put on?
Clark: Yes, because they are so formfitting. We did digital light scans of all the actors to get the fit perfect. And so, it’s like spanks on the worst day! It’s a prosthetic suit, so putting it on is a four-person process to help the actors into them. And they actually have to participate in dressing, because there is a resistance factor. For instance, when we’re putting on the top of Garrett’s suit, you would say, “powder up your arm,” and then two people would push the suit towards him and he would push his arm into the suit. So, it’s about 45 minutes to an hour just to dress any one of the characters.
Pretty cool. Now are you on the set, are you a part of that?
Clark: Yes, all hands on deck! Everybody was in there. I helped dress people. I helped put lamps on, etc.
It had to be a labor of love for you, too.
Clark: Very much so. Huge opportunity, a challenge of epic proportions. But I love what I do and I love being part of the storytelling process. And I love the technological advancements. It was the thing that kept me going on every 20-hour day, 7 days a week. You have to love it to do that.
Did you know when you took on this project that you were going to be part of such a revolutionary film?
Clark: I think I knew it on some level. I think that you’re very aware that you’re shooting a 3D film for a movie that’s beloved to the fan community, and that it’s going to be on people’s radar, and that you have to be excellent. I think it evolved over time how epic it has become. The first time we went to Comic-Con after we finished shooting I went, “oh my goodness, oh my goodness!”
I’ve been hearing that Tron: Legacy is inspiring the fashion world.
Clark: Before we ever finished shooting, there were things going on. For instance we always had different fingers exposed in our gloves, and always latex and black. And that Versace collection that hit the runway in the spring, we went, “Oh my gosh!” and then they came out and said it was “Tron” inspired. I love it! To me, there are no insults in that whatsoever. I love that other people are inspired by the movie.
What was your first reaction when Garrett and Olivia put on their suits, and you saw them for the first time?
Clark: The first time we ever lit up a suit was on Garrett. He was the first finished costume that we had, the “Sam” character. And it brought tears to my eyes, because you’re working so hard to make something happen and you’re just in there, and you’re delirious with sleep deprivation. To see it work, to see his reaction, made it all worthwhile.
Maybe you guys will get some Oscar nods for the costumes?
Clark: You never know. I would love that! I don’t want to toot all of our horns, but the entire design team and this department really pioneered a bunch of things that have never been done before. I think it’s a beautiful look. I think it deserves recognition quite frankly.
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