If there’s one thing that’s iconic about superheroes, it’s their signature costumes. You see an icon or a color scheme, and instantly know you’re looking at Captain America, Batman, or Iron Man. One of the challenges of creating a great live-action superhero film then, is successfully translating these typically hand-drawn costumes into the real world. Enter Judianna Makovsky. Judianna has a rich portfolio of films that she designed costumes for, including Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Hunger Games, and several Marvel Studios films (IMDb).
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Judianna regarding her most recent work on Marvel Studios’Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and designing for the Marvel Cinematic Universe in general. Judianna said one of the great things about working for Marvel is that they’re clear on what they’re looking for, visually. The final costume designs end up being a collaboration between the director, the visual development team, and herself. Read on to see what Judianna had to say about her role in some of the most popular superhero films today…
How was designing the costumes for the second Guardians film different from past Marvel films you’ve done, as I know you’ve also designed costumes for [Captain America] The Winter Soldier and [Captain America] Civil War?
Certainly the world of the Guardians is a much different world. The Captain America movies were based in reality, for a comic movie. The brothers wanted [Winter Soldier to be] more of a political thriller and to have that feeling. Guardians had an established look, that frankly was a brilliant look, and none of us wanted to deviate from that too much. The world that was created, it was very carefully done and beautiful. So when I came on board, the director, James Gunn, wanted to change the characters a bit. He wanted them to be a little bit more ‘rock star’ and less sort of alien, and so it was basically sort of tweaking the new characters to fit in that world. So it was a little different that way in that there was already a pretty clear template, which in the Captain America movies we didn’t have – you know, that was all just starting new.
Could you tell me a little bit about how designing for that [film] worked, or how you kind of got started?
When I came in on [Winter Soldier], and met with the directors, they and Marvel were very clear that they wanted to go in a different direction, that they wanted the film to look – even though you had superhero costumes – they wanted it all to look like, if those characters walked outside today, people probably wouldn’t look twice, but somehow they’re so outrageous that they could fit in. Every time we did a detail on a costume, it was based in a real pan… so that was a challenge, how to tone it all down. The color was very desaturated. It was very interesting to do that. They didn’t want it dark, it wasn’t ‘doomsday dark.’ It was definitely just getting more of a ‘real clothes’ feeling into the approach, and that was very hard to do.
You kind of touched on this briefly when you were talking about how the Guardians changed from more of a sci-fi to a little more of a punk rock look – how do you keep the characters’ costumes both the same and yet different in future iterations of films?
Well I think a lot of it has to do with each director’s vision, where those costumes go. I mean, you always want to keep the character, but characters evolve, they grow, just like people’s look changes. So you find what is the essence of that character and you stick with it. Like in Guardians – just tweaking them a little so they’re more ‘rock star’ – not so much ‘punk’ but really ‘rock star’ – that they’re now kind of full of themselves, especially Quill, he’s very full of himself now, and he’s a Guardian of the Galaxy. So you try to get that, and also have a little more fun with it. Hence when I designed the sort of fun t-shirt that he wears, just to…take it away a little bit from your typical sort of outer space clothes and bring in more of a real feeling. Even to that, which is funny, which wasn’t intentional, but that was the director’s vision – how do we get them to look more rock star and more badass? And they already were, they were pretty badass the first time around.
Actually that t-shirt is one thing I was researching, that there was a lot of speculation when that came out – fans wanted to know what it said. At least in my perspective, there seems to have been an increase in fans’ interest in costume design. And cosplay is an increasing phenomenon here in the U.S. Do you think that some of that speculation, that interest, is a result of the increased popularity of cosplaying?
I think it’s the increase of the Internet, honestly. And marketing. I mean, there’s so many more available outlets now than there used to be. Before you photographed the costumes and they were in Upward magazine and that was about it. And then, the more that production can market these things and have tie-ins – I think that cosplaying comes out of that a little bit. But certainly cosplay has a lot to do with superhero movies. I mean people are really passionate! It’s amazing, the people who enjoy it so much. It’s terrific.
So how do you feel when people emulate say, a character design that you’ve done?
I think it’s great! You know, why not? I’ve only been to Comic Con once, but it’s kind of amazing to see these people in their own interpretations, and a lot of them do it really well. It’s just complimentary, for sure.
A big thank you to Judianna for her time and to Marvel Studios for making this interview possible. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will be available on iTunes, Amazon Video, and other digital outlets on August 8, and on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K Ultra HD on August 22.
Amber is an imaginative storyteller and visual artist whose greatest ambition is to tell meaningful stories that resonate with people. Since she was young, Amber has enjoyed escaping to faraway worlds through animation, and has continued to follow animation into adulthood because of its limitless storytelling possibilities. Picking favorites is nearly impossible, but Amber would say her top animated films include The Little Mermaid, The Incredibles, The Emperor’s New Groove, and Frozen. She graduated with a B.A. in Interactive Media/Graphic Design and a minor in Journalism, and is currently working as an advertising designer. When she’s not at her day job, Amber can be found working on digital illustrations and photo edits, drafting a new fiction story, or crafting a new cosplay. Send her a tweet at @amber_ld.