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Hulu Summer Film School Week 5: Costumes & Set Design

August 14th, 2014 by Kelly Lin

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Where and when does the story take place and how can we design the film’s landscape to reflect this? Is the film’s setting rooted in reality or does it have fantastical elements? What will the characters wear and how will their clothing reflect their inner thoughts and feelings?  These are just some of the questions that run through the minds of the costume and set designers during the production process of a film.

As the architects of the film’s visual environment, the costume and set designers create stunning visual experiences that immerse the viewer into the world of the film. For this week of Hulu Summer Film School, we’re honoring their work with a playlist of films that use visual style to craft substance. For each film featured, we’ve honed in on a specific costume or set piece that helps cultivate the visual experience. 

Required Viewing: 

1) Earth Girls are Easy

Valley Girls and Alien Hunks: The Cool Costumes of Earth Girls Are Easy by Rookie Magazine writer, Marie Lodi. 

2) Ghostbusters

Costume Designer: Theoni V. Aldredge & Suzy Benzinger

Production Designer: John DeCuir

While the overall costume design of Ghostbusters deftly utilizes the ordinary as a means to reveal character (the sarcastic Venkman, for instance, dresses like a slapdash substitute teacher), the most memorable vestment is clearly the Ghostbusters’ workman uniforms and their weapon of choice, the proton packs.  The uniform is the work of costume designers Theoni Aldrege and Suzy Benzinger, while the proton pack — equal parts attire and prop — was created by John DeCuir and his production design team.

The Ghostbuster uniform conveys the team’s blue collar work ethic and is akin to that of a janitor or exterminator’s outfit.  Similarly, the design of the proton pack looks cobbled together, as if made in a garage from discarded hiking gear and a spare nuclear reactor.  After all, what better way to take down some ghosts than to fire an iridescent silly string of positron particles (to counteract the negative ectoplasmic energy of said ghosts, of course).  It’s the combination of costume and prop gives the Ghostbusters their identity and swagger, inspiring countless fans to create homemade versions of their own.

Don’t cross the streams.

-Naveen Singh 

3) Computer Chess

Costume Design: Colin Wilkes

Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess has a tricky tonal feat to accomplish: it’s an absurdist comedy set in the 1980s with a found footage aesthetic that eventually devolves into surreal chaos. And while Mr. Bujalski’s direction deserves a lot of credit for keeping these disparate ambitions part of a cohesive whole, a lot of credit for the tonal success must go to costume designer Colin Wilkes.

The costuming in Computer Chess accomplishes many objectives that are seemingly at odds with one another. The costumes are inconspicuous and plain enough to perpetuate the suspension of disbelief necessary for a viewer to believe that this is “real life” being recorded for documentary purposes, yet also heightened enough to give the impression that the characters are “types” – caricatures you would encounter in a dream (or nightmare). The costumes are appropriately specific to the 1980s so as to create a sense of authenticity, and yet timeless enough to invoke the spirit of the True Nerd. It’s all there in Patrick Reister’s glasses and expressions: this is the world as you know it, and the world as you’ve only dreamt in all of its mundane and weird, zany glory.

-Christopher Rowe 

4) Hook

Costume Design: Anthony Powell

Set Design: Norman Garwood & Garrett Lewis

Journey into a world of pirates, fairies, mermaids, and lost boys with this popular feature about a grown up Peter Pan who returns to Neverland to save his kids from the grasp of the evil Captain Hook. An Academy-Award nominee for both its Costume and Set Design, Hook is a visual treat that provides an ocean of scenery for Hook  (a wigged Dustin Hoffman), Peter (portrayed by the late, great Robin Williams), and the other actors to explore.

While there is much to discuss in this elaborate feature, the movie’s title object, Hook’s shiny prosthetic, plays a key role in the film both for identifying our villain and symbolizing his past experiences fighting and losing to Peter Pan. Furthermore, it serves as a daily reminder to this character of what has been lost and what drives him towards revenge.

-Kelly Lin 

Supplemental Viewing: 

5) The Great Beauty

6) Grey Gardens

7) Whale Rider

8) Primer

9) Charade

10) Bill Cunningham New York

11) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 

Extracurricular Links: 

1) 45 Iconic Fashion Films as chosen by the writers at Stylist Magazine

2) 17 Costume Designers Reveal Their Favorite Film and TV Fashions - Really interesting read featuring the costume designers for shows like Breaking Bad and Scandal discussing the significance behind their visual choices.

3) Christopher Guest’s Production Designer On How He Sets the Movie’s Mood – The designer behind such iconic mockumentary projects as Waiting for Guffman and This is Spinal Tap talks about working with Guest and playing with a “playground of imagery.”

Visit the Hulu Summer Film School page to see full-length versions of our selections and explore past lessons. 

Last comment: Aug 19th 2014 3 Comments
  • Colin Wilkes says:

    This was so neat to read about my work for Computer Chess! Great picks for other fabulous movies with great set & costume design!

  • Rick E - Seattle says:

    Tammie? can you explain your comment in more detail?

  • Tammie Blakeman says:

    Best sets, costumes, musical score & cinematography of all time regardless of genre is Bride of Frankenstein. The only thing to ever come close is the Hobbit/LOTR movies.