Interview: Deborah Lynn Scott, Costume Designer

Academy Award winning costume designer, Deborah Lynn Scott has created looks for some of of the bigs screen’s most memorable action films, including Transformers, Avatar, Titanic and Legends of the Fall. In this second installment of the current Spidey series, Scott takes the superhero back to his comic book roots, staying closer to the familiar red and blue body suit. Here, she talks about her journey with The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

theamazingspiderman2eQ: You have a very impressive résumé and are obviously an in-demand costume designer. What was it about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 that interested you as a project?

DS: I’ve done a lot of big action movies, but hadn’t really done a super hero movie before. When I saw Marc Webb’s first installment of The Amazing Spider-Man and saw that it’s a humanistic story, taking the genre and giving it humanistic feeling, that attracted me because I basically like working on movies that are at their heart about people. Then I met Marc and really liked him and we started working together and found we had a great collaboration.

Q: What direction did you get from Marc Webb regarding the overall look/feeling for the film?

DS: We discussed in general how the characters—specifically Andrew’s and Emma’s characters and the people who surround them—had changed and what journey they might have taken in the year or two since the last movie. We talked about how to help them visually grow up a little bit. That was an interesting challenge.

Q: I understand a lot of work went into redesigning the Spider-Man costume for this movie.

DS: Yes, Marc wanted to go back to the classic comic-book roots of the costume. In the first installment they had taken a big departure, in this one they decided to about-face and honor the original artwork. That was also really fun. It takes different forms over the years in the comic book, but you can get back to the origins of the large eyes, the shade of red and blue.

Q: So there were different versions of the costume in the comic books?

DS: Yes, there were different versions, when you go back and look at that artwork. They’re drawn like storyboards, so proportions change, it also depended on how quickly they drew the lines. Our suit is almost like a math equation, it’s extremely precise. What we came up with gives more motion to the suit—it doesn’t look as static, but it pays homage to the past suits. It’s always interesting to reinterpret something that’s iconic. That’s what we attempted to do, in a 2014 way, because we have at our disposal more modern techniques to lay out this amazing web pattern. Before it had to be completely hand drawn. We looked at everything from getting the right red and blue, to the dynamics of how the red meets the blue, to what looks good on Andrew Garfield’s body, then the precision of the web lines.

Q: So how much time did you spend working just on the costume?

DS: Oh wow…Not just myself, a lot of people. It was weeks and weeks. You have to fit the costume to the person’s body then deconstruct it to lay the lines and patterns over it. It was days and days of a lot of people. It’s very complicated for as simple as the suit seems.

Q: And I understand a lot of attention was paid to changing the look of the eyes.

DS: Yes. The eyes in the original comic are quite large. In the previous film, The Amazing Spider-Man, the eyes were kind of geometric and smaller and kind of yellow. It was a question of going back to the source material, to get the largest eye we could get that looked proportional on Andrew Garfield’s head and that he could pretty much see out of. The curvature of the large lens can distort your vision and there’s a screen over it that keeps you from seeing his eyes but also makes it hard for him to see out. For safety’s sake there were some stunts where we had to remove the eyepieces so he could see and then CG them back in. You want to have clear vision; you don’t want to add any danger. Plus, looking out of a covered lens for a long time can give you a headache!

Making a suit like that is a huge juncture between the aesthetic and the art and the practicality of how to make it function—so you can move and get in and out of it and see and feel your hands. Those things need to meet. We accomplished a lot of mobility in the suit.

Q: How influential was the comic overall in terms of the costume designs?

DS: A little bit. It was part of the repertoire. There might be a couple of particular moments where it came into play more than others. You want to honor some key moments when they come up. But at the same time you’re trying to make the characters contemporary people, less comic book-y and more of the world.

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Q: Were you also involved in designing the look for Electro? Can you talk about how that costume was developed?

DS: Yes. It was the same kind of process. Before I joined the movie there had been concept artists working on ideas. I took the basis of those and designed the costume along with Jose Fernandez at Iron Head, who manufactured it. He has a lot of experience and skill working with super heroes. The Electro costume was molded rubber. God love Jamie Foxx for wearing it. It was not the most comfortable thing. It is tailored toward the person’s dimensions in every way. It’s very three-dimensional. First you do a whole body cast, then you do a 3-D scan. It’s an amazing thing. You have full full-size figure, and you build the costume on that to their exact dimensions. So it’s not like wearing a leotard; it’s like a custom-fitted version of your own skin. It’s very science-fiction to be able to do that. It takes it to another level.

Q: What look did you go for with Gwen’s clothes?

DS: Gwen is kind of based on the first movie, taking into account what she would be like two years after that. She’s an Upper East Side New York girl. She appreciates fashion and has a certain sense of style. We took those elements and made her a little bit more mature, a little more worldly in terms of fashion. But we also kept in mind that as much as the characters are human, because it is a comic-book story, there are elements you have the leeway to make slightly cartoonish in whatever way you define that. You could put odd color combinations together, make things more graphic. You can push it a little bit from reality. That’s kind of fun. A little bit more perfect or odd, depending on the character.

Q: What about Jamie Foxx’s character, Max Dillon, before he becomes Electro?

DS: It’s almost like he’s the anti-villain in his the Max Dillon persona. He’s kind of a lost soul. A bit of a misfit, kind of a nerd. In my opinion, a little channeling of old Jerry Lewis, there’s comedy there. He has a couple of iconic looks as Max Dillon, before he becomes Electro, that are not villainous or threatening at all.

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Q: What about Peter Parker?

DS: There are qualities of Peter Parker, a brooding, young handsome hero in his own right, that carry over into his Spider-Man persona. You’re using a lot of the same qualities. The things that make Peter Parker also make Spider-Man.

Q: Was this just an enormous project in terms of the size of the cast?

DS: We had a huge amount of background artists, especially when you started getting into huge scenes in Times Square. By the time we were done, there were something like 10,000 extras. But it’s important to the story, that people like Peter Parker and Gwen inhabit a world that’s filled with humanity. Even the comic books are stories of people and the good and evil and what good people strive for. You have to have a big world to put these stories in. You want to feel how these epic battles affect a metropolis of people.

Q: Did the fact that it is a New York story have on influence on the costume design?

DS: Yes, because every city has kind of a persona in my opinion. You see how people dress differently in New York than in L.A. for example. California’s pretty casual, New York is one of the style capitals of the world. There are a lot of subtle differences. They’re especially noticeable in the cold weather when the coats and scarves and hats come out.

Q: Did you shoot in winter?

DS: We did shoot in winter, but it’s basically a story of spring and summer. That was difficult for the cast, who had to dress in summer clothes. I have to hand it to the thousands of extras. They stuck it out on some very cold nights.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is in cinemas today, 16 April 2014.

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