Navigation Bar - Text Links at Bottom of Page


Costume Design
The next layer of bringing Wakanda to life on the big screen was the task of veteran costume designer Ruth Carter, who in concert with Academy Award-nominated special effects makeup designer Joel Harlow and hair department head Camille Friend would capture the heart and soul of Wakanda's people.

At the core of Carter's approach was keeping her designs steeped in the appropriate African custom while elevating it to reflect the fantastical elements inherent to the mysterious country and culture. She worked closely with the production design team to develop a complementary color palette chock full of vibrant African color, patterns and ultimately capture the African tradition and weave it throughout their visual landscape and story-telling.

"I'm looking at the whole continent and a wide range of people, like the Maasai and the Suri," says Carter. "It all becomes a part of the framework of Wakanda. Most people who read the comic books know Wakanda is a mountainous area, and it's a secret place that's not necessarily trading and interacting with the rest of the world. They're more advanced in technology than other civilizations. We are creating that world and trying to create a culture and pride that feels authentic to the specific location."

Carter admits the learning curve on "Black Panther" was both steep and intimidating when it came to conceptualizing her starting point for the fictitious country and culture. But on the flip side of that coin was the appeal of the project.

"Wakanda is this vast unknown world and, ultimately, the challenge of the unknown is what appealed to me on so many levels," comments Carter. "Beyond what has been established in the comic realm, I knew very little about it but as I began my research, I realized we could create from a place of fantasy, a place of African culture and a place of imagination. Everybody had their own take on what Black Panther's world was but it had never really been translated to film, which was very exciting."

Carter is an artist but she is keenly aware of the fine line between the creative and practical needs of her costume designs. Her designs needed to satisfy her own creative benchmark while withstanding the wear and tear of the MCU's hallmark action scenes.

For "Black Panther," the filmmakers knew they needed to up the ante of their Super Hero with a new and improved suit. While Boseman initially wears the original costume from "Civil War," he soon gets an upgrade in the movie courtesy of Shuri's techno wizardry and Marvel Studios' head of visual development Ryan Meinerding's design acumen.

The new Black Panther suit is supposedly interwoven with vibranium, so Carter opted to streamline the new suit and use a lighter material. The vibranium layer, which is actually a silver missile suit, is visible underneath an overlay of a very thin fabric imprinted with a repeat tribal triangle pattern known as Okavango. The suit also has a subtle medallion emblazoned over the chest plate and a new panther-tooth necklace that bolsters the tribal feel, as does the revamped helmet.

"The new suit is a little bit more streamlined and Black Panther can do a whole lot more with less," says Carter of the design.

Adds Coogler, "One thing that a lot of people might not know is that Black Panther's suit is not a Super Hero suit. It's a military uniform that he wears and something that has a history. When he shows up, and when you see everybody else, it folds into the idea of what a five-star general's uniform would look like."

Visualizing the costumes for T'Challa's security force, the Dora Milaje, proved to be another welcomed design challenge for Meinerding and his visual development team, who wanted there to be meaning and historical basis behind how the fierce women warriors presented themselves. They are an integral and recognizable part of the Black Panther comic realm, so Carter outfitted them in a molded base tunic, again using her touchstone of tribal influences that would integrate tribal lines and add texture all over the costumes.

A leather harness adorned with vibranium and elaborate beaded talismans in the front is worn over the base costume. A simple buckle in the front was transformed into a custom-designed metal panther head. Like Japanese armor, the harness is deemed to be a prized heirloom passed from mother to daughter to survive and use over generations. Carter brought in a jewelry designer to craft numerous one-of-a-kind specialty pieces, including the Dora metal shoulder armor, as well as their signature necklaces and anklets and Okoye's metal chest plate.

Carter was able to reflect both ends of the style spectrum with the royal family, starting with Princess Shuri's fashion sense. Shuri sports an edgy, young Afro-Punk vibe replete with an eccentric mix of bright tribal colors, adorned with funky jewelry and neckpieces, and the latest pair of Nikes.

Letitia Wright says of her look, "I love what Ruth Carter has brought to this. Shuri is stylish and everything she wears was created by Ruth and also with Ryan. I love it because it's so different from me. I'm super simple and easygoing fashion-wise. But Shuri wears a lot of bright colors, odd shapes, cuts and designs. It's a mixture of tribal and also youthfulness. Tribal meaning traditional things that you find in South Africa and around the continent of Africa. She creates her own path when it comes to fashion and style. She wears what she loves. It could be an odd shape, bright colors, or cool rings. She's just a cool kid."

The regal Ramonda, as Queen Mother, has a more refined traditionalist take on fashion. Simple yet elegant silhouettes and fabrics, all adorned by equally sophisticated head pieces. Carter's attention to detail was evident when she commissioned a 3D-printed, Zulu-inspired headpiece and a mantle to complete her unique looks.

Describing her costumes, Bassett says, "I have the long ball gown with the African script and writing and symbols on it in gold. And these magnificent headdresses that are sort of Zulu-inspired, and with a mantle across the back and this gorgeous filigree of sorts, which Ruth Carter made with the new 3-D printing technology. The costume was really beautiful, and it really helps Ramonda to stand there in the midst of this incredible crowd of colorful, magnificently-attired individuals and stand out."

In fictional Wakanda, each tribe has a color palette, which Coogler designed and discussed with Carter. The desire was to keep the color theory strict and only applicable to the specific Wakandan tribe.

For example, the color blue signified danger or trouble, so blue was reserved for the Border tribe, who act as a policing force, and Killmonger's character also wore blue. No one else is in any kind of a blue palette.

The River tribe, which is Nakia's tribe, wears green. Lupita Nyong'o, who plays Nakia, wears many different shades of green in her various costumes. Says Carter, "Greens mix together well because it's like nature. But I also tried to bring in some things that support the greens like yellows and chartreuse to support the green and make it lusher."

Nyong'o, whose character is a Wakandan spy imbedded in different countries, actually had a range of costumes, from a leather jacket and boots to dresses and gowns and warrior attire. "I love Nakia's look," comments Nyong'o. "She is this world traveler, so her style is definitely influenced by the experiences she's had. It's grounded and pragmatic, but it also has a funk to it. I love that about her. Also she wears the color of the River Tribe, which is green."

Michael B. Jordan's look as Killmonger was contemporary with most of his clothes coming from Los Angeles. But, he also had a special panther suit, which was also designed by Meinerding. As Carter explains, "Killmonger's suit is incredibly special. His is in a gold-spotted suit. In the process of making it, we put a real gold suit underneath his skin suit, which is the black spotted suit. We gave him a heavy gold necklace. He's a little bit more ostentatious than Black Panther; a little more street, I would say."

The seamless collaborations among Coogler's behind-the-scenes brain trust also extended to Joel Harlow and Camille Friend. The pair worked closely to conceive the final and integral components of fully realized character looks for the principal cast and dozens of supporting cast.

Like his colleagues, research was intrinsic to Harlow's makeup design approach. It all stemmed from African traditions, whether from the pages of National Geographic, African ritual books, body painting, historical references or the "Black Panther" catalogue of comics. They all played a part in conceptualizing his makeup design.

Says Harlow of the sentiment behind his thought processes, "Our inspiration visually was coming mostly from the African tradition. The goal was to be visually interesting while maintaining the integrity of the meaning behind everything, whether it be tribal markings or the script and design of a tattoo."

As with the production and costume design, vibranium would be incorporated in the most unexpected ways in Harlow's realm. The sky was the limit and Harlow made sure to explore that edict at every turn.

Not only did Harlow's team craft special effect make-up and facial prosthetics, they were also tasked with creating several one-of-a-kind neckpieces for Shuri that were integrated into her wardrobe. After body molds were cast of the young actress, Harlow's team of sculptors handcrafted one-of-a-kind pieces. The end result was then glued to her jaw line, allowing Wright a full range of motion whether speaking or fighting in full-speed action scenes.

Michael B. Jordan, who plays Erik Killmonger, spent about two and a half hours in the special effects makeup chair every day, while makeup designer Joel Harlow and three other makeup artists applied close to 90 individually sculpted silicone molds to his upper body. This "scarification" application process entails transferring each mold and then blending and painting them to match Jordan's skin tone. Each of Killmonger's scars represents a "notch" of his kills over the years.

Explains Jordan, "The scarification is a reminder for him of what he's going through and what is keeping him on mission, and that he's doing the killings for a reason. It's not senseless. He kills for a reason and he believes what he's doing is right. The sacrificial marks on his body are a constant self-reminder to be focused and to continue the mission straight through."

Friend, too, also pushed the boundaries to evoke a full spectrum of looks for the cast's hairstyles. From traditional African braids, to elaborate clay-molded hair sculptures to custom-designed, hand-woven wigs, Friend and her team experimented with texture, color, natural fibers, flowers, berries and even the ubiquitous vibranium (metallic coated twine) to fully realize Coogler's vision of a multi-layered Wakandan society that embraced their past, present and future.

For Friend, one of her more labor intensive projects produced the most dramatic character reveal-the waist-long, silver-haired dreadlocks of Queen Ramonda. The wig was made up of 120 pieces of hair that were literally rolled and handmade into multiple dreadlocks for the actress.

Friend also added dreadlock extensions to enhance Michael B. Jordan's look as the deadly Killmonger. It was a new look for the actor and one that the veteran hairstylist is proud of. She says, "The Killmonger look is very cool. We basically had Michael grow his hair as long as he could and then added in dreadlock extensions. It was really a great solution to give him a whole different look. There is an added edge and unpredictability, so he really stands out as a villain."

Although Letitia Wright's African braids were paired with a partially shaved head etched with a tribal design, without exception, preparing Gurira, Kasumba and all the actresses who play the Dora Milaje to shave their heads completely bald for the iconic look (which harkened back to Black Panther's comic book origins) was a tough one.

"That was a hard day," recalls Friend, "and we took it very seriously. For some women, their hair is their pride and joy, so it's a big deal to shave your head and maintain it for months. We were very patient, and if someone needed to take a moment, we gave it to them. When it was all said and done, they looked amazing, especially when we saw them in full Dora Milaje mode holding their weapons."

Next Production Note Section


Home | Theaters | Video | TV

Your Comments and Suggestions are Always Welcome.

2018 2,  All Rights Reserved.


Find:  HELP!