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Costumes From A Plethoria Of Periods
Imagine time traveling from prohibition-era Chicago to ancient Egypt to 16th Century Russia to a 1960s NASA spacecraft in the blink of an eye and you get some sense of the task confronting costume designer Marlene Stewart on NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN. Unlike most films that take place in a single period or, at most, a few, Stewart faced a cornucopia of costumes from across the spectrum of human history. For Stewart, who actually holds a degree in History, the challenge couldn't have been more fun. Having worked with Ben Stiller recently on the comedy hit Tropic Thunder, Stiller recommended her for the job. "I was really looking forward to working with Ben again,” she recalls. "Then, when I read the script, I saw it as a dream opportunity to do something really different, a kind of fantasy take on semi-accurate historical costumes. I loved researching and investigating the different periods in history and exploring different textiles from those eras – and then getting to put our own twist on things.”

Stewart worked with each individual actor to meld her costume ideas to their personalities, as well. "I see my job as not only matching the director's vision and the production designer's sets, but also the actors' approach to their characters,” she says. Case in point: the fictional pharaoh Kahmunrah's outfit, a magnificently over-the-top example of Stewart's diverse talents. To mold the costume to Hank Azaria's body, she did a laser scan of the actor and built the armor directly to fit, a process that took months. "It's probably my favorite costume,” she says. "I took a lot of real elements – the typical Pharaoh shapes, the armor actually worn during ceremonial rites at that time, the mythical Egyptian creatures like the Horus – and mixed them all up in ways I thought would be historical, yet maintain the sophistication audiences expect in a contemporary film,” Stewart explains. "There's both a lot of detail and a lot of eye candy. As for the headdress, Hank had to practice the balance of wearing it, so he didn't just topple over!”

Stewart also enjoyed going back in American history, especially for Amelia Earhart's classic jodhpurs-and-shearling pilot's garb and the sequences inside Alfred Eisenstaedt's photograph of Times Square on V-Day. "I love 30s and 40s clothing,” she notes, "and we scoured Los Angeles's costume houses to find some real treasures.”

For Christopher Guest's turn as Ivan the Terrible, Stewart again took her cues from history. "We looked at some prints in books and some paintings that were actually done in the 1800s and used that kind of classic medieval silhouette,” she says. "But then we did coats with hundreds of tiny, laser-cut nail heads, so it's kind of a couture take on Ivan the Terrible!” Perhaps the centerpiece of the costumes, says Stewart, was the one that started it all: Larry Daley's basic night guard uniform. "It's a very simple suit, yet it's a design that blends in perfectly with his character,” observes Stewart. "When Larry puts that costume back on, it's a classic moment.”

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