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THOR

Capes And Armor Fit For A King
Creating realms inhabited by gods is one thing; dressing those gods is another. That job fell to costume designer Alexandra Byrne, an Academy Award® winner in 2008 for her contributions to Shekhar Kapur's "Elizabeth: The Golden Age.”

Branagh knew "Thor” would be a huge challenge for any costume designer, just as it was for his production designer. "There's a plethora of choices from great artists inside the nearly 50 years of Thor comic books,” he explains. "We needed someone of great taste to find ways that let us tip our hats to certain inspiring iconic versions of the characters, but still let the film live in 2011.”

Branagh and Byrne first collaborated 25 years ago in the theatre, and Branagh knew she wouldn't flinch from bold choices: "Alexandra is unafraid of the so-called theatricality of some of the costumes. She's unafraid of working with bright colors, vivid cuts and strong silhouettes. She embraces that, and is very interested in what physically goes on with muscle suits and body sculpting.”

Byrne accepted her assignment with a working knowledge of Norse mythology, developed from her reading bedtime stories to her kids, and she had ready access to her son's stash of Thor comic books. But, while seeking visual keys and information, she also made a concerted effort to look beyond the prescribed terrain of the story and its roots. Byrne offers, "I work very much by looking. I flip through all kinds of books to find the unexpected and then do big collage mood boards of ideas that seem relevant for a character or a moment in the story.”

As was required of a large group of designers collaborating on a big project, Alexandra worked closely with Branagh, the producers and Welch in creating a look for Asgard. "We were creating an unknown world and the people had to look as if they belonged in their environment. Bo and I eventually evolved the term ‘ancient modernism.'”

Thor's cape was one of Byrne's biggest challenges. She knew better than to think she could move seamlessly from sketch to completed cape. Yet, Byrne being Byrne, she had unshakable faith that she and her team could create it.

"Every time we said ‘cape,' someone would say, ‘That'll be done in post. You won't be able to make it work,'” Byrne recalls. "But our cape does work…because we made it before we drew it.

"Physicality and movement are huge components of these costumes,” she continues. "We did not want to end up with a drawing that could not be realized, so we set up a workroom where we made practical examples along with the drawings as the design process evolved.” Much more than a sartorial flourish, the cape defines Thor, along with his winged helmet and hammer.

"The cape needed to look both completely believable and sublimely magical,” says Byrne. "In the comic books, Kirby used it as a great graphic device for movement, tension and drama. So our cape needed that amount of expression. It also had to frame Chris's shape and proportion when he's not moving, and then billow, move and fly with him when he's fighting. It's easy to make a cape do all that in a drawing, but not so easy with a piece of fabric.”

Said fabric is wool, which Byrne and her team found in England. After repeated dyeing experiments, they achieved a shade of red that pleased every eye. "We had a graveyard of capes that didn't work,” she jokes. "But we kept moving on, trying new fabrics, and different ways of cutting, bonding and weighting. We finally got it to a stage where we pronounced, ‘The cape is working. Don't touch it. Just leave it alone.'”

During this period, Hemsworth's physique was also a work-in-progress. "He was working hard in the gym and we were tracking his body,” declares Byrne. "We thought, at one point, we'd need a muscle suit to make him bigger, but in the end, he did it all. It's all him.”

When Hemsworth came onboard, Byrne and her team had been at work for more than a year on costume concepts and design. "It was the stage where they said, ‘We've got to get it to fit you,'” tells Hemsworth. "It was incredibly detailed and beautiful, and my first time that I put on a costume, I really felt like the character.”

A complex construction of many pieces and layers of fabric, leather and armor, the resulting Thor ‘hero' costume (the main design for the majority of the scenes) was heavy and hot. It typically took about an hour to dress the actor (and another 90 minutes for hair and makeup to fully transform the sandy-haired Australian into the blond god of thunder).

"The first couple weeks of filming, I was pouring sweat,” Hemsworth laughs. "I'd spent the four months prior trying to put on all this weight and then, suddenly, it was just falling off me. But Alexandra and her team came up with this cooling vest, which I think race car drivers wear – a little vest with pipes that cold water runs through to cool you down. It was a relief.”

On Earth, Thor is humbly garbed in a plaid flannel shirt and non-designer jeans. But when his friends show up to rescue him, they're in full Asgardian regalia.

The arrival in Puente Antiguo of Volstagg, Fandral and Hogun—along with beautiful female warrior Sif—is a mix of many things…a little startling, somewhat emotional and more than slightly comical. The locals have never seen anything like them, but the warriors are oblivious to the stunned and curious reactions around them. Byrne comments, "They had to look both real and unreal. One of the biggest excitements for me was seeing the warriors and Thor on Earth, because we'd all wondered how it would look when these guys start walking through small-town America. It's almost like they should have their own theme music blaring out of a speaker.”

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