In the lead-up to the release of Godzilla vs. Kong last month, I had the opportunity to speak with the film’s costume designer, Ann Foley. Beyond the nature of designing for the human cast of the monster mashup, my goal was to hear more about her experiences through her portfolio and what goes into this important piece of visual language.
Godzilla vs. Kong specifically, how do you decide the way characters dress? Humans frame monster movies and clothes help convey who they are, right?
Those design decisions are always guided by the script which is the road map we all follow. That said I collaborated closely with director Adam Wingard on the character designs & what visual story we were trying to tell. And if I’ve done my job properly you’ll know who these characters are by their costumes and hopefully, those costumes can help convey the story arc of each of those characters.
What would you consider the most important aspects of designing attire that balances form and function?
Well, in action films those two things tend to work hand in hand. For example, when designing the Monarch Mission suit, I knew we would have intense action sequences involving everything from hand-to-hand fights to wirework. So the suits needed to be able to accommodate harnesses & pads for stunts & allow for freedom of movement with the stunt choreography. But I also had a specific directive from Adam about making sure the suits didn’t mimic superhero costumes or space suits but look unique to the needs of our film.
Between particularly Agents of SHIELD, Altered Carbon, and Godzilla vs. Kong, what aspects do you consider key to designing costumes for a future setting? It seems like you manage to blend the more believable current technical aspects of fashion with an elevated, future feel.
I remember reading a quote from the brilliant Costume Designer Colleen Atwood where she said “there is a natural inclination to over-design the future” and that notion has stuck with me and influenced how I approach any futuristic designs. Keep it simple & make sure the audience can connect with it.
Since costumes are a piece of storytelling in their own right, how do you like to engage the overall style and tone of a film? How does that vision usually come to be? I know you’ll work with choreographers and prop designers to execute good action attire, how about the color palette and the tone of the story? Who do you usually tap for those facets of the production?
Filmmaking is collaborative by its nature & when working on shows that involve world-building those collaborations are even more important. The vision for the film starts with the director and in television, the Showrunner and it’s there that you find the answers to who the characters are — what drives them. From there I always go to the Production Designer to discuss the palette and the visual language that they are incorporating in the sets that might help me in my design choices. Then it’s always imperative to work with the Director of Photography in regards to the lighting and even the type of camera being used & how it will affect certain colors & patterns. When all those departments are working together in tandem, beautiful things happen!
I’ve read about your efforts to pay homage to the source material, particularly in comics. Did you do anything similar for Godzilla vs. Kong?
I did with the young orphaned girl Jia who is one of the last surviving members of the Iwi tribe of Skull Island. It was important to me that her costume represented a celebration of her Iwi heritage while also showing the passage of time for the Iwi, who we last saw in the ’70s in Kong: Skull Island.
Skull Island is now inhabited by the Monarch scientists & military who have established it as Monarch Base 1. Reflecting the passage of time, Jia’s clothing has modern twists with her sneakers, shirt & pants, however, her Iwi wrap is a direct link to the heritage of the tribe and its history. Another costume element I incorporated that is a nod to Skull Island is the necklace she wears — it is made of Skull Crawler teeth that Jia gathered on the island. The Skull Crawlers killed her family so this necklace is a talisman of sorts that protects her from [them], acknowledges the danger of her past, and empowers her for the possibilities of her future.
Are there any other genres, period piece settings, or even specific characters you’d like to work with in the future? Is there a style/setting you particularly enjoy designing for? Any you haven’t touched on, but would like to take on?
I love sci-fi and world-building — there is something really fun about making up the visual language for a project & not being bound by the past, but I’m always open to a fun period project!