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Tag Archive: Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars


Kirk and Spock tunics

Star Trek is known for many things, but in its first run on television in 1966-1969 it was widely known for William Ware Theiss’s costumes, both the vibrant red, blue and yellow (or green depending on your television set) Starfleet uniforms, and the spectacular alien of the week outfits for a vast range of guest stars (especially the women).  But it wouldn’t end there.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979 brought a new update to the costumes, and further revisions would occur throughout 11 more movies through 2013.  On a parallel track were the four TV series that continued the stories of the Federation and their friends and enemies: Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek Voyager, and Enterprise. 

Robert Blackman creator of TNG designs

Star Trek costume designer Robert Blackman looking at TNG first-season uniforms.

We learned earlier this year from a review of Facebook fans of Star Trek that their most desired costumes included the original series red Starfleet security tunic as worn by Scotty and the blue style worn by Mr. Spock, Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s third-season two-piece uniform and his First Contact-style uniform, and the Horatio Hornblower-inspired red gabardine military coats worn by the original series cast between Star Trek II and Star Trek VII (and in flashbacks and parallel timelines throughout Star Trek: The Next Generation and Voyager). 

At long last, a single volume coming in 2015 will focus on the costumes of all the series.  It will also be the first time Enterprise will get some real attention in a non-fiction chronicle.

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Star Wars Costumes The Original Trilogy cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

Sci-fi movie trivia question:  Which Star Wars actor played Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back and was a main character in Star Trek 2009 and Star Trek Into Darkness?  More on that later.

We have taken a close look at some of the best behind the scenes books on costumes and props from major movie franchises here at borg.com.  The best have included the latest in Weta’s tour inside the making of Middle-earth in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles: Cloaks & Daggers, reviewed here, and the dense examination of the Star Wars prequel costumes documented in the landmark work Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars, reviewed here.  After nearly 40 years we finally have a behind the scenes look at the making of the costumes from the original three Star Wars films with Star Wars Costumes: The Original Trilogy, just released from Chronicle Books.  This is also the first time many of these costumes have been displayed and photographed since the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum featured dozens of costumes in its Star Wars: The Magic of Myth exhibit in 1997.

Boba Fett helmets

Author Brandon Alinger, my friend and fellow costume and prop aficionado, is chief operating officer of The Prop Store (formerly The Prop Store of London) and an expert who has handled original Star Wars pieces over the years.  Alinger interviewed costume designers and production staff from the original series to pull together this first ever analysis of the stories and people who earned Star Wars an Academy Award for Best Costuming, the only science fiction film to receive such an honor.  Original costumes from the Skywalker Ranch Archives were displayed on mannequins and photographed for the book by Joseph MacDonald of The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco–many for the first time since production.

The most striking revelation in the book is the rarity of each costume and the fact that some of these film artifacts may not survive many more years.  “Some of the costumes or costume components in the Archives are quite fragile and for this reason they could not be dressed onto mannequins to shoot,” Alinger recently said in an online discussion.  “The costumes are treated as artifacts and conservation concerns are top priority for the Archives team.”  Admiral Ackbar’s mask from Return of the Jedi is just one of these items.

Contributing to the book with Alinger are Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back costume designer John Mollo and Return of the Jedi costume designers Aggie Rodgers and Nilo Rodis-Jamero.  The book also includes invaluable detail from past interviews with Ralph McQuarrie, Joe Johnston, and Stuart Freeborn, along with contributions from dozens of other costume and art department staff from the films.

Chewbacca costume

Movie production staff and movie costume collectors are well aware that the typical movie shoot requires multiple copies of each cast member’s costume.  For example, it was common for the Star Trek and Lord of the Rings productions to create seven or more of each main cast member’s uniform, allowing for problems on set and dry cleaning.  The point is you never want to stop a multi-million dollar shoot so someone can re-stitch the only costume you have created for your film.  Star Wars Costumes: The Original Trilogy reveals that was not the case for many of the Star Wars costumes.  This means the Skywalker Ranch Archives possesses the one and only costume made for the trilogy for many items.  This also explains why the private collecting community has only seen a handful of authentic original trilogy costumes hit the market over the years, like the odd distressed Stormtrooper helmet, Ewok fur, C-3PO hand and foot, and damaged cantina alien mask.

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Hobbit book Chronicles from Weta

We have reviewed many incredible books about movies here at borg.com.  Beginning with Special Effects: The History and Technique and its master class in film study to the book on movie posters The Art of Drew Struzan, to the recent Syfy Channel Book of Sci-fi, we have discussed a variety of the very best books on films and filmmaking, but also the best books on specific productions that the market has to offer.  If you missed them, here are links to some of the best books out there:

Each of these books had great content and a great way of sharing it with the reader, making for an immersive experience for the true fan.  And there are even more great books in our review pile, from Raiders of the Lost Ark and even more from Star Wars.  Then we laid our hands on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Chronicles: Art and Design, thanks to the folks at Weta.  In my view Weta is the best magic and fantasy shop in the world.  Where we once were dazzled by the spectacles created by Industrial Light and Magic as the coolest, newest cutting edge movie factory, since The Lord of the Rings trilogy ILM has been replaced by the artists, the painters, designers, sculptors, modelers, costumers and builders at Weta studios in New Zealand.  Their elaborate sets, props, costumes, make-up–you name it–in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey made for the most incredible fantasy world put on film.  Ever.  So it’s awesome that Weta put together a book that not only highlights The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’s wondrous creations, but the actual artists that made it all happen.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Chronicles: Art and Design was compiled by Weta Workshop senior concept designer Daniel Falconer.  In itself it has the look and feel of a prop from the film, from its finely tooled cover to its pull-out, glow in the dark Thorin’s map inside the front cover to the three page fold-out of Bilbo’s contract.  It’s the first book in a series to cover different artistic aspects of The Hobbit movies.  Containing 1,000 images of concept art, sketches, a cross-section of the 9,000 paintings created for The Hobbit, props, costumes, hair designs, and sets, it reveals the vision behind the Weta departments that created them.  Unlike any book I have seen before, it has a key code that credits each department, designer, or artist that developed what you see in the photos.  Some of these are tried and discarded face applications and wigs, like this one for the dwarf Oin:

Hobbit chronicles Oin spread

Other pages focus on characters’ props, including pencil designs, paintings, and detail that any cosplayer would love to delve into for his or her favorite character, like these hand props for the dwarf Ori:

Hobbit Chronicles props

Other pages show the elaborate costume designs.  And all include commentary by the artists who came up with concepts and designs.  Production designer and Academy Award winner Dan Hennah sums up why this focus on the artists make so much sense: “Film is a collaborative medium and requires the complete attention of every person involved to find the images that will make the final cut.  Each artist is encouraged to bring their individual vision to the project and work it in with others to make a cohesive part of the big picture…. For a fantasy movie to succeed, it must transport the viewer into a totally believable world where Dwarves, Dragons, Wizards, Elves, Goblins, Orcs, Trolls and hobbits all exist in a seamless mix of complimentary environments.”

Chroniclesspreads2b2

The book begins with views of Hobbiton, which had to be re-created from The Lord of the Rings in exacting detail and fleshed out for expanded use in The Hobbit.  We find Bilbo and his costume designs and concept art for Bag End.  It moves on to Thorin and his band of dwarves in comparison art showing final designs down to each dwarf’s boots.  Dwarf by dwarf we’re given access to trial shots of each dwarf, all used to develop the final look for the film.  Each belt, purse, sword and shield is shown for each character, again, with explanations why one design was chosen over others from Dan Hennah, “3 foot 7″ Costume Designer Ann Maskrey, Academy Award Winners Peter King, and “3 foot 7″ Make-up and Hair Designer and Weta Workshop’s Design and Special Effects Supervisor Richard Taylor.

Hobbit contract in Weta Chronicles

The book then turns to the flashback scenes of historic dwarves, of ancient battles and armor designs.  We get an introduction to Radagast the Brown, the new wizard we meet in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  Two chapters turn to environments chosen, from real life cliffs modified digitally for scene use to a revisit to the elf town of Rivendell.  And we get to see up close trolls, stone giants, and goblins, including the thoughts behind the development of the hideous Great Goblin, and a look at the familiar Gollum.

hobbit-chronicles-book

The book showcases the art of concept art directors Alan Lee and John Howe, and work from the several artists of the film’s “3 foot 7″ Art Department, Costume Department and Weta Workshop–dozens of creative filmmakers who live and work in Wellington, New Zealand.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Chronicles: Art and Design  can be purchased from Weta at their website here.  Their second volume, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Chronicles: Creatures and Characters will be published in April 2013 and we will preview it here at borg.com.  It can be pre-ordered now here.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

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