Dumbo’s Colleen Atwood on designing costumes for the flying elephant
It’s possible you may not know the name Colleen Atwood, but you definitely know her work. The Oscar winning costume designer has put together the outfits for countless movies and shows including The Silence of the Lambs, Chicago, The CW’s Supergirl and Arrow, and the Fantastic Beasts movies. Famously though she’s collaborated with director Tim Burton on twelve movies throughout her career, including the upcoming Dumbo.
“I think with Tim, you pay homage to Tim,” Atwood told us on the set of Dumbo. Bad news for Burton fans, don’t expect any of the trademark black and white stripes from his previous filmography, but look for something similar to it in one of the circus scenes.
“He’s definitely a singular vision and a true artist in his own way, and there’s things that I know about him that I think he’ll like and there’s things I know I’ve done before that I try to not do. In this movie we’ve had a really good collaborative experience in the sense of him being really happy with the colors and the things I came up with sort of stepping outside of parameters (of a Tim Burton movie). There’s more color in it, there’s stronger colors in it, the colors evolve.”
For the film, Atwood did extensive research for circus looks not only in America but in Europe, employing the help of two Circus museums in the United States: Circus World in Baraboo, Wisconsin and Ringling Circus Museum in Sarasota, Florida.
“They’re both very well curated, they have the old wagons, they have everything, it’s quite amazing. Especially the one in Wisconsin because it’s in the middle of nowhere…You can do it online but it’s always better to be in the room with them because you can see different things. A lot of our research came from that.”
Naturally the film also takes a lot of inspiration from the original 1941 animated movie, with some costumes appearing exactly as they did in the movie (the famous clown-fireman scene will be nearly the same in terms of the outfits).
“The cartoon is really important to me as far as the telling of the story, in the sense of the graphic of the cartoon and the color palette of the original,” Atwood says. “There’s nods to the cartoon all the way along.”
There’s also the matter of Dumbo himself, despite not being really on set (even with the adorable in-scale model that has been made), Atwood and her team still designed costumes for the cuddly flying elephant.
“I made tons,” she says when asked about making costumes for VFX characters. “We have a monkey that’s a visual effect, we have mice that are visual effects, we have Dumbo, and I made clothes for all of them for Visual Effects to scan and for Tim to visually see. We even have Mrs. Jumbo in my craft room because we’re making a shredded blanket for her, but she’s made of Styrofoam.”
Making the physical costumes for the film not only for the on-set team to have as reference but for the VFX team to then use fits right into a point Atwood makes all day, even Tim Burton thinks of his live-action movies in the realm of animation, and this being a live-action version of a cartoon makes it all fit.
“When you work with a director like Tim, he came from Animation, so you have to get in that headset of how an animator sees movement, costume, and how he plays with it, which is a really interesting camera. When you look at Tim’s movies and camera angels, a lot of that is very, very based in animation, and I think as a designer you have to anticipate that. So I’ve tried to do that and I’ve tried to give it a wink to the original.”
Dumbo flies into theaters on March 29, and tickets are on sale today!