Thor: Ragnarok doesn’t look quite like any other Marvel film, which is a point of pride for costume designer Mayes Rubeo. Her otherworldly designs are at once psychedelic and medieval, old Norse and scrappy steampunk, fantasy goth and ’80s punk. For Rubeo, however, the film has one clear influence: Jack Kirby, the Marvel comic book artist and writer who co-created the character Thor in 1962. Director Taika Waititi used Kirby’s illustrations as a reference point for the whole film but particularly for the character Hela (the villain played by Cate Blanchett) and the scenes set on the planet Sakaar, where Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) are imprisoned and forced into a gladiator-style fight. While this is Rubeo’s first Marvel film, the Mexican-born costume designer has carved out a specialty in films with a heavy motion-capture presence, including Avatar, World War Z, and Warcraft: The Beginning. Her process involves creating physical versions of all the costumes for the actors to try on — and, yes, that includes the giant antlered headpiece worn by Blanchett. Yahoo Entertainment spoke with Rubeo about designing the world of Thor: Ragnarok and adapting Tony Stark’s ’80s-tastic wardrobe to (barely) fit Ruffalo.
Yahoo Entertainment: When you and director Taika Waititi first talked about the look of Thor: Ragnarok, what inspirations came up?
Mayes Rubeo: It is so lucky, having the most creative director that is actually a real artist. He told us all to look at Jack Kirby. The look of the movie is an homage to Jack Kirby, because he was an excellent artist and one of the most important comic book artists and creators of all times. We don’t feel he’s ever been given enough credit for the body of work that he created for the comic book world, especially in the Marvel universe.
So we knew what Asgard looks like, and we kept it sort of the same. I designed many costumes for that part of the movie, and it was lots of fun. But the main dish here is Sakaar. Sakaar was made with a brand-new design that we inherited from Jack Kirby, which is a world of geometrics and dimensions of layers, trapezoids and rhomboids and half-circles and different lines and very, very bright colors. And because Taika had that so well imprinted in his brain, he was able to guide us all throughout the creative process of getting all these costumes together.
The Hela costume seems destined to become a classic.
So what we created for Hela, it was really being very faithful to the iconic character from the 1960s. And because her costumes shape-shift, it was combination between us and the visual effects department. We made all the costumes for her. She had four stages of the costume: the raggedy one, the black, the black solid, and then all the black and green ones. And we also made the headpiece, which she wore for a couple of scenes where she didn’t have to move much, and also for photographic stills. But this headpiece would be impossible to act and to fight in, so for the rest of the movie she wore a mo-cap hat that we were able to make into CGI, and that’s why her antlers move and have a life of its own. That happened in postproduction.
But she actually did have a headpiece for some of it?
Just for a couple of occasions on set. But I will say most of the time we have to do it with the motion-capture cap. But we made the headpiece. In every movie that I work that involves visual effects, I always make every single costume. I just don’t let [the actors] be in gray pajamas. It’s not good for the health of the creativity of the actors. I always make the costumes. Then we capture it, and they get to wear the gray pajamas too, but at least the actors have a good feeling of their character. It’s important.
You did the Avatar costumes, right?
I did Avatar, and the same thing: We created all the costumes for the Na’avi people.
What’s your favorite part of working with the actors?
Oh, the transformation of it. When the actors are in my fitting room, I see how they feel in character immediately, and how they react to their own image to the costume, and how this helps them develop their character. A lot happens in the fitting room, always. It’s really cool.
Do you remember Cate Blanchett trying on that costume?
Yeah, because we have to help her put it on! [Laughs] It’s that one piece also with the boots and everything together. It’s not like you put the boots later. So it’s four ladies helping her to put it on and zip it up and everything.
One of the most fun parts of this movie from a costume perspective is seeing Bruce in Tony Stark’s clothes. Was that particular Patrick Nagel T-shirt your idea?
I think it was Taika or [producer] Brad Winderbaum, our creative executive. It just goes into the bible of the ’80s, and what would Tony Stark wear? We make his pants tight, and everything is a little tight because it’s more fitted for Tony Stark, of course. And we made a joke about it. So you know, it worked.
Watch: How Mark Ruffalo and Taika Waititi filmed their motion-capture scenes in Thor: Ragnarok:
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