Watchmen Fabricating the Masks


The use of the graphic novel’s color palette extended to costume design as well. “We wanted to be very respectful to the source material, so that affected a lot of our color choices,” notes costume designer Michael Wilkinson. “We used a lot of greens, purples, oranges and browns…the murky secondary colors that darken as the story progresses.”

With the novel spanning several decades—from 1938 to 1985—and with much cutting back and forth between eras, it was essential to choose clothing that was appropriate for each period to make it clear where in the timeline a scene is taking place. The design team settled on “archetypal pieces that really summed up each decade and gave a sense of period authenticity to the movie,” says Wilkinson. While that sounds straightforward, the task was anything but, especially considering there were, at times, more than 300 extras in a scene. “There is a myriad of uniforms in the film—everything from World War II soldiers and sailors, to 1938 NYPD, to Vietnam War uniforms from both sides—and each one had to be meticulously well-researched. Adding to that, we had diner waitresses, prison cooks, security guards, flower children protesting in the 1960s, Soviet soldiers, astronauts and much more. I estimate there must have been about 150,000 pieces in our costume stock. We had a 600-page manifest, down to every last earring, and that’s a lot to wrap your brain around.”

The costumes for the key cast, like their environments, would need to be intimately designed, particularly their crime-fighting outfits. Wilkinson worked with the specialty costume company Quantum FX to create full body casts of all the major characters, upon which they then sculpted the details of each costume in clay. “We could then take those molds and render them in foam latex so you get a stylized physique—wrinkle-free and with beautiful, sculpted details, while being flexible and breathable for the actors,” he says.

For Dreiberg’s Owl costume, Wilkinson and his team researched 1970s aerospace technology to mimic Dan’s knowledge of birds and aerodynamics. “We looked at interesting NASA-style technology, things like exposed zippers, and air vents that might help him move through the air in a smoother way,” the costume designer offers. “At the same time, Zack wanted Nite Owl to be a little fear-inspiring; it’s important that putting on his costume has a very empowering quality. It helps Dan access a side of his personality that’s different from his very shy, retiring daytime character.”

The juxtaposition of daytime personality against the masked vigilante is also quite dynamic in the character of Silk Spectre. Sally Jupiter had created a sexy costume for her teenage daughter, a yellow and black mini-dress only marginally more modest than Sally’s costume had been. Wilkinson updated Laurie’s costume to be a form-fitting latex suit. “We wanted to keep the spirit of the graphic novel intact; Silk Spectre is in the same colors and has the same graphic silhouette as her costume in the book,” Wilkinson explains. “But we rendered it in latex because we liked the idea of that extreme, hyper-sexualized version of her character. It juxtaposes so beautifully with Laurie’s day-to-day look, which is very stitched together, tailored and precise, wanting to be taken seriously. We enjoyed exploring the two different sides of her personality.”

In contrast to the characteristically extreme costumes of the majority of the Masks is the almost non-descript costume of Rorschach: a simple trench coat. “When you read about the character in the graphic novel, he has a very bleak outlook on life,” Wilkinson observes. “He’s very misanthropic. He just wants to bring a little bit of justice in the world. In terms of his costume, there is the sense that he gave up caring about his appearance a long time ago. He just wears this outfit, not to make a particular impression, just because it’s what he wears. He keeps it in a dumpster. It has years of layers of grime and other encrusted crud on it. The whole litany of his past can be read through his trench coat.”

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