Colleen Atwood is an American costume designer. Atwood has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Costume Design eleven times, winning three times; for the films Chicago in 2002, Memoirs of a Geisha in 2005, and Alice in Wonderland in 2010.
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UPDATE: Thanks everyone! This was fun...
Three-time Oscar®-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood (“Alice in Wonderland,” “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “Chicago") has always loved clothes. She credits her two grandmothers -- one with amazing style who kept up with fashion and the other who could sew and fix things and was very crafty, but not very fashionable – with giving her the skills and flair needed for costume design.
Colleen worked closely with director James Bobin and producer Tim Burton to create the costumes for Alice Through the Looking Glass to shape the curious characters of “Underland.”
Some fan favorites from her long list of film credits include Alice in Wonderland, Edward Scissorhands, Snow White and the Huntsman, Into the Woods, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Here’s a clip from “A Stich in Time” the Costume bonus feature on Alice Through the Looking Glass Blu-ray and DVD: https://youtu.be/qwcrbonXSKI
More proof: http://imgur.com/yd8TgAh
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start off in the costume design industry? I myself am a fashion graduate and really would like to build a career in costume design, so any advice will be great!
Also I'd just like to add that I absolutely adore your work, especially in this film! Alice in Wonderland is like my Favourite thing ever, so I was very excited to see this AMA! Thank you!
I'd say that the work you've done in fashion will help in the film industry, and it would be good to try and find young filmmakers and start working with them even if you have another job, to get experience working with a filmmaker.
Nice to have you here!
Do you generally have pretty free reign with your costume interpretations for characters, or are you usually a co-effort with the director/whoever else?
Have you ever had a costume totally made that you thought was great, but it wasn't what the filmmakers were looking for?
Generally I have free reign, I share them with the director very early, so they see them right away. Because of that I have prevented ever having to be in a situation where a costume was not what they wanted.
When you design a character for a film, do you have to consider casting? As are you given the actor or actress first, then design the costume, or do you develop the look then casting hunts for talent to fill the look? I'd imagine the former for big name stars, but what about newcomers, side characters, and others I can't think of?
I think it's really impossible to design a costume without thinking of who is going to wear it regardless of who they are in the cast. Sometimes, I have ideas for characters ahead of time but have to be very flexible where those ideas go when casting is in place.
What the most difficult film you've ever worked on?
Probably the hardest film I've ever worked on was, one was Chicago because we had limited time and a limited budget to make a huge amount of costumes.
Hi Colleen! I love your work in Alice Through The Looking. What were some challenges designing the red queens character?
In Through the Looking Glass, the Red Queen is in a deconstructed version of her original Red Queen look, so it was hard to get the dress to a point where it looked ruined enough, but still resembled the original costume.
When working on practically no budget, what are key variables for a costume to have to make it look good on camera?
I think if you're really limited on budget it's important that the costume have a certain simplicity. If you try to do too much without the ability to deliver, it can look worse than just being low key about a costume. And another thing is to keep in mind that a character could have less costumes and repeat them.
What is the most difficult aspect of your job; and what is the most rewarding?
The most difficult is sometimes the managerial side of the work. And probably the most rewarding is when you can sit in the audience and see the movie just as a film and feel like you were a part of it.
In Alice you work with an all star cast. What advice did they give? Any direction from Anne, Johnny or Mia?
I think that in the fitting process when the actors actually wear the clothes and actually feel them, you begin to evolve the character and make the functional side of the costume work for them.
Hi Colleen! Where do all these wonderful creations go when you're done filming? Do you get to keep some?
hello, the things that I make are owned by the studio and go into the archives and sometimes to theme parks or displays around the world.
I’ve enjoyed your work for many years. I don’t really have a question inasmuch as I’d like to just praise what you put up on screen.
Since the sub requires a question, I guess I’m curious about fashion aligned with certain time periods. Along with having an extensive knowledge of fashion, I would believe that you’d have to have an extensive knowledge of history, and how (depending on what time period) people’s behaviors, mannerisms, etiquette and events governed what people wore.
Do you have a favorite fashion period in history? Has there been a film in which you’ve been able to express your love for it and/or exemplify it?
I think when you explore a period and the people in it, I think you embrace the fashion of the period. And also, the attitude toward clothing. One of my favorite references historically, is the way Charles Dickens describes his characters in writing. He describes his characters as having shoes that are 10 years old, his father's hat, etc.
In doing so, you don't aways wear the fashion of that year. its a layering of all different times.
Is there a particular fabric you have vowed to never work with again?
Not really... I try to keep an open mind to materials as each project is so vastly different. You never know what is going to work.
Hey! The Mad Hatter costume is iconic. Where did you get your inspiration for that splendid piece of work?
I think from the original feeling, that the early drawings from the 1860's of the hatter reflected and the idea that he was really a Hatter, so all of the elements of his costume were elements of his former trade.
What motivated you to get in to this line of work?
I really loved movies but in the beginning didn't really know very much about what jobs there were on films but new a lot about clothes, so luckily I fit in with the art department and found my calling working in an art department in my first job.
Has there been any instances where you had to really veto an idea for a design that simply wouldn't work? Your work is amazing by the way, big fan!
Sometimes you have an idea that doesn't work and an important part of being a designer is to see that it isn't working and not be afraid to move on to a second idea.
Are there any stories you would love to make costumes for one day but have not yet?
I would love to do a film set in the 15th Century Spanish court but don't know a story that goes with that... Also I think a great epic story about the new world like Isabella Allende book, Daughter of Fortune.
Did Tim Burton give you any sort of advice for creating these costumes? Was there any pressure to recreate costumes for such iconic characters?
Tim really was open to my interpretation of the costumes. He always looks at everything and enjoys costumes. Sometimes he will suggest and idea that he has for a character in that he has an idea of what he wants the costume to do.
Thanks for coming by, I love your work, particularly Sleepy Hollow. I know film costumes can take a lot of abuse on a set. How many copies are made of each major costume for a production like Fantastic Beasts?
For the amount of costumes made is dictated by the action that the costume is going to have to endure. Because Fantastic Beasts is a movie which happens quickly in time, I had 8-10 multiples of the main characters costumes.
Can you tell us about one of your favorite projects? And why it sticks out in your mind as a favorite?
I don't really have a favorite. But it's fun sometimes when a film comes on that I haven't seen in a while to see it and what I did for it.
Do you get to choose the fabrics and colors? Or does the director and set designer help with that to make sure it's cohesive?
I choose the colors and materials that the costumes are made from but always check what kind of world the set decorator and set designer are creating.
How much research goes into some of your costumes? Where do you go for inspiration? Love your work!!
I think the research part of the process is not only visual research but researching materials. For inspiration I go to museums, through books, the internet and also the screenplay and sometimes the street.
You've made a lot of fantastic and fantastical costumes... Have you ever designed a costume that just would not look the way you wanted it to, or one that was so fragile it kept falling apart during shooting?
I've never made a costume a that was too fragile to shoot in, but have used a fabric that was fragile and it was very difficult to get through the shoot with.
How many iterations does it usually take for the director to approve a costume?
I've been lucky in my collaborations, that the directors have a lot of trust that I work with, so it's usually one or two tries and we are on course.
Howdy Colleen and thanks fir doing the AMA. Is there a specific genre that you like to work in, that you feel your design aesthetic best compliments?
I think that I found that in the world of film and that genre wise, I like to do all kinds of things.
Has anyone ever asked you to create something that defies all logic and or physics?
Sometimes directors want costumes that look like they float in air and that's always a tricky area but doable.
Who had the coolest pair of shoes when you were making your current film?
Designing shoes is one of my favorite things to do in movies, that I made a pair a really beautiful pair of leaf green shoes for Mia that I am quite fond of.
Hello! Wonderful to have you here
My first thought was where do you start when you design a costume which led me to formulate this one. How do you know when your done? What about a design leads you to say this is complete?
I think that one of the things that comes with experience is knowing when something is finished. it is really easy to over design. For me, I always look at the lines of a costume and make sure that it's fitting in the right places before I address the ornamentation.
Okay everyone, thank you for your questions! I love the new Blu-ray!