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Life & Arts

Oscar-Nominated Costume Designer Talks Dressing Superman and Amy Adams

Oscar-nominated costume designer Michael Wilkinson is making his first-ever trip to Austin this weekend. He's the subject of a special event with the Austin Film Society on Sunday.

Wilkinson is known for his work on films including "American Hustle", "Man of Steel" and "Noah". He's also working on the upcoming film "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice." Wilkinson spoke with KUT about his varied collection of work and some of his favorite past projects.

On His Goals for Superhero Costumes:

With superhero films, you want people to come out of the theatre and talk about the costumes and how inspiring they are and how cool they look when they're on a billboard that's like 10 stories high and you want to show people different creative worlds that they haven't seen before and take them to new inspiring, compelling places."

On Designing Superhero Costumes:

"I love working on these superhero films because the legacy that you're drawing on is so rich and so fascinating. These characters have been in the public consciousness for 75 years now and they've been drawn and portrayed in so many different ways and it's a wonderful challenge as a designer to think about what makes them important to people, why people are drawn to them, what do they stand for and how to make them relevant to today's audience... One thing I really get excited about is exploring new costume technologies and sort of using techniques that haven't been used before or developing things that already exist – whether it's digital printing or scanning actors and building costumes in a 3D space or using fabrics and fabrications that haven't been used before."

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Credit Michael Wilkinson
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Sketch of a dress Wilkinson designed for Amy Adams in "American Hustle."

On Designing Costumes for Amy Adams:

"Working with her has been an especially joyful thing for me because she has such a wonderful relationship to clothes. She really knows how to wear them and she really transforms – whether she's wearing a silk jersey evening gown from the 70s or a classically-tailored Lois Lane urban look – it's fantastic to watch her explore the language of clothes in the fitting room."

On His Costumes for "Noah":

"It was wonderful to work with Darren Aronofsky... One of the first things he said to me in a design meeting was he wanted there to be an ambiguity as to whether the film takes place 5,000 years ago or 5,000 years in the future. So I really enjoyed creating kind of a new aesthetic for the film, we called it the "modern primitive." It was a mix between the ancient and the modern where I took rough, raw textiles that we created but I used them in rather unexpected ways sort of creating modern, edgy, strong silhouettes with them. So that's something that I'm super proud of and I hope audiences are enjoying."

On Working in Various Genres:

"The thing I really love about my job is that I never have the opportunity to get bored. My criteria for choosing projects is – what can I learn from this, what haven't I done before, what are the challenges that I can face with this project."

On When People Should Not Notice His Work:

"There are other sorts of films, like dramas, or different genres where the costumes just have to feel right and the language of costume is much more subliminal – you're sort of using a subtler language of colors and textures and silhouettes that might indicate to the audience something about the character but it's in a much more quiet way and it isn't necessarily something you would want to draw attention to."

On Working on the Film "Party Monster":

"That was such a wonderful experience for me. I had a tiny team and I think my costume budget was about $10,000 or something like that and so we had to create this huge spectrum of wonderfully creative costumes from the club kids and so there were many nights of staying up all night and sewing things together and sticking on sequins and really kind of getting inside the minds of the club kids and trying to access that incredibly creative space that they created their looks from."

The Austin Film Society event with Michael Wilkinson is Sunday beginning at 5:30. Wilkinson will highlight costumes from a few of his favorite projects, have some examples on-hand and will be teaching a little course on "how to build a Superman costume."

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