Despite being set in the present day, the world of Brigsby Bear (2017, directed by Dave McCary) is a cosy 1980s nostalgia affair. Most of what we see either comes from or belongs to another time. It is a very deliberate look that extends right across the production design and costumes.
Separate from the overall costume design of Brigsby Bear (by Sarah Mae Burton), Stoopid Buddy Stoodios worked on the creation and execution of the actual Brigsby Bear suit. We chatted to David Brooks and Ben Bayouth from the studio to discover exactly how they arrived upon the distinctive finished article.
Clothes on Film: What led Stoopid Buddy Stoodios to be working on Brigsby Bear?
Ben Bayouth: Well I had worked with one of the producers beforehand. Also I’d recently started with Stoopid Buddy in their new ‘Buddy Builds’ department which was set up to make all sorts of practical effects. As soon as I read the script I fell in love.
David Brooks: It was really our first foray in the Buddy Builds division into feature films. The division itself is only about a year and a half old. I was particularly excited about this film because we would create the costume of the title character. We do a lot of commercial work but feature film is always a different beast to tackle.
CoF: Tell us about the design process for creating Brigsby.
BB: Brigsby Bear director Dave McCary and writer Kyle Mooney (and star) had a very specific idea of what they wanted this guy to look like. They had tonnes of reference material for us to look at. Anywhere from The Rockettes to Teddy Ruxpin. There are a few other interesting off-brand 1980s references too, such as Chuck E. Cheese. Based on those references, and working with Dave and Kyle, we basically went through rounds and rounds of notes whittling down how big the bear was going to be, how fat he was going to be, how big his eyes are, how much hair – all kinds of things. Then once we got that look down we went from designing in black and white to colour. There was a lot of back and forth emails about slight differences to the tan hue Brigsby Bear ended up being. They were meticulous about the whole process. More than anything they knew what they didn’t want.
CoF: Such as?
BB: We had some things early on where he had more of a ‘cooler’ look and they thought he looked too cool. It was the expression on his face, his stance; there was an attitude to him. He’s this overly friendly character that starts off talking to James as a little kid so he needed to be this really friendly guy that a child could watch and later translate into someone anybody could love. It had to be the right brand of cheesy.
DB: Yeah his attitude could never be ‘too cool for school’. It’s cool in a respectful way. The ‘everybody’s friend’ type of guy.
BB: Another interesting thing that Dave and Kyle didn’t want was anything that looked too perfect. Dave would often send us a note saying ‘just mess it up a bit’. In the movie the character Ted (Mark Hamill) is the one making all of these characters and costumes so everything had to be a little rough around the edges. There is a scene where Ted and James are sitting in this dome in the back yard and they are looking out at Grazerbugs and Gunnerfox. We made those. The Gunnerfox looks like a clownfish with both eyes on one side of the head. It was really funny looking. Just like the kind of thing Ted would have just gone out and made to make the yard feel more ‘real’ to James. Those kind of things were a lot of fun to do.
DB: We would never normally do this, not making things perfect, but it worked for the look of this movie. If you look there are large gaps between the eyelids and the eyes on Brigsby Bear. The mechanism is not tight and clean, it has a nostalgic quality. Back to when animatronics were very standard.
CoF: What about the technical aspects of the costume?
BB: The facial expressions were all radio controlled with servos and different gearbox motors. Each eyebrow had its own servo, each eye – like the pupil – was servo controlled. Even the eyelids. It was all wired to one control that I was puppeteering on set. Because of how big all the features were and the lack of space inside the head for the actor, I could not make eyes that would be full spheres turning. The eyes you see on Brigsby Bear are just hemispheres with the pupils actually sliding over them driven by a magnet. It was all about saving space.
CoF: It seems that as an audience we are craving these kind of practical effects more and more now.
BB: It really does. The tone the Brigsby Bear movie has pushes that aesthetic even further. People can really jump in and relate to it. There is a big wave of nostalgia coming back in general recently, especially the eighties.
DB: J. J. Abrams and Peter Jackson try to do more of these practical effects even though they have all these other tools at their disposal. There is something very tangible about an actual physical costume that can be worn and seen on set.
CoF: How many Brigsby Bear suits did you make?
BB: We only had one animatronic head and one stunt head with no animatronics inside – it just had a static expression. There was one ‘hero Brigsby’ suit and we just had to take real good care of it. They were real smart in how they shot the film though. It was’t just a bit of Brigsby here, a bit of Brigsby there. When we shot with the bear suit it was several days in a row so we could keep it in good condition. We have the suit here in the studio.
DB: I’m wearing it right now actually.
CoF: How much input did you have with the film’s costume design as a whole?
BB: We actually did a bunch of designs for Brigsby Bear’s wardrobe. We did a spacesuit with a jetpack kind of thing and a couple of variations on his shirt with the logo on it. I actually went to production designer Brandon Connolly to get an overall grasp of the colours and style they wanted to hit. We kind of handled the whole bear suit and ended up designing the logo and the shirt. When we got to set we handed over the measurements and the costume team dressed him.
CoF: Seeing the finished result on screen are you happy with how your work turned out?
BB: Definitely. I think it was an endeavour for Kyle and Dave to get this done. There were a lot of things they had never dealt with before and I think it helped to have us on board as a studio. It was really easy for us to be passionate about this project. It was especially rewarding to see the movie play at Sundance. We knew everyone would love it.
DB: You always hope it will turn out great. You work with these guys who are great collaborators and have a great script, but you really don’t know until you see the final thing come together. To be able to contribute to something we believe will be iconic is a nice feeling.
CoF: Are you looking forward to seeing attempts at Brigsby Bear cosplay?
DB: We expect this Halloween to be a Brigsby Bear Halloween.
BB: I think it is very flattering and to be honest if anything I have made can inspire others to make in general then I’m happy. We need more art out there.
With thanks to David Brooks and Ben Bayouth.
Brigsby Bear is released in the U.S. on 28th July and 8th December in the UK.
© 2017, Lord Christopher Laverty.