Clothes on Film talks exclusively to Anna Sheppard about her work on Captain America: The First Avenger, covering sartorial recreation of 1940s wartime, development of a superhero costume and the difficulties of working from someone else’s original designs.
Anna B. Sheppard is one of the best known and respected costume designers in the business. Based in London but working internationally, she has created costumes for directors Steven Spielberg, Michael Mann and Quentin Tarantino, plus been Academy Award nominated twice, for Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993) and The Pianist (2002). Captain America is something of a departure for Sheppard as she is effectively working from a 70 year old design template. The period setting, however, is something in which she is well versed.
Clothes on Film, Chris: Captain America is set almost entirely during the 1940s. Was there a concerted effort to embrace the era costume wise?
Anna Sheppard: Joe Johnston really wanted the background to be as realistic as possible and true to American 1940s so that was the approach to all of the costumes except the comic aspect.
CoF: Regarding the main hero/villain costumes, was it a challenge not working from your own original designs?
AS: Yes, it was a very new experience and still takes a lot of effort to bring something that’s previously been 2D to a movie screen. In that position, it was my responsibility to stay true to the original image as much as possible but at the same time, bring in all of the practical aspects of a working costume in an action film.
CoF: Can I ask what happened regarding Jeffrey Kurland’s involvement with the film? (He was originally listed on IMDb as co-costume designer)
AS: Jeffrey Kurland started the prep but after a period was ‘let go’ and I was brought in and basically started from scratch. For some silly reason, IMDb didn’t change the listing for several months.
CoF: Is the primary Captain America costume worn by Chris Evans essentially based on a paratrooper’s uniform and boots?
AS: Yes and no. It was evolved over several months. The details were changed many times so maybe the final result – because he’s wearing the boots – suggests that but they were also changed into a slightly different variation. I think that the challenge of this costume was that it had to look 40s, that’s why certain elements like using leather for the straps and belt, metal buckles and not having too tight a fit were important. Forget spandex!
CoF: So how much fitting time did you actually get with Evans in his ‘beefed up’ condition?
AS: Not that long! Probably about two months before we started to shoot and we could begin to fit the prototype on his new body. He worked extremely hard and it really looked as good in real life as it looks on the screen (for the female fans!)
CoF: The ‘War Bonds’ Captain America costume is obviously old fashioned for modern eyes; were you concerned that it might look silly on screen?
AS: I think in a way it was supposed to look a bit silly because that’s his whole problem with being the puppet of propaganda but he was surrounded by a bevy of beautiful girls in my beautiful costumes so he hoped that would take the attention off him! The whole story has to include that funny costume so Chris Evans wasn’t that concerned about it. I hope.
CoF: Your 40’s wartime touches in civilian clothing are perfectly judged and never intrusive. You must know the period well by now?
AS: Some might say I’ve had a little experience working in this era! Somehow for a lot of people I’m presumed to be an expert in this period based on my previous projects.
CoF: Did you let loose a little with Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper)?
AS: Well, since the character is based on the famous playboy and eccentric Howard Hughes it gave me a license to make him really dapper and outlandish sometimes.
CoF: The dancing girls in the War Bonds musical number must have been a fun diversion?
AS: As usual, we went through a lot of versions of the design but I’m very pleased with the final result because I think it looks very patriotic but it was also important that they not outshine our hero. I think they also looked very good when the girls are moving and the boys in the audience were very cheered up when they clapped eyes on them!
CoF: Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) wears a stunning red evening dress at one point, a real show stopper. Was this your own creation?
AS: The red dress has become somewhat of my trademark for a showstopping number after using one in Inglourious Basterds. I designed this particular one as I wanted to show Hayley at her finest.
CoF: And her leather coat?
AS: Again, this was my own design.
CoF: The costume coat for Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) looked very imposing, if perhaps not that comfortable…
AS: The leather was in my opinion necessary to give it the strength. Also, Red Skull starts in a German officer’s leather coat so his next coat had to be evolved from that.
CoF: How about the HYDRA soldiers; were you required to make several uniforms or were their vast numbers computer generated?
AS: We created about 250 actual uniforms in three different versions – infantry, heavy troopers and pilots, depending on the functions in the movie.
CoF: The post-conversion process for 3D tends to darken the image somewhat. Was this an issue you had to be aware of when designing the costumes?
AS: Yes, this definitely had to be taken into account. That’s why the silhouettes were very important in order to distinguish the opponents in the action sequences.
With thanks to Anna B. Sheppard.
Captain America: The First Avenger is released in the UK on 29th July.
© 2011 – 2013, Chris Laverty.