Janty Yates, costume designer for director Ridley Scott’s long-awaited sci-fi prequel Prometheus, is multi-award nominated and an Oscar winner for Gladiator (2000). She almost always collaborates with Scott (they have made seven pictures together and counting), but has an impressive catalogue of stand-alone work including Jude (1996), Plunkett & Macleane (1999) and Miami Vice (2006).
Clothes on Film caught up with Ms. Yates for an exclusive chat about the space suits and fatigues in Prometheus, which she describes as containing some of her proudest work since Gladiator. SPOILER WARNING: We suggest only reading this after you have seen the film.
Clothes on Film, Chris: What was the costume brief for Prometheus?
Janty Yates: We wanted to go somewhere where it wasn’t traditional spacesuits. Sleek and slimline, to avoid the sort of ‘Michelin Man’ look of the NASA suit.
CoF: So, to get away from any direct Alien references?
JY: Well, it is a prequel, but Nostromo (the spacecraft featured in Alien) was a space tank. It was a functional space tank, and they were functional engineers, so that was a functional space suit. Basically, it was issued with the spacecraft; it was literally intended to be used to maintain space stations and vehicles. But this spaceship for Prometheus was custom-built by Weyland Industries, so the spacesuits were custom-built with it. The idea that we went with was all of your body functions would be integral to the suit.
The spacesuit helmet was intentionally designed to resemble an egg. An Alien egg..? Unfortunately the helmets had to be packed up and returned to production studio Fox at the end of the shoot, so are unlikely to be display anywhere.
CoF: The blue and orange piping suit was designed to be worn underneath the all-blue suit?
JY: Yes. These were designed to monitor heart-rate, blood sugar levels… all of that, the things that NASA spacesuits had bags for and they were great big things. We rented a very good replica of a NASA spacesuit built by Asylum Models and Effects Ltd. It was huge; it almost had compartments. The blue suits we designed did have armour, but that was it. Ivo (Coveney) made the spacesuits. He’s great. He also created all of Russell Crowe’s armour in Gladiator.
CoF: Why are the orange and blue under-suits worn at the end of the film?
JY: Basically because they didn’t need the outer-suits and armour, and that’s why they took their helmets off, because they knew they could breathe in the Pyramid. And also, everything was so panicked there wouldn’t have been any time in the momentum of the story to ‘suit up’ any more than they did. Ideally, we wanted them to be wearing the orange piping costumes on board a lot, but although it looked gorgeous on the girls, for the men to be walking around like that…well, it was much better for them to have a crew uniform which was slightly individualised. We had a bit of a mishmash of civilian wear on board. Really, Ridley Scott was very keen to avoid anything that had gone before; that sort of Star Trek uniform which they are all wearing all the time.
CoF: Can you tell us about the helmets?
JY: Those helmets I am most proud of in my whole career, apart from maybe Russell’s armour in Gladiator; actually all Gladiator, full stop. The whole helmet was created by FB-FX. Ridley wanted the globe to be like an egg. So we went through like 100,000 different globes, trying to get the correct shape and without imperfections in the Perspex; there are no joins at all. It was the number one major challenge.
To save visual effects we installed 11 working monitors, which had video, data and graphs. They all worked, but it was a complete nightmare. The batteries, which had to be charged overnight, would fail halfway through a take, but the only way we could do it was battery-run. Some amazing people installed them; we found the smallest monitors we could. There are five in the base and six overhead on a yellow strip. Sadly though, the way the film is cut, you don’t really see them that well. We also had to install about 1000 LED lights. Those helmets actually lit the actors. They had torches, but there was no other lighting in what we called the ‘pyramid’. We had two powerful fans installed in the back of the helmet so the globe didn’t condense and so the actors didn’t panic as they had constant air.
Logan Marshall-Green (left) had very time to prepare for his role as Charlie Holloway, still acting in an off-off Broadway play when Prometheus began shooting. He went for his first costume fitting and was back on a plane to New York the same day.
CoF: Surely that must have caused an issue with sound?
JY: Yes it did, the bigger ones were slightly noisy. The microphone is in the skullcap – the battery pack leads through to the back yoke. We had the tiniest HD cameras in the world installed at the last minute on top of the helmet. We actually asked for these in prep to be fitted on the helmet ‘ears’ but Ridley said “we don’t need them.” Then two weeks into shooting our editor said that we do need them for feedback, that sort of Blair Witch Project wobbly camera, so sadly we had to install them externally. That meant more battery packs, more receivers… we wanted to try and build them in but really the whole thing was on such a tight schedule. We only had four months prep by the time everything was approved. The Tron Legacy crew apparently had a year and hundreds of people in the costume department to make the light-suits, etc.
CoF: Those Tron suits did have a lot of problems too. The battery power failed constantly and the actors couldn’t even sit down in them.
JY: Well, each actor in Prometheus needed two stand-bys because those helmets were so precious. You had to have somebody rebooting the batteries and polishing the globe; you couldn’t any have hands directly on it. I think we made about 100 in the end because we needed some for breaking and stunts.
Unlike a traditional NASA spacesuit, the Prometheus’ neoprene suits were intended as sleek and body contoured, to function as an extension of the human body.
CoF: So, looking at Ridley Scott’s original Alien film… did you take inspiration or move as far away as possible from it?
JY: Well, originally Ridley wanted to do the fatigue suits from Alien, which Sigourney Weaver looked so great in. Then he changed his mind and wanted to move away from it. Even though the crew have Hawaiian shirts, etc adding to their fatigues, John (Mollo) did create an actual uniform. They have a lot of signage and insignias. In our own way we created a uniform too. We had t-shirts printed with the Weyland logo in lots of different colours, though I think they are only visible on Benedict Wong (Ravel) and Idris Elba (Captain Janek).
CoF: How about Noomi Rapace’s costume, because she is the focal point?
JY: We went through a million choices for Noomi. We had cream fatigues, uniform blue, combat trousers, even a leather outfit… we tried them all and went full circle back to the fatigues. We had the luxury of working with Noomi early. She was nearby on the Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows set. She was wonderful. In a way, she was a guinea pig. We didn’t alter the costume shape because we had to follow the lines of non-extension. But it was more to do with what was comfortable for her. She’d be in the fitting room rolling on the floor, on all fours, virtually doing somersaults. She knew how physical the role was – she knew what these suits had to go through. All the actors felt very comfortable in their costumes and it comes across on screen. They could run, they could muck about, but I was worried about wrinkles all the time.
CoF: Really didn’t notice any wrinkles…
JY: I know. I said to myself halfway through “Why am I stressing about this? They aren’t superhero suits, they aren’t spray-on… these are human beings.” But I was so worried about a wrinkly crotch!
The sweater worn by Rafe Spall as Millburn was custom made for the film; his spectacles were vintage.
CoF: What was your intention with David’s (Michael Fassbender) costume?
JY: We tried all sorts on Michael. Even zips that went across the body, but none of it worked. The best was the most simple. He actually has three or four separate outfits but they all look rather the same. There’s the all-in-one boiler suit, then he changes into a jacket and trousers, then a dark green jacket and trousers.
CoF: And the flip-flops?
JY: Ridley has a thing about flip-flops. He loves flip-flops! So I said “Fine, if that’s what you want to do”. We put them on the actors and they worked. Ridley has great moments of inspiration like that. I truly believe he is an inspirational genius; having studied at the Royal College of Art and been a production designer, his heart is mainly visual. The flip-flops were really emphasised by David’s short trousers. Why would a robot have a break in his trousers? They are purely functional. Those narrow trousers are a great 60’s reinvention now. We wanted him sleek, we didn’t want him to stand out; he wouldn’t have looked good in Oxford bags.
The Nehru style suits worn by David (Michael Fassbender) Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) are intended as a Weyland Industries design, like a uniform. Pearce’s suit was made by Timothy Everest, tailors in London.
CoF: Charlize Theron looked stunning in that sculptured suit…
JY: Her suit is just the best thing. My cutter, Dominic Young, is amazing. He works with Sandy Powell, Colleen Atwood… I was very lucky to have him. I was really blown away every time I saw Charlize. It just really worked. It’s made from one of the most expensive suiting fabrics I’ve ever used. It’s silk and vicuña; it has a slight sheen on it.
CoF: What was your overall costume budget for this film?
JY: Honestly, I don’t know. We did do a budget and we were hammered down. We didn’t have any way to chisel though. If the spacesuits weren’t charged up and maintained, the film wouldn’t get finished. Really, the first week of shooting was very difficult until we had the overnight crew who came in to maintain all this stuff. Really, I don’t have the physical time to go poring over things. It costs what it costs and I go away and do it. Nobody queues up at the box-office because you come in under budget!
With thanks to Janty Yates.
Prometheus is currently on general release in the UK and opens in the U.S. on 8th June.
© 2012 – 2013, Christopher Laverty.