Getting the costume design right for comic book movies can be a tricky business. Modern costume design tends to split the difference between the bright primary colors of the comic books and the all-black costume design of the first X-Men movie, resulting in a color palette that is broad but slightly muted. This year’s Captain America: Civil War had quite a few costumes in play between Team Iron Man and Team Captain America, and some of those costumes were new to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
With the movie’s addition of Spider-Man and Black Panther to the MCU roster, all-new costumes were needed for them. Spider-Man has seen multiple big-screen variations on his costume between Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man trilogy and the rebooted Amazing Spider-Man movies, but with a new Spider-Man comes another new costume. Black Panther’s appearance on the big screen was his first. Both character’s costumes, however, were ushered into existence by Marvel costume designer Judianna Makovsky.
Speaking to IGN, Makovsky discussed the process of designing costumes for Marvel. As one might expect, the studio has a high degree of input in the design process, as well as final approval on the finished product. For Makovsky, it led to a closely collaborative design effort, albeit one that led to her ceding almost all control to Marvel:
“When you work with Marvel and there are all these other movies, you kind of have to collaborate with all these other films, or you know if it’s coming up and you don’t want to make too much of a statement for the next film so that they can do their own thing — particularly, Black Panther. So those kinds of costumes I work very closely with Marvel’s visual development team.
“Marvel knows what they want, and they know what the next films are, and I don’t. They kind of decide, with visual development and with me, which direction they’re going to go, which image from the comic is the one that they want to continue on… Sometimes they sketch it, sometimes I sketch it. It’s a very amorphous project.”
While it may be frustrating for a designer to have relatively little control over the final design, Makovsky says that Marvel’s decisiveness is ultimately a large part of what makes not only their costume design successful, but their movies as a whole:
“The one thing I have to say about Marvel: they know what they want, and that is why these movies are so successful. Kevin Feige has a vision, and he really understands these comic books. He gets it. You can’t argue with that when there is a true vision there.
“The directors for each different film, they have a true vision of how to translate that to their film, and also what kind of costumes they want. What is the palette? What is the tone? These characters go from my movie to somebody else’s movie, or their character comes in my movie. Absolutely you collaborate with these other designers and the other films. It’s a very unusual concept. Other films — when you’re not working for Marvel, it doesn’t work that way.”
For other designers out there, the lesson to be learned is that Marvel is a great company to work for to be part of a collaborative, team effort, but not so much for a designer looking to make his or her individual mark. Marvel has established a very specific aesthetic for the MCU, and that affects every facet of their films. With as good as characters like Spider-Man and Black Panther looked in Captain America: Civil War, however, it’s hard to argue with the results.
Captain America: Civil War is now available on Digital HD and will be available on Blu-Ray on September 13th, 2016. Doctor Strange opens November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man: Homecoming – July 7, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; Avengers: Infinity – May 4, 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp – July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel– March 8, 2019; Untitled Avengers – May 3, 2019; and as-yet-untitled Marvel movies on July 12, 2019, and on May 1, July 10, and November 6 in 2020.