Together they tell the story in 'Black Swan'

Amy Westcott and Laura Mulleavy were both blown away when they first saw the climax in “Black Swan” in which Natalie Portman’s ballet costume takes on a life of its own as she loses her grip on reality. The scene is a perfect example of how costumes and vfx can work together to enhance the storytelling.

Westcott was the film’s costume designer. Mulleavy, together with her sister Kate Mulleavy, owns the fashion label Rodarte, which was hired to design the ballet costumes.

Filmmakers have long brought fashion designers onboard to add unique elements to the costume department head’s overall vision. For example, Giorgio Armani supplied the wardrobe for Christian Bale’s brooding yet sartorially sophisticated Bruce Wayne.

In the case of “Swan,” the initial connection to Rodarte came through Portman, who knew the designers. Like Westcott, the Mulleavy sisters had never worked with dance costumes before. They prepared for their first meeting with helmer Darren Aronofsky by viewing various versions of “Swan Lake” and studying what ballet dancers wear in their day-to-day lives.

“As a costume designer you work with a lot of people in the fashion industry,” said Westcott, who also designed the costumes on Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler.” On “Swan,” part of her job was adapting the Rodarte outfits to the practicalities of filmmaking, as on-set needs can be far removed from the world of fashion design.

For example, as production unfolds, a film requires multiple copies of each costume for a given character or scene. “You might need like eight of them,” Westcott said. Plus, “a lot of things had to be adjusted because they had to be functional to dance in. My department was like the function police. We were the people who made it all work.”

For its part, the Rodarte team delved into the film’s dark psychology to come up with “a world of decay and brutality, which we tried to combine with pure beauty,” Mulleavy said. “The idea was to make the white swan as beautiful as possible, and give the black swan a demon character.

“We had complete creative freedom,” Mulleavy added. But, as on the rest of the film, Aronofsky made all the final decisions on the costumes. As part of the brain trust that steered the picture’s overall look, the helmer worked closely with Westcott, production designer Therese DePrez and d.p. Matthew Libatique. “The four of us were a real unit. We figured out how it was going to work visually,” Westcott said.

The toughest part, she added, was keeping things as realistic as possible. “It’s the same challenge as on ‘The Wrestler.’ You’re always under the watchful eye of professionals in that field who know exactly how things are supposed to look, and you have to make sure not to let anybody down,” she said.

Bookings & Signings

Grant, Savic, Kopaloff has booked d.p.’s David Tattersall on Brad Peyton’s “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” and Andy Strahorn on Scott Spiegel’s “Hostel: Part III”; production designers Warren Alan Young on Ernest Dickerson’s “Close Quarters” and Mark Harrington on Jeffrey Donovan’s untitled “Burn Notice” prequel; sound mixers Mark Ulano on J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8″ and David Kelson on CW pilot “Danni Lowinski”; costume designer Ariyela Wald-Cohain on Ellie Kanner’s “For the Love of Money”; and editor Michael Ornstein on Hallmark’s “The Lost Valentine” and TNT’s “Bird Dog.”

GSK also booked UPMs Ed Tapia as production supervisor on ABC Family’s “What Would Jane Do,” Andy La Marca as second unit line producer on Bill Condon’s “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part I & II” and Lorenzo O’Brien as producer on the untitled “Burn Notice” prequel; and vfx supervisor Eric Durst on Mark Neveldine’s “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”

Lenser Joaquin Sedillo, repped by the Wagner Agency, joins ABC’s “No Ordinary Family” and VH1’s “Single Ladies.”

Montana Artists has booked line producers Bergen Swanson on Steve McQueen’s “Shame,” Carol Trussel on ABC Family pilot “The Lying Game” and David Witz as UPM on Jack Bender’s “Moscow”; cinematopgrahers David Boyd on Todd Graff’s “Joyful Noise,” Steven Bernstein on Lifetime movie “Close Quarters,” Bob Aschmann on Jim Cliff’s “Donovan’s Echo” and Jamie Barber on Lifetime’s “The Craiglist Killer”; first a.d.’s Jesse Nye on “Shame,” Thomas Burke on Nickelodeon’s “Supah Ninja,” Michael Neumann on Lifetime pilot “Exit 19,” Rich Cowan on Tom Vaughan’s “So Undercover” and David Sardi on Daniel Espinosa’s “Safe House.”

Other Montana bookings: costume designers Alexandra Welker on Mike Mitchell’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks 3D” (aka “Chipwrecked”), Kathleen Detoro on AMC’s “Breaking Bad” and Durinda Wood on Michael Burke’s “Right Angle”; production designers Jeff Knipp on Todd Graff’s “Joyful Noise,” Glenda Rovello on ABC Family pilot “The Great State of Georgia,” Tony Fanning on Baltasar Kormakur’s “Contraband,” Matthew Jacobs on Lifetime’s “Army Wives” and Kara Lindstrom on Jamie Linden’s “Temple Hill”; editors Steve Polivka on MTV’s “Teen Wolf” and Malcolm Jamieson on HBO’s “Treme”; and makeup effects artist Barney Burman on “Teen Wolf.”

peter.caranicas@variety.com

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