The art of making sequels demands a fine balance between revisiting an existing world and giving the audience something new to chew on. For Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” costume designer Ellen Mirojnick and special effects makeup designer David White started with the familiar and built things out from there.
“This movie is a fantastic example of how [the look of a film] can flourish from the lead character, and let you explore the world in a greater way,” says White, who designed prosthetics on the first “Maleficent” and was Oscar nominated for “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
The sequel, due in theaters Oct. 18, sees Angelina Jolie reprise the titular role from the hit 2014 feature, which itself was inspired by the villainess from the studio’s 1959 animated classic, “Sleeping Beauty.” This time, Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) proposes to Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), who accepts. But the prince’s mother, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), plans to use the wedding to divide faeries and humans, putting Maleficent and Aurora on opposite sides of the conflict. Joachim Rønning (“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”) directs.
White spent months creating looks for at least 20 characters, all influenced by the environments that spawned them — desert, forest, tundra and jungle — and each having its own color palette, textures and style.
The magical part-human, part-bird creatures were among those that varied in appearance based on where they originated. “The ones from the tundra are very cool and have a lot of feathers. The desert ones are very warm and have a sandy kind of cracked-mud feel to them, but they don’t look wrong together,” says White, who credits extensive camera tests that involved all departments with ensuring everything would match on screen.
Each of the prosthetic pieces created for the creatures was carefully hand-crafted for the actors based on casts of their faces. That way, “I can tell how much weight or protrusion of a cheekbone is necessary,” White says.
The makeup designer says he relies on instinct for much of that process, with the goal to make a creation edgy without looking fake or unrealistic. “You take it to the right level, so it’s not too much but it has to be enough to read,” he says. “Otherwise, it’s not worth doing. So there’s a very delicate balance.”
During her first read of the script, Mirojnick often comes up with a kernel of an idea that survives to the end of the creative process. While she joins a team very early in the pre-production stages, she emphasizes that she avoids becoming overly attached to a single idea. “You’re not hired just to execute; you’re hired to be part of the collaborative process,” she says.
Once actors are cast, Mirojnick, an Emmy winner for “Behind the Candelabra,” says she has to further evaluate her work. No matter how elaborate or simple a costume is, “not every actor fits what you created,” she says. In the end, “our hope always is that the costumes look effortlessly natural — like there’s no other choice that could have been made.”
The department heads must collaborate on practical matters as well. The desert characters’ costumes had a lot of webbing, straps and open areas that needed to be filled by makeup and prosthetics.
“We had to go through each area and literally tick off how many pieces of prosthetic we needed to add and what you wouldn’t see,” says White. “Otherwise, we would be doing things that weren’t relevant, and it would waste time and energy. We used the designs for the costume to know exactly what to pinpoint to make it work.”
The costumes’ construction had to support not only the needs of the different departments but also the scripted action. With Queen Ingrith’s silver dress, “we use stretch and elastic within the construction, which is different than just the presentational dress,” says Mirojnick. Hidden gussets and areas of stretch don’t appear on camera but give Pfeiffer the ability to move as needed.
Of all the costumes Mirojnick designed for the film, that silver dress remains one of her favorites. “Ingrith is luxuriously fierce,” says the costumer. “She’s a queen that wants it all no matter what she has to do to get it. She’s a woman on a mission, going into battle in an armor made from Italian spun silver, Swarovski pearls and diamante crystals.”