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HomeAwardsContender – Costume Designer Colleen Atwood, Alice in Wonderland

Contender – Costume Designer Colleen Atwood, Alice in Wonderland


Colleen Atwood

Director Tim Burton’s magical, yet skewed spin on the fantasy adventure, Alice in Wonderland, inspired two-time Oscar-winning costume designer, Colleen Atwood, to take an imaginative twist on the classic tale. “I really wanted to do something that went with the script, which put us in a new world for Alice. I set the costumes at the beginning of the movie in the period of the 1860s when the story was originally written, with her little party dress, because it was a recognizable thing,” revealed Atwood. “But from then on out I was set free. I was especially set free by the aspect of the story that when Alice shrinks and grows, her dress does not.”

What technically worked with the shrinking and growing dress was one of Atwood’s biggest design challenges. Adding humor as well as visual variety, Atwood creatively played with the contrast between Alice’s size and the size of her clothing. When Alice (Mia Wasikowska) shrinks, her under-wear becomes huge. When Alice grows, her clothing becomes like a tight little corset. When Alice ultimately grows out of her clothing, Atwood designs another dress for Alice that the Queen’s court makes for her in the story.

Another frivolous costume was created for the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and her oversized head. “With the Red Queen, the head changed size a lot, so we had to figure out a costume that went with those giant heads, because when you make the head that big, the neck goes away! So, we had to elongate and cheat where the dress actually started. What didn’t work practically, they fixed with digital effects.”

Atwood has successfully collaborated on numerous films with both Burton and actor Johnny Depp who plays the Mad Hatter. When the team has an opportunity to work together, it’s like playing in a sandbox. “With those two – who are such wonderfully creative and funny guys – if I come up with an idea, I’m not afraid to share it with them, because it is like a family. There is still that excitement that makes my part great, because I get to play with them. We come up with all kinds of things.”

Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland.

The “Hatter” look was actually designed by Burton, Depp and Atwood together, using elements of the original with a psychedelic twist, added in postproduction. The concept was for the character’s ever-changing moods to be literally reflected in his face and attire. “We made the coat in three or four different colors, and as his mood changed, so did the color of his coat, just like a mood ring,” shares Atwood. “They jazzed it up a little with digital effects later.”

Atwood returned during post to design costumes for virtual characters, which were scanned into computers and animated by digital artists. This second round of costume design created a consistency of textures and looks with the practical costumes that fit into the world in a way Burton envisioned.

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