10-Time Oscar Nominee Colleen Atwood on 'Snow White and the Huntsman's' Costume Design (Q&A)

Colleen Atwood
Jessica Chou

Colleen Atwood was responsible for the sinister Ravenna's (Charlize Theron) costumes in Snow White and the Huntsman. For this particular ensemble, Atwood used turquoise beetle shells found on eBay.

"I really don't over-theorize about design. I'd rather feel it than talk it to death," says the Yakima, Wash., native.

Colleen Atwood, 64, who has won costume design Oscars for Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha and Alice in Wonderland and nabbed her 10th nomination for Snow White and the Huntsman, tells THR how she weaves her cinematic spells.

The Hollywood Reporter: How did you begin your career as a costume designer for film?

Colleen Atwood: Like most people: working in someone's living room, making stuff by hand for very little money!

THR: What is your creative process, from start to finish?

Atwood: You begin with the script and a meeting with the director. Then you hit the ground running with research, concepts and sketches along with swatching materials, as they can inspire the process.

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THR: In Snow White and the Huntsman, Charlize Theron carries those gowns as the evil queen Ravenna convincingly. Does it affect your approach when one of your actors started as a teen model?

Atwood: I design for the movie and the character as well as the person wearing the costume. I show the ideas to the actor then do fittings for shape and technical things such as movement in the costume. Once the costume in this form is on the actor, you have a sense of their connection with it. I then take it to the next level with the final fit. The fact that Charlize has modeled doesn't matter; she's an amazing actor and would inhabit a costume -- be it a queen or Valley girl -- with very different style. Character drives her as the queen, and we discussed that.

THR: Am I correct in seeing a traditional take on a medieval fairy tale in the film, and also references to themes from nature and weaponry? The evil queen's shoulder pads look like skeletons or spiderwebs, as do her headwear and jewelry.

Atwood: We had decay as a central theme in the castle, life being taken out of things. So I used what remains, or elements of that, in the costumes. I really don't over-theorize about design. I'd rather feel it than talk it to death. A lot happens as you unroll the design.

THR: Kristen Stewart's clothes are made of fabric in earthy tones. Snow White goes from boyish warrior to queen. But are her costumes meant to be more peasant like?

Atwood: Snow White's costume is the everyday style of the people in the kingdom, or those who are left. She needed to go through a lot in the costume, so we used colors and material that were flattering and practical. Kristen did a lot of action work herself, so the costume had to function on many levels.

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THR: How did you express the male characters through clothing?

Atwood: The Huntsman [Chris Hemsworth] was a forest dweller, his clothes all leather and rough fabric he cobbled together, paired with weaponry that was his signature. Finn [Sam Spruell], Ravenna's brother, was a dark and damaged soul. We wanted him really pale and deadly without weapons, so I used manta ray and hard leather for his look.

THR: What were your sources for the dwarf costumes, with that Venetian-like leather bird mask, and the villagers? I saw a kind of Southeast Asian, tribal quality in their dress.

Atwood: The costumes were influenced by many different things. The dwarves had a past, and the idea was to reflect an element of past glories. The tribal women were a melange of the east, a gypsy tribe with limited resources living and blending with the land.

THR: Do your choices of color and fabric have conceptual as well as visual bases?

Atwood: I choose colors I like and will photograph well. I don't do color theory!

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Did you also design the armor, including the horses' attire?

Atwood: We made the armor for both armies. It was the first part of the costumes we did, as the making and assemblage process is lengthy. We made about 400 suits of armor head to toe. The art department does the animal armor, but we coordinated on design.

How do you work as a team with your crew of supporting designers and crafters? Do the extravagantly embellished details in the film's costumes add up to your signature style as a designer?

Atwood: I had an amazing team on this film. People from the U.S. and all over the world came together to give it an interesting style. Everyone brought something to the table. Every story is different, so what is a detail in one might not be in something else. Diversity is something I embrace and love about my work.