Colleen Atwood’s Spectacular Costume Designs for “Dumbo” Are Set to Hit Screens Soon
With a dozen Academy Award nominations and four Oscars under her star-studded belt, Colleen Atwood, whose film credits include Alice in Wonderland, Into the Woods, and the two latest installments in the wizarding world’s Fantastic Beasts series, is one of the most talented costume designers in Hollywood. Now, she’s collaborated with Tim Burton once more on the new Disney classic, Dumbo.
Citing her work with Burton on Edward Scissorhands as a turning point for her career and personal life, Atwood reflected on the intricacy of Burton’s artistic eye.
I’m very respectful of Tim’s ability and eye as an artist. He’s one of a kind. He’s got a great heart, he’s very pure of heart and childlike in his visual sense, which I admire. I think we have a sensibility that is similar, which is probably what makes it work for us. Part of that is, it’s almost like Japanese paintings; there are certain things in the frame that matter. And too much stuff is too much stuff. You have to understand what’s going to matter in order to design for Tim in that way.
Far from limited in her stylistic scope, Atwood has worked on projects across a wide range of genres and fashion periods. Planet of the Apes, she says, was one of her more challenging jobs, requiring significant visual effects work, early-morning starts, and immersion in an unkind climate. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, on the other hand, called for the detailed elegance of the 1920s Parisian fashion scene. Atwood’s versatility has made her a sought-after for moviemakers.
Dumbo is a rich and immersive film, high on detail and begging for scene-setting. Luckily, Atwood had some frame of reference for its spectacular circus aesthetics, having designed a circus for the Feld family Ringling Bros. Circus in 2005. This, a great deal of research, and a close working relationship with the team in the art department helped Atwood construct an artistic vision for Dumbo.
For this particular movie it was very interesting research because the circus came from all over the world. So I backed into earlier periods to present time. ‘Present time’ meaning 1919 when ‘Dumbo’ takes place. I went from 1880 to 1919. I did research from all over the world. Because a lot of acts in circuses at that time were from all over the world. Europe, Russia, India, Asia. They came together because there are certain parts of the world that focus on gymnasts, contortionists, snake charmers, elephants, animal trainers. There was a heavy German influence on the big American circuses.
Dumbo is an iconic film. Atwood took on a sense of responsibility, doing her best to incorporate some original elements as an homage to the Dumbo viewers already know and love. She noted the importance of working with a team who truly cared about the project, saying that many of the often overlooked details of film costume design had to be considered, given the scale and intricacy of Burton’s vision, and the Dumbo legacy.
I suddenly realized that Tim is looking at this movie [through] Dumbo’s eye. So a lot of low[-]angle stuff, the hems and how things look from ground to the waist mattered in a way that are often overlooked in a movie. But in this movie, Tim ‘being’ Dumbo, you sort of had to take them into account and bring them to life.
Despite her incredible success, Atwood remains humble. When asked about her Academy Awards record, she simply said that she’d “been really lucky.”
What’s next for Colleen Atwood? The excitement is in the not knowing! She hopes to work on Little Mermaid with Rob Marshall, with whom she’s collaborated on four movies so far.
Dumbo is set for mega-success, and jam-packed with beautiful, richly embellished costumes, it’s bound to be an aesthetic crowd-pleaser. Dumbo is set to debut this Friday.