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Making the Real Magic of ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian’: Costume Designer Isis Mussenden

[IMG:L]Prince Caspian might be set in a fantasy world, but Isis Mussenden admits it was an artist from the Spanish Renaissance that influenced her costume design the most. “I’ve got paintings from El Greco, from where I took the pallet because they were brutal and they were beautiful and they were acidic and they were harsh. So using those paintings, literally, that’s where I pulled all the colors for all the clothing… On an individual basis, will people know that? No. But it will read on the whole at the end of the day.”

Pulling together the overall pallet for the film wasn’t Mussenden’s only challenge. The costume designer tells Hollywood.com just how difficult it was to cloth growing children, fantasy creatures and an entire army.

Hollywood.com: What are you most proud of this time around?
Isis Mussenden:
Of course on the first one Tilda [Swinton] was the big thing as the witch. She was kind of the show piece and so I don’t really have a show piece this time…I’m extremely proud of…the Telmarines Army because I had never done an army before. Let me tell you, it’s a task. We manufactured every single thing they wear from the shoes to the armor. We had four armorists in Prague working. The leather work as well. Thousands and thousands, almost up to a million studs we figured out, were put onto the brigandines, but it was a real task. We built 330 strong, the army, and that doesn’t even sound like that much, but I have to tell you that’s a lot of pieces. It’s over 3,000 pieces. It was massive. I mean, there were days I felt like I was just on this big whirlwind for months and months just keeping alive and keeping ahead of it and then translating with all my armorists who only spoke Czech. Not one of them spoke English. So it was endless hours of translation and trying to get this across and just working hard to get it exactly the way that we wanted and then to age it all. We had to age every single piece so that they looked like they had been in a hundred battles.

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HW: How did you age the pieces?
With a team of about 15 people working four and a half months aging things. As the things were made they would be coming in and they would age it. We did that by rusting it and painting in some things. There’s a cross belt that holds a sword and we did a whole sun thing. The sun had been on it and so the cross belt was dark and it was aged out and bleached out on the side. It was an enormous, a massive undertaking, but I love the way that it looks. I love it. We have three different types of armor that we had to make. We made metal, very light weight metal armor. I’m talking about the helmets and the masks and the gauntlets and then we had to do stunt armor which is flexible. So it had to look the same…These armors and sculptors that helped me work on the stuff in Prague, they have such antiquity there. They’re used to making things look really old because of course the city is 1,100 years old or something. These guys came in and they could patina just to match exactly the way that the armor looked. I mean, you can’t tell the difference between the plastic stuff and the metal. It’s pretty phenomenal…It’s a look that doesn’t exist anywhere in history, but it’s all taken from historic things, bits and pieces, that I worked on with the Metropolitan Museum. I worked with them in New York, with the curator from there.

[IMG:R]HW: Do you think the audience knows how much work goes into these costumes?
You can’t possibly know. People just come to my work and I have a 10,000 square foot workspace where we have dyers and agers, screen-printers. Every pair of pants was screened… for the four kids, for their four outfits everything of which is handmade, we made seven of each of them…you have a stunt rider and a stunt coordinator and wear and tear and growth for the two younger ones who are still growing. We just finished the last two pieces for Edmund and Lucy because they’ve already grown. Georgie [Henley] has grown four inches since we started.

HW: What can you tell us about their pieces?
The girls’ Narnia pieces – the first pieces that they wear I think are really quite beautiful. We’ve built in Susan’s daffodil motif which she’s always had. It’s right into her dress this time. It’s layered on there and it’s based on this beautiful fashion piece out of this exhibition in Tokyo. I love combining that whole medieval with whatever I want. I mean, I have the best job in the world, designing this. I just get to make it up. No one can say, “No. That’s not the right period.” It’s Narnia. It doesn’t matter.

HW: How did you and creature designer Howard Berger work together to develop some of the characters?
We decided very early on that the creatures would have no clothing on and we didn’t really have any clothing on them in the first one, but we did have bits of fabric…but we really wanted them to feel like they were renegades, they were down to the bare essentials and were out hiding in the forest…Now with the dwarves we were extremely close, working together, because obviously dwarves are human form. Nikabrik and Trumpkin, Howard and his team really designed amazing makeup for them and we have two actors this time and that makes a huge difference and they look fantastic. It’s a red dwarf and a black dwarf, but they’re both on the good side this time. We worked very closely together on the design for the dwarves.

[IMG:L]HW: What else inspired your costumes in this film?
I start with pallet and then I just do endless research from anywhere – from fine art, from magazines, from sculpture, from nature pictures. I mean, I was just at the zoo last week collecting things thinking about things and taking pictures of these amazing stripes on these animals, these incredible birds. I mean, nature is beyond inspiring because of the colors and textile and design.

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