Interview: Colleen Atwood of Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland"

5/30/2010 Posted by Admin


Colleen Atwood of Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland"

By our guest blogger, Joel Crabtree

Costume designer Colleen Atwood has almost become as much a staple for Tim Burton's movies as Burton himself. “Alice in Wonderland,” out on Blu-ray and DVD Tuesday, marks the eighth collaboration of Atwood and Burton.

“The collaborative process with Tim is a rare gift in the world of film,” the two-time Academy Award-winning Atwood said during a virtual roundtable discussion earlier this week.

“Every film Tim makes is a new experience--there are no givens,” Atwood said when asked of her expectations before starting a new project with Burton. “I'd say a graphic sense would be the strongest continuum.”

Burton's “Alice in Wonderland” returns a 19-year-old Alice (Mia Wasikowska) to the forgotten Wonderland of her childhood to fulfill her destiny of ending the reign of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter).

Atwood, who referred to “Alice in Wonderland” as a “dream project,” said she finds inspiration everywhere, including books, art and people on the street.

“[For 'Alice in Wonderland'], I really didn't look to the animated version as much as I did to the Tenniel and Carrol illustrations – then I moved on.”

The designer said she gave nods to the original book's vision of young Alice and the Made Hatter's hat, and then she departed. “It was a challenge but really exciting to take Alice into a new Wonderland,” she said.

“Alice had around eight looks, and multiples of most of them, so there were around 20 hand-made costumes. The script and idea of Alice as an exploring spirit really inspired me,” Atwood said, noting that the film's greatest design challenge was how Alice shrank and grew.

“Alice” also presented the designer with oddly shaped CGI characters, a task she reveled in. “I love an odd shape, so all the bodies in 'Alice' were wonderful fun for me," she said. "The CGI element was interesting because so much of my process is in the actual draping on a body. I swatched all the virtual fabrics, trims and buttons to help in the visual process and give continuity to the world.”

Working so regularly with Burton, Atwood also has developed a strong working relationship with “Alice” star Johnny Depp, another frequent collaborator of Burton's. Their work together has branched out to movies such as “Public Enemies” and the upcoming “The Rum Diary.”

“The level of trust is an important part of collaboration,” Atwood responded when asked if the process gets easier after becoming more familiar with actors such as Depp. “[S]o I would say that makes it more relaxed, but it also makes it more of a challenge since you always want change it up and come up with new ideas.”

Burton and Depp have been known to sketch out a vision of their characters before filming. Atwood said that she usually doesn't see the sketches until later. “With the Hatter, we pretty much all came up with the same vibe.”

“The Rum Diary” and “The Tourist” – two more Atwood-Depp teamups – are scheduled for release November 2010 and February 2011, respectively. The designer's most anticipated project on the horizon, however, is “Dark Shadows,” a Burton remake of the classic TV series.

And as for the designer's own couture: “My own style is pretty classic--I much prefer to design for others.”

“Alice in Wonderland” comes out on Blu-ray and DVD Tuesday.

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