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‘Dune’ Movie Costume Designers Break Down the Construction of Stillsuits

The costumes in Denis Ville­neuve’s “Dune” tell a rich story on their own.

Jacqueline West and Bob Morgan teamed up to create the 1,000 or so looks needed for the three main worlds of the movie: Arrakis, Caladan and Giedi Prime. “For research, I looked at David Lean films — ‘Dr. Zhivago,’ ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ — [as well as] ‘Fahrenheit 451,’” says West. She says she also referenced Greek and Roman mythology because she thought there was a connec­tion there with House Atreides and House Harkonnen. “It all seemed like a kind of a real Greek and Roman tragedy on one level,” West says. Other wide-ranging inspirations included art by Goya, Giotto and Caravaggio; the clothes of desert people such as Bedouins and Tuaregs; tarot cards; the classic fashion of Balenciaga; and the colors of the rocks and sand in Jordan, where a chunk of the action was filmed.

But the centerpiece of the film, currently on the festival circuit and releasing Oct. 22, are the “stillsuits,” described meticulously in Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel “Dune,” Movie and necessary to sustain life on the desert planet of Arrakis. “It was the first thing I worked on after I did general research,” says West, adding that she engaged the services of concept artist Keith Christensen (“Black Panther, “The Batman”). When Villeneuve saw one of the concepts that “really moved him,” West took it to Jose Fernandez at Ironhead Studios in L.A., where a prototype was built.

Then they took everything to Budapest, where the “Dune” 2021 shoot was based. Each suit is bespoke — “Each one had to be cut on a mold of the actors’ bodies, because the movement of the body is what theoretically activates the stillsuit and turns it into a distillery.” Both in the book and film, the suits take human wastewater and turn it into a gas, “and then that filters through all of the tubing in the suit as a coolant with gauges and regulators. And we put all that on the stillsuits.”
The team made what West called a “micro-sandwich” of acrylic fibers and porous cottons that would wick the water away from the body and keep the actors cool in the suits. “When we shot in Jordan in the desert, it worked like Under Armour,” she says.
West notes that “because of the way we ran all the tubing through all the layers of the micro-sandwich,” it looks like the suit might actually be pumping water. But they also had to make sure the costume was flexible. Each suit took more than two weeks to fabricate in the Budapest work room. “It was really a group effort of a fabulous team,” says West. “Frank Herbert said that only 15 milliliters of water escaped a day from a person wearing a stillsuit, so we had to make it believable that it would do that.”

Each world also had its own chromatic scheme. The stillsuit remained gray, per the novel, and worked almost as camouflage. The colors of the rocks in the Jordanian desert inspired West’s costumes for Arrakis, the desert planet. When the head of locations, Peter Bardsley, went to Jordan, West asked him to bring back rocks and vials of sand: “There was like a kind of coral color, a rose color, a peach color, a beige kind of tan color.” She still has the sand and rocks in her L.A. office.
West also used dyed gauze for the desert-dwelling Fremen. “I had done a gauze line years ago when I was a fashion designer for Barneys, and I remembered how you could still see people’s bodies and their shapes and their movement. And I thought, gauze shifts like sand does. I had dyed it in all these desert sand colors.” That became their palette.
Morgan notes that Villeneuve was a strong collaborator, frequently popping into the costume shop to see what was happening. “We were fortunate enough to be literally across the street in Budapest at the studio. And he could just walk over,” Morgan says. “He could see the fabric and see the texture.”

‘Dune’ 2021 ‘No Time to Die’ VFX Outfit DNEG to Pay Enhanced Overtime to U.K. Employees

COMPENSATION
Visual effects and animation studio DNEG, whose credits include “Dune” and “No Time to Die,” will pay enhanced overtime to its U.K. employees.

From October, DNEG will pay overtime at 1.5x rate to all U.K. staff in non-management positions for all incremental time that they are asked to work beyond the standard 40-hour week. The move will bring DNEG’s U.K. overtime policy in line with its studios in North America and applies across its film and episodic visual effects, DNEG Animation and ReDefine operations, including its artist, production, technology and support teams.
The decision is a departure from the existing U.K. industry norm, where employees are compensated for overtime with paid time off after a project is completed.
DNEG has won multiple awards over the years. In 2021 alone, the company won the visual effects BAFTA and Oscar for Christopher Nolan‘s “Tenet.”

FESTIVAL
Johnny Depp will make an in-person appearance at the Rome Film Festival next month to promote his latest project, an animated web series called “Puffins.” Produced by Iervolino Entertainment, the company founded by producer Andrea Iervolino and Monika Bacardi, the show consists of 250 five-minute episodes and is aimed at a “young audience.”

As well as his voice, Depp lends his “physical features” to protagonist Johnny Puff who goes on a series of adventures with his friends in the show.

“We are proud that a celebrity like Johnny Depp believed in our project and is actively part of it, sharing with the production creative ideas that will surely give added value to the ‘Puffins,’” said Iervolino. K.J. Yossman

CASTING
The new season of BBC’s BAFTA winning genealogy show “Who Do You Think You Are?” produced by Wall To Wall Media, will feature a host of British celebrities who will unravel their family histories. In the seven-part season, which commences in October, Oscar and BAFTA winning actor Judi Dench will unearth Danish roots and some Shakespearean connections, while former Labour party politician and presenter Ed Balls uncovers great bravery and some less admirable conduct. Singer-songwriter Pixie Lott discovers a musical legacy three-generations strong, while comedian Joe Lycett discovers a darker side to his family history. Former soccer player Alex Scott learns about her Jewish and Jamaican heritage, YouTuber Joe Sugg explores his family history as far back as the Great Fire of London, and comedian Josh Widdicombe traces his lineage back to the Elizabethan and Tudor Courts.

Meanwhile, Cat White (“Threesome”) will star in the mental health short “Fifty-Four Days” alongside revered actor Celia Imrie (“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”). The cast also includes Juliet Cowan (“Back To Life”), Delroy Brown (“It’s A Sin”) and Josh Williams (“Mayday”).

Written by White and inspired by true events, the film follows the journey of a girl who starts wild swimming in the wake of her father taking his own life. By swimming each day at dawn and forming an unlikely friendship, she learns to accept her grief and the grief of those around her.
Phoebe Torrance is directing and Ella Greenwood is producing. Ellie Gibbons and Sam Cryer serve as executive producers alongside BAFTA Nominated Manon Ardisson, Chiara Ventura and Karina Michel. Casting is by Nathan Toth at Julie Harkin Casting.
The film is a co-production between Kusini Productions, a company working to champion the voices of Black women and girls, creative agency Intermission Film and Broken Flames Productions, a company with a focus on mental health-based projects. It will have a dedicated mental health co-ordinator on set, something not yet standard in U.K. shoots.

The film is being made in partnership with PAPYRUS, the U.K. charity dedicated to the prevention of young suicide.