Babylon Costume Designer On 1920s Inspirations And Creating A Chicken Suit [Exclusive Interview]

What is an example of something that you and your team did where you went the extra mile, even knowing full well that there was a good chance that most people might not notice a little detail in a costume?

Okay. I’ll tell you something. We had developed this photo album of the Wallach party of things that we loved. There is a photograph from the ’20s that Damien loved, I loved, and it’s this guy standing in a full, round chicken costume. In fact, if you reach out, I will send you the photo. [Note: Mary did send me the photo after our conversation, but since I could not track down who owns the rights to the image, I don’t have the ability to embed it here. But you can Google “vintage chicken man costume,” and it’s the first thing that pops up in the search results.] I said to Damien, “Wouldn’t this be awesome at the Wallach party?” He was like, “Yeah.” We’re fitting and it’s in the beginning of the shooting schedule, and so this thing of this chicken costume is just hanging over my head. “How am I going to do this?” But I wanted to do it so badly. We just started chipping away at it.

The distressing artist, Sarah Brown, she’s also a specialty costumer — super talented artist, as were my entire crew; I would not have been able to accomplish this movie without them — I started talking to her about this. I was like, “Would you be up for working on a couple of weekends? We’ll come and sculpt the base and we’ll plot out the feathers.” She was game. She took three of her weekends. She got paid, but still, that desire to do something creative and create something you may have never created before and try to problem solve. “How are we going to make this costume in the round?” It’s not like a mascot. It’s not the cushy ones that you wear at a football game. It was made with real feathers.

It was just that kind of intense collaboration and desire to accomplish something because we all knew this was a crazy ambitious project. For me, I don’t know about everybody else, I was just like, “Is this ever going to happen again for me? Or is this ever going to happen? When’s the next time you’re going to be able to work on a film like this?” I feel like my crew, the people that I chose and that were my partners in this, all had that feeling of, “We know this is a very special movie and we are going to break out all the stops.”

People were exhausted, but no one ever was like, “Ugh.” Everyone was like, “Okay!” Just adrenaline and caffeine. It was like the movie itself: Just keep on persevering and making it happen. Honestly, I think you see that chicken — It took her probably at least 100 man-hours. All of the feathers were placed by hand. And you sense him, and I feel like you see him, kind of, but it’s not like the camera is still on this chicken. It had to be a certain guy because he couldn’t be claustrophobic and the Covid and all of that, but that’s just an example. There are so many costumes like that. Even at the Wallach party, where so much time and energy was spent on a singular single costume and the camera just — whoosh — flies over it. I had to watch the movie in slow motion. In fact, I think that’s where I saw the chicken, because I was able to pause. I was like, “Oh, there he is.”

But somewhere in Paramount’s photo collection, they did a photo session while we were filming the Wallach party, where they had all the guests at the Wallach party go on a [white background] that was set up right outside of the set. People took photographs, and I made Damien get into the chicken costume, and there’s a photo. There’s a whole set of photographs with he and Olivia, his wife, who’s also the producer, standing side by side, and Damien’s in the chicken costume because I was like, “Well, you got to wear this thing!” And he did, reluctantly.

“Babylon” is now available on Digital, and is set to hit 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD on March 21, 2023.

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