ComingSoon spoke to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Costume designer Graham Churchyard on designing such iconic costumes, showing character development through what they wear and how the visuals of superhero movies have changed.
“In the film, the MCU unlocks the Multiverse and pushes its boundaries further than ever before,” reads the synopsis. “Journey into the unknown with Doctor Strange who, aided by mysterious allies both old and new, traverses the multiverse’s mind-numbing and dangerous alternate realities to confront a mysterious new adversary.”
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is now available on Digital and will be released on 4K, Blu-ray and DVD on July 26th.
Spencer Legacy: Doctor Strange as a character has decades of vibrant costumes to draw inspiration from. How did you decide where to draw that inspiration from with the huge library?
Graham Cemetery: Alexandra Byrne’s costumes were phenomenal and they were a hard act to follow because, having seen the film a number of times when I first got the job, I didn’t really appreciate how phenomenally detailed all these pieces were. We had to take the language that was created because they spent a long time creating this Kamar-Taj language of costumes. I would say I kind of helped carry it forward, but in Kamar-Taj in the first film, it was kind of a tea-drinking place. Yes. Doctor Strange went through some things, but it’s a place of learning and drinking tea and the serenity that mostly occupied the sort of part of a Zen temple that was somewhere between Google and some kind of Buddhist learning center.
That’s why they all wore sneakers and some kind of sportswear. They wanted to interject in that film that it wasn’t all clothes, that some sportswear was used. After getting the pages [for[ Multiverse, we knew that everyone had to be battle-ready. So it was just a way of moving on. So for the whole of the background, all the Kamar-Taj students, I moved them out of these flowing robes into this originally created armor. So I made all that from scratch, everything, and created a different … so Sam [Raimi, director of Multiverse of Madness] was very keen that they should be different. There were infantry and artillery with the big guns and then there were bows with Eldritch magic bows. So he wanted to make it very clear what each part of Kamar-Taj was doing with the fight against the Scarlet Witch.
And so it was just a blast for me to put aside everything that had been done before and create something that was more like battle-ready, armored costumes with a kind of Far Eastern spin. The thing I loved most about it—I didn’t realize until we shot, because the rooftops are big squares with all these big tiles and all these pieces, which are very shaped costumes—that they’re all like chess pieces moving around . It was actually quite a thrill for me. And I never said that to anyone else, but that was part of it. But when you say about looking back on Doctor Strange, well, the cape didn’t change, did it? We couldn’t change the cape because it has a personality and it does amazing things.
But the disciple costume he wears in the movie he finally ends up in as Doctor Strange… [at] the very end of Doctor Strange, he appears at the Sanctum window wearing a master costume because he has been upgraded. And then for some reason, i Infinity War and Final game, he still wore that costume. And actually when we started Multiverse, Kevin said we really need to upgrade him because he’s used this five or six times now. Well, it had to be five times, and then with the switcheroo Spider Man [No Way Home]due to COVID, he ended up wearing his Final game costume once again in Spider Man. It’s a crazy world. You just have to look at the influences and the comics and the studio and where they want to take things next is also part of the process.
How did that progress with Scarlet Witch, because she also shows through her costume a growth of character, but it’s a very different type than Doctor Strange’s. How was that process?
By the exit of WandaVision, you see Mayes Rubeo’s amazing costume for a while. And Sam Raimi, with the script and the influences that were in the script that she was possessed by the Darkhold and she had been corrupted by, that meant that that corruption had had some effect on her clothes as well as her. So it was as if this multiversal form had crept over her body and started to eat and chip away and disintegrate the costume. So we took it WandaVision costume and rebuilt it because we had to recast it with all the defects and decay to the cast on the body. And I felt like the cold shoulder was… I’ll just say, not too romantic, but just not creepy enough. Sam didn’t think it was scary enough. So then I created this sleeve, again this multiversal shape that creeps over that whole part of her shoulder just to wrap her around and make her more one.
On the other hand, with America Chavez, this is her first movie, and as a character in the comics, she hasn’t been around that long. How did you go about designing her?
I looked at a lot of the cartoons and they’re very adult and America is in their twenties or something. They just seemed too grown up to launch a 14 year old into the MCU [with], and the studio was very aware of that. So we kind of dialed it back to something that was less dramatic or revealing in that way and more kind of building the character to show that … so the coat, the denim jacket, the Levi jacket went through a lot of different versions until we ended up up landed with the denim jacket with the star on the back. And when you see the movie, and you see her first appearance in it, and you see the star, it’s like … it’s always been that way.
I probably did 20 different stars and backs for her. Some of them had Day of the Dead symbols on some of them, [or] wore his two mothers. And the inspiration was that she was this emo who traveled through the multiverse and maybe in her room at night, she wrote poetry and her thoughts and fears on her coat, just [as] a kind of just a way of delivering one’s experiences. And I mean I did it when I was a kid and I know people who did it and they’re in and out of fashion too. Just the idea of people wearing a bunch of pins and stuff trying to make a statement about a political thing or whatever, but I wanted to put her life story in her jacket.
So it’s all Spanish poetry. So we wrote all these things and translated them. So a lot of the stuff in there has everything to do with Day of the Dead and some Portuguese witchcraft, just to kind of mix Latin cultures, because she’s a witch, right? So we had to introduce the idea that wherever she goes in the MCU, she ends up wearing something else that starts her off, but everything’s in there if you can get that close.
At Illuminati, these are characters that people have wanted to see for a long time in various forms. It’s like designing a whole new Avengers team. How was it?
Oh God. The job was like so hard, and then they say, “Hey, we’re introducing the Illuminati.” And it’s like, “What?! A bunch of superheroes? How am I going to do that?” And then they came up with this wish list. So that wish list kept changing quite a bit.
Reed Richards and Black Bolt were… there were so many that were talked about that were on different people’s wish lists and it has everything to do with what Kevin [Feige, head of Marvel Studios] and the MCU and what the next phase is and what happens there. But Captain Carter was there from the start, and then we finally got Hayley Atwell in that part. Yes, we made that costume from scratch. Did I already say I worked at Marvel [films]. So for First Avenger, I did the first costume for Chris Evans with a whole team. There were probably 20 of us then compared to Multiverse, which was like 170 … 160 or 170 in the crew, a very large crew, even by any of our standards here, that’s a very, very large crew. And the manufacturing department was big leather workers, people embroidering all day, people sewing all day, people printing fabric, dying fabric, aging costumes. I mean, it just goes on and on and on. People buying things, people looking for the drug, you know, and then, you know, it’s like endless, endless work.
You also mentioned previous projects. You’ve worked on projects all the way back to Tim Burton’s Batman. How did the visual language of superhero movies change in all that time?
Interesting. When it was shot on 35 mil and seen in a cinema, everyone had a blurry old kind of VHS… [it] was another thing, but I suppose people’s eyes adjust to different things. I mean, the fact that this was shot in IMAX [and] you can show it on Disney+ in an enhanced version from IMAX is great. And Blu-ray 4k will be quite incredible to see all those details. But how it has changed… technology has changed. We still do it a little bit, but the clay sculpture was something we always did, and the clay sculpture is getting smaller and smaller. Now we did some clay sculpture Multiverse, but it’s made as a quick 3D sketch in front of you, and then you translate it into a computer model. But without 3D modeling we would be stuck. And if we only had it back then, like on Tim Burton’s stuff, they were all sculptural games, all of them.