Interview with Kym Barrett (Costume Designer) – Part 3 – from The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions (2003)

By Paul Martin March 23rd, 2012, in Official Interviews, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions

Archival Interview with Kym Barrett from the official Matrix website.

GLASSES & BOOTS

MATRIX: Are you involved with designing the glasses and other accessories?

KYM: In the first movie, a friend of mine, Richard Walker, collaborated with me in designing the glasses. This time Agent Smith is an upgrade, so we wanted to adjust the shape on him. We also wanted to make all the glasses fractionally different, because we learnt things about eyewear last time that we didn’t know, not only for fit and stunts and things, but also because the shapes of everyone’s faces have changed slightly. Everyone is four or five years older, they’re a little bit thinner, and their hairlines are a bit different.

The great thing about having Richard is that he’s the type of person who agrees with me in that you need to follow the contours of the face, you need to follow the eyebrow, and you need to make the glasses part of that person – as opposed to, “Here’s a pair of Guccis, they cost $800, they must be good, put them on.” We did that, and he came up with some great ideas. We had to overcome a lot of obstacles, because there were a lot of people who wanted to have the same job, so a couple of different companies had to make prototypes under my specifications. Then I took all the labels off everybody’s samples, put them on a big table, and the brothers made their selection, not knowing who’d made what. It ended up that the majority of the chosen glasses were Richard’s designs, and a couple of them were mine, which was perfect. So we made them and they’re beautiful, and hopefully they’ll be as popular as the first lot.

MATRIX: Does one go to a sunglasses manufacturer as one goes to a suit manufacturer?

KYM: No, it’s a long story. There are a couple of factories that Richard works with to create prototypes, and prototyping is an entirely different process to manufacturing, which is why it’s good we started two years ago, because nothing would have been done. He had to go to one factory in France for one kind of frame, a factory in Hong Kong for another type of frame, and then nurture the relationships with all these people who, a) don’t speak your language, b) don’t really care about THE MATRIX that much, except that it’s kind of a cool idea and, c) hope it can advance their technology, because they’re doing something they’ve never done before and hadn’t thought of.

It’s always the small person who ends up doing something like this, and they end up hand making them, then you have to find a factory. After that, you have to convince the studio that it’s worth paying the person the money to hand make them, when they just want you to go to the Sunglass Hut. Richard ended up undertaking to manufacture all of them through his company, and had to find people willing to do that, which was a huge battle, because sunglasses manufacturers want to make four million pairs; they don’t want to make twenty pairs of this and forty pairs of that and thirty pairs of that, it’s not cost effective to them.

MATRIX: On the first film you collaborated with Airwalk to do some boots; is this partnership still there for the sequels?

KYM: Airwalk was great, we tried to get them back again, and they did eventually come back, but it’s a different team. It’s weird, because you have a relationship with someone, then five years later you have to reform relationships with all these other people who have an entirely different view on what they’re doing, because five years has passed and the people have changed. I’m wary of product placement for those reasons, and also because a lot of the time I think people use it just to get free product. It always takes a long time and quite often the product doesn’t ever arrive, so I wanted to stay with the people we’d already had relationships with, with the people who’d actually delivered and done what they said, and who cared enough to make them look good. Airwalk did beautiful shoes for us – they did all the boots for the crews of the ships, which is really important, because sometimes Keanu might need five pairs. There are explosions etc, so you need a lot more than just one pair for every person.

ZION TEMPLE

MATRIX: One of the costume challenges on this project must have been the week of shooting 900 extras in California; how did you go about dealing with the huge number of costumes required?

KYM: I had an idea about how they should look, and decided on the colors I was going to use in the cave. Then we sorted out texturally what it would be like, because it’s hot, it’s steamy, it’s a world where they grow everything hydroponically. They have to make clothes out of hemp, and they have to make them themselves, there’s no Grace Bros [Department store], there are a couple of clothes people who make everything. It’s not Mad Max, but it is quite delicate and beautiful in its own way. We wanted it to feel civilized; we didn’t want it to feel like apocalyptic leftovers, the clothing had to have some kind of sense of style and richness of culture.

MATRIX: Once we’d established that those were the things we were looking for, I made thirty versions of samples, then we hired some models and the brothers came while they tried different things on. We decided what worked and what told the right story for the people. After that we didn’t have time to do anything, but just threw big bolts of fabric into the mix and waited for it to come out the other end as costumes.

KYM: When the extras came in, we fitted them, mixing and matching each costume together, depending on who the person was and what looked good on them. Then we’d take it away and age it and dye it and add jewelry to it, and hide their nipples. It’s more a collage, I suppose, as opposed to… you always hear stories of designers who spend hours on every single person, but I don’t know if that would have been possible. You look at each costume as they walk onto set, and if you see something and think, “Oh-oh,” you pull them aside, fix it and then let them go into set.

Generally, everyone who works here knows what the feeling should be for each scene, so they have the opportunity to say, “Well you could possibly be a teacher,” or, “You could be a librarian”, so they’ll give them a few things to make them feel that way, like glasses or a bag. Each extra should feel like they’re on their way to the supermarket, or they’re on their way to the library, or they’re on their way home. Then the way they stand, the way they look, and all those things, will play into making the costume come alive as well.

MATRIX: Is this backstory on Zion something we’re going to see in the film, or is it what you and Owen and the Directors have discussed in order to help create the environment?

KYM: To get every story to be believable, whether or not the audience sees the backstory or your rationalizing of things or not, doesn’t matter. If you have taken the time to work a logical plan for how things could be, and you’ve tried to sift through and find any little discrepancies or glitches, then people will get it. When they look in the baskets, the audience will see mushrooms – what grows in the dark? Mushrooms do. It’s a culture that’s fed by steam, which is fed by the heat from the center of the earth, so you know it’s a water-based agriculture. There are no animals; there is no sun. All those things, without having to be explained, you just kind of get, I think, because we’ve taken the time to make it believable, so you just accept it… I hope so anyway.

The audience shouldn’t think about the costumes either, they should just go with the story. That’s ultimately what our job is, to let the audience have the experience of feeling, and seeing the story evolve.

THE TWINS

MATRIX: In an interview, Peter Robb-King, the Head of the Make up Department, said the Costume Designer comes up with the overall concept; in general, is this true?

KYM: Yes, we are brought into the process many, many months before the Make up Department. For example, the Twins who were shot quite early on in the film required a certain something, we didn’t know what to do with them. I was thinking somewhere between a southern evangelist and Jon Bon Jovi – that kind of intensity, without being mad or crazy. I can’t really even remember what Jon Bon Jovi looks like, but in my mind I had a picture of what the Twins should look like, so we drew up pictures of them that included the hair, the color of the skin, and the make up. Then when Peter and Judy [Judith A. Cory, Head of Hair Department] came they improved upon that, and built upon that, and created their version of the Twins.

MATRIX: The Twins are very distinctive looking, was there an instance where one of them would have been dressed up and made up for a screen test for approval by the Directors?

KYM: We try to screen test everybody for the same reason: what color is the make up going to come up? What color is the green? The Twins probably won’t look very green in the movie; they’ll look gray, but they’re actually green. We always test everybody, just to check, because we might be wrong, and then we’d have to do it again. I normally show the brothers the photos of the second fitting, and then we screen test the actors and make the decision.

SHIP CREWS

MATRIX: As a complete contrast, you have the different ship crews to costume; how have you differentiated from the crew of one ship to another?

KYM: We haven’t really differentiated between them. I’ve tried to see them as a general group, they all belong to the same army, and the crew hasn’t always remained intact on each ship, because they’ve lost people and have had to borrow people from other ships, so I tried not to make them too different. The ranks are similar, for instance, the captains are all in burgundies and reds, and the lieutenants are in dark blues. In general, I think I saw it as a unified group of people, and even though there is infighting between the ships, they’re basically on the same path and under the same commander. I tried to make it character driven mostly: just how do you make Jada Pinkett Smith [Niobe], who is like a wisp, a beautiful little elf, into this muscly woman who’s controlling a ship? Part of it is her training, part of it’s her acting, and part of it is how much I show of her arms.

MATRIX: Do you see a distinct change in persona as soon an actor puts him or herself into their costume?

KYM: Sometimes… I hope they feel that way. With some actors you see it straight away, and it grows on others. When some people have worn their costume a few times, they kind of grow into it, and once they get comfortable in there, they can move things around a bit themselves. They ask if they can take one layer off, or if they can change this or that. If it makes their performance better, I’m happy for them to do it.

ANIME & GAME

MATRIX: THE MATRIX is a world on the silver screen, which we will soon have the opportunity to experience in a game and in anime episodes; have you been involved in those in any way?

KYM: Yes. The game is interesting because it’s good to have a backstory for my characters. To know what Niobe and Ghost [Anthony Wong] have been doing alongside what we see in the movie is a great thing. I think it’s a great way of fleshing out the story and giving you a chance to meet Niobe, because in the movie you don’t get a heap of chances to get to know her. So it’s a good way for you to get to know them better, and to get to know Persephone and the Merovingian better. I’ve taken the same process with making the costumes for the game as well, even though we don’t have to actually make them. We just have to draw them and then the artists will recreate them in the computer. So long as the brothers approve them, I give them a fabric sample and the drawing, and they go away and do their thing.

MATRIX: Did you have the opportunity to do something for the anime as well?

KYM: All the work we do goes into our database, and they have drawn things from that, that they want to use. I’m dying to see what they chose to use, how they interpreted or reinterpreted what we did and made it different, because that’s a whole other look.

MATRIX: Thanks Kym.

Interview by REDPILL

May 2002

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