Costume Designers Sammy Sheldon and Ivo Coveney created the high-tech suits seen in Marvel’s Ant-Man, working specifically on the titular hero (played by Paul Rudd) and the villainous Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll).
Hank designed the Ant-Man suit decades before Scott found it, so the suit needed a retro feel while also fitting a present day setting, making it no doubt one of the most challenging costumes to bring to the big screen. We recently had the chance to catch up with Sammy to talk about her incredible work on the movie, and she takes us through how it was brought to life from that early test footage to the finished product.
Of course, this isn’t the first comic book adaptation that Sammy has worked on as her credits include V for Vendetta, Kick-Ass, and X-Men: First Class. They’re just the tip of the iceberg though, as she’s also served as costume designer on critically acclaimed releases like Ex Machina, The Imitation Game, and Green Zone.
You’ve worked on a few other comic book adaptations, but how did working with Marvel differ to those?
I think creatively, Marvel have a very strong idea of where they want everything to go. It’s quite refreshing to work with a group of people who deeply care about their product on a wide scale. They know what they like, so when you’re designing in that world, you need to know whether it’s working or not. It’s good. I enjoyed it.
What were the main challenges of designing a superhero suit which had to look like it could believably exist in the ’60s?
The challenges were probably more on a technical scale than anything because the design of it is so detailed in terms of hardware. The amount of technology that’s incorporated into the suit from a design point of view and from the reality of making it work was very complex because it’s basically a suit that has tubes all over it that need to all connect and need to look like something is running through them. It also has all these harder pieces that need to articulate, so every area that has a hard piece of metal on has hinges and movement on it. That’s a really tricky thing to achieve.
So, like the belt, that articulates all around the body, and even though it looks hard, it still moves with the actor. The helmet as well has a lot of mechanical parts.
Talking of the helmet, how did you go about settling on the design we see in the movie?
Well, Marvel have their concept guys who come up with the basic ideas of where they want things to go. Then, we take that, and we see what works and we see how we can further it to make it much more believable. I had a guy, Ivo Coveney, who I work with a lot doing helmets and armour and that kind of speciality stuff and all the costume props, and he’s very clever and can work things out mechanically.
We stuck together and went through how we could achieve the surface texture and then how we needed to go in and out from the head with what needed to move and what didn’t. We built that helmet for real and had eighteen of them for the film. They all had to have different mechanical parts which move, open, and close depending on the shot.
You start with from the surface of the design and try to go inwards to see what you need to make moveable and what can be achieved in a set piece. It was very complex [Laughs].
Moving away from technology, did you also look to nature for inspiration for Ant-Man’s look?
Yes, one of the main things which was quite obvious was that we looked at insects for the eyes. I tried to incorporate a little bit of that sort of thing with the hexagon, cone-shaped eyes, and looked at how we could incorporate that into the surface design. We did that with the red parts in order to create a slightly three-dimensional movement in the fabric surface so it didn’t look like just a red panel.
In the film, you don’t see that close up to it very often, but it does have quite a depth to it.
How was it working with Paul Rudd and how did he react to having to wear the suit?
Paul Rudd is absolutely lovely. He was so overjoyed to wear the suit every day when he put it on. He was amazing, patient, and really professional. Actually, we got getting him into the suit down to I think eight minutes. Really, really quick. It was quite a complex suit to put on.
Even though it’s all in one, there were various pieces underneath and there were lots of wires to wire him up. There were times when we needed it to be wired up with batteries because it does have lights and circuitry in it. So, he was very, very patient and we had quite a few fittings with him, and he was always very helpful. He loved wearing it!
Were there any specific comic book which helped while you were designing the suit?
Only the ones that were relevant to the storyline that we were dealing with really. We had our books with who was what and who’s where, and you kind of try with all the characters to keep things faithful and just bear in mind the comics as the source.
How did the process of designing the Yellowjacket suit differ to working on Ant-Man’s look?
It was the same process really, but with the Ant-Man suit, it was made out of leather and it was in the ’60s, and very much analogue. When you’re dealing with Yellowjacket, Yellowjacket is digital, so you can easily push those two worlds apart by certain textures that you use. The Yellowjacket suit was much more complex in that it’s beyond Iron Man…well, maybe not beyond Iron Man…but it’s in that world of “big” suits. Whereas the Ant-Man suit was very easy to wear in comparison.
It was meant to look like a little old suit that you pull on and zip up, and then you’re off, whereas the Yellowjacket is a whole different concept in terms of it’s meant to be a suit that used as a weapon to fight. It’s protective, it’s digital, it’s very high-tech. All the surface textures we used were along the ballistic nylon and kevlar and carbon fibre route with high-tech digital things going through it. It was quite easy to define the two of them.
Were you at all disappointed that you didn’t get to design a Wasp costume for Evangeline Lilly to wear?
[Laughs] No, it would have been nice to, but I’m happy with whatever is right for the film. There’s tons of stuff which isn’t in the film that we did, so you can’t get disappointed because there’s so much stuff we shot that can’t get in or isn’t right for the story when they start cutting the film together.
I don’t ever get disappointed; I was really happy just with the way the Ant-Man suit came out, I think it’s fantastic. It’s a big team effort and I had a big team of people working on that and they all did an amazing job, so I never get disappointed with things we can’t do.
When Peyton Reed replaced Edgar Wright as director, did the suit go through any major alterations?
I think the ethos of it was always the same because I did the original test shoot a few years ago. Peyton had fantastically strong views on the look of things, so we took on board everything he felt and it was great to have a different eye there and for him to see where we’d got and where he wanted it to go. And yeah, he did definitely bring things to the table which were strong and valid and fantastic.
What has it been like to see the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the Ant-Man and Yellowjacket suits?
It’s great, I mean, you always want to make sure the fans love it because it would be awful if we’d all done the film and then they thought it was awful [Laughs]. You have to bear in mind at the end of the day that the people who are going to see these films are the fans. Particularly with these comic books, they’re so loyal, so one would not want to disappoint them.
I think what’s really clever about Marvel is that they have such a strong idea of where they want stuff to go. They do keep in mind the source material and faithfulness to the comics, so I don’t think anything’s off piece really.
The suit has spread everywhere from posters to action figures and comics, what’s that been like to see?
Is it? [Laughs] I’m prepping for another film, and I just saw the film for the first time last week and I couldn’t believe the reaction from people just as we were going in at the European premiere. It’s fantastic that people are taking it so well. I think what’s so great about the film is that it’s very enjoyable and it’s not too serious. It’s fun, and I think that’s one of the reasons people might like it and think well of it because I don’t think it’s taking itself too seriously. It’s just a really fun, entertaining night out.
Ant-Man is a pretty obscure character. Did you know anything about him before being hired?
He is obscure! I would say no really, but because I’ve done an X-Men film, obviously there are worlds with those things that come into your vision when you’re researching. With the X-Men film I did, there were all kinds of ideas of who was going to be in it, and it’s close to that world because characters pop in and out when you’re researching. I was kind of aware of him, but didn’t know much about him.
Talking of the X-Men, you do know how grateful fans are for those classic yellow and blue costumes?
Yes, I do know that. It’s funny because I’m really glad we did that as it’s just like making things less serious in a way. Following the comic books, because they had them in blue and yellow, so why would we change it? It was right for the time because it was in the ’60s and that’s when the comic came out, and so it was correct for them. Whereas where they’ve gone with them in the future, there’s complete licence for that to change, and that’s fine. It works.
Ant-Man has been confirmed to appear in Captain America: Civil War? Have you been involved with his look there at all?
No. You only do the film you’re working on!
Marvel’s Ant-Man is out today. And you really should go and see it.