“Avengers: Age of Ultron”

May 1, 2015

Valli Herman

She’s put the super in superhero for some of the most successful fantasy films, including “The Avengers,” “300: Rise of an Empire,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and the latest Marvel installment, “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” directed and co-written by Joss Whedon.

Costume Designer Alexandra Byrne had the challenging task of updating a cast of well-known characters, whose every costume detail is slavishly copied by cosplayers and comic fans. Characters from Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to Captain America (Chris Evans) to Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) do their acrobatic avenging in costumes that are being ever-perfected.

“They are redesigned for every film,” said Byrne. “They evolve. Different directors want to tell different stories and they have different takes on the characters. And from a construction point of view, you learn each time. You learn the performance and behavior of the costume,” Byrne said.

Johansson’s Black Widow is as shapely and dangerous-looking as ever, but she has new tricks up her sleeve, and down her bodice, too. In some of her wickedest fight scenes, Black Widow glows with her blue-widow stings–lasers that are part of her weaponry.

It’s not a computer-generated trick, but real LED lights, said Byrne. “We had an electrical department within the costume department for the first time,” she said. “That was a big challenge because the costume was about stretch. The moment you start to insert LED into a seam, you take stretch away.”

The lights had to function as a complete circuit, but the costume is built as distinct pieces–the jacket and the gloves’ cuffs are separate, but plugged together. Byrne hid the battery in one of the pouches on Black Widow’s utility/weapon belt.

“We had to constantly check that the lights were working,” she said.

To achieve a sexy, functional and tough-chick look, Byrne mixed leather with parts that are dimensionally printed, bonded jersey. The various prints were camera tested to be sure the texture didn’t moiré on screen or suffer ill effects in the conversion to 3-D.

The high-impact costumes, and their many multiples, required enormous coordination between departments.

“Those costumes are very complicated,” said Byrne, listing the many experts each required: metal, leather, print, dye, fabrication, glove makers. “Just the timelines on those individual departments…pulling them together and coordinating them, takes a lot of work.”

Yet like the Avengers themselves, when faced with a tough task, the members of the costume design team contributed their unique talents to get the job done–and in spectacular fashion.

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” is now in theaters.

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