July 24, 2014
For the new FX mystery thriller “The Strain,” Costume Designer Luis Sequeira was intent on creating a costume that was big enough to stand up to a story of epic proportions–one where the future of humanity is at stake. “The Strain” is based on the horror novels co-written by director Guillermo del Toro about a devastating viral outbreak that appears to be an ancient strain of vampirism–a sort of supernatural plague. Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) of the Center for Disease Control, and a handful of intrepid New Yorkers, wage war against the mysterious outbreak.
Del Toro aimed to amplify the creepy factor in this vampire horror story by giving the central scary guy a costume worthy of his character’s name–The Master. The director instructed Costume Designer Luis Sequeira to make The Master awesome.
“GDT (Guillermo del Toro) wanted it larger than life, to make it the best @$%^& vampire ever,” Sequeira said. “He definitely wanted an operatic quality to the costume.”
With that directive, Sequeira referenced the book’s concept sketches and established a shape and scale for a cape and hood. Long and voluminous, the elegant, gothic cape is fastened by hand-tooled leather closures and is anchored by a tooled leather standup collar.
The complete costume would take over 520 man hours to complete by an international team of experts who did everything from hand dyeing and shredding fabrics to casting rings and buttons to embroidering frock coat sleeves.
The 100-pound cape consumed 193 yards of various fabrics within its seven layers, each individually dyed or distressed. It also had to be adaptable to three actors of different sizes who performed stunts and specialty movements.
“The actor Robert Maillet was 7-foot tall, 7-3 with his platform boots. The gentleman had size 22 boots, custom built by Jitterbug Boy,” Sequeira said.
“When I started, I asked for a life cast of the actor, and there happened to be one from a previous production so we had it molded up,” Sequeira said. The mold substituted for a dress form and the actor, whose massive proportions were far outside the limits of commercial forms. “Then we added further padding and a hunch on the back and further shoulder padding to give a fantastical proportion needed for the character,” he said.
The designer knew he’d need special fabric, and a lot of it, so he attended the New York international fabric trade fair, TexWorld USA where he ordered 250 yards of a wool and rayon blend that would be custom milled and dyed from China. Further dyeing and shredding of the fabric would give it the feel of having been worn by the undead for the past 200 years.
The cape’s leather collar was fabricated by Toronto’s Walter Klassen FX, a specialty creator of harnesses and props. An Indonesian wood carving’s design was embossed on the leather, using mask-making techniques. A leather plate runs along the back, representing the creature’s spine.
“Guillermo and I reviewed the design regularly throughout the process, he expressed a desire to put more details on the back. The director further expressed that once we move into a close up, costumes are sets for actors–they should be interesting from any angle,” Sequeira said.
He also had to translate a concept drawing’s use of thick sissal ropes into a wearable costume.
“That looks great in a rendering, but how are we going to make that 40 pounds of rope work in an already heavy cape? Some of the ropes are an inch-and-a-half thick,” Sequeira said. The solution? An inner knapsack harness that distributes the weight and helps hold the ropes in place. In addition, a complex system of drawstrings and drapery findings inside the cape’s layers help adjust its length. It wasn’t just a piece of clothing or an element of character, the costume for The Master had to, well, master the art of costume design.
It’s multifunctionality wasn’t lost on Sequeira: “This thing had to do everything, short of making a bowl of popcorn.”