‘Hobbit’ costume designer Ann Maskrey’s favorite look? Radagast

Dec. 02, 2012 | 9:00 a.m.
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A scene from “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. (New Line Cinema / MGM / Warner Bros.)

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” features at least 13 dwarves, a hobbit lead and a shire-full of supporting hobbits, three wizards, an elven queen and many more characters, and that’s just the first film in the Peter Jackson trilogy; Britain-based designer Ann Maskrey was tasked with creating costumes for them all. Maskrey is new to Middle-earth, but she previously worked on costumes for the “Star Wars” prequels, “Clash of the Titans” and Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Hero Complex recently spoke with Maskrey about the challenges of dressing the dwarves and designing the look for a new wizard.

HC: Each dwarf has such an individual look. What was it like to develop those costumes?

AM: It was quite a challenge really, simply because there are 13 of them, and Peter Jackson wanted them to have such a distinct, separate look from each other. He really was very keen on them having a different silhouette even before we started talking about the different colors they would all have. And then beyond that, he wanted distinct characteristics, and also distinct hierarchy, because some of the dwarves are more noble than others. So I had to emphasize all of that in just the choice of fabrics and the level of decoration, and by the time you get to dwarf No. 7 of 13, you’re thinking, “How are we going to make the next one look different?” It’s difficult, but great fun, actually too. I did learn an awful lot as I went along. Even though I’ve done a lot of other movies in the past, I’ve not really done anything quite like that with so many key principals really up front the whole time, and had to design it to the level of detail that we’ve done.

PHOTOS: 60 images from ‘The Hobbit’

HC: It seems like such an involved process. How long did it take to design a costume for each character?

AM: I didn’t have very much prep time. I was only asked to be the costume designer, I think, four months before we started shooting, which for a film this size and scale — now three films — that’s very, very little time to do it in. … You have to bear in mind that Peter’s done “Lord of the Rings”; they’ve got a back history. Things have got to blend with that. I have to get producer and director approval before we can start, so sometimes that process takes a long time, because they’ve all got to agree. … Sometimes you’re given pages three days before a costume would be in front of the camera, and it would be something that you didn’t even realize was in the script before. That happens on nearly every movie — you suddenly have to do another outfit, and you’ve got like a day or two days’ notice. You get used to it. … I love designing. I’m perfectly happy if someone gives me a challenge, and it certainly was. There’s a lot of work. The dwarves, particularly, once you’ve got 13 dwarves approved in that first costume, and then done the camera test, and everyone’s happy, you’ve then got to do the repeats for the stunt people, and the repeats for the small-scale dwarves, and they’ve all got to look identical, and it’s just a huge amount of work for the workroom to cope with, and at that point, I have to think about the next thing and what comes after that.

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“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. (New Line Cinema / MGM / Warner Bros.)

HC: Much of your experience is in fantasy and genre film — “John Carter,” “Batman Begins,” “The Fifth Element,” “Alice in Wonderland.” Were you able to draw on that experience for “The Hobbit” films?

AM: I have to say practically every movie has got a different vibe to it. … There’s such a lot to do, and you have to find a way of doing it. It’s just different. And I have had a lot of experience on sci-fi movies. I am very used to doing different costumes. I worked out how to do the bat costume. It wasn’t just me, it was a whole team of us, but we all got to kind of put it all together and get it on an actor. I like working with tricky things.

HC: Was working in New Zealand different from working in the U.K., where you’re based?

AM: Not to say there’s a right way and a wrong way, but obviously here, I’m used to people’s method of working, and I’m familiar with a lot of technicians over here, whereas over there I knew nobody. So that was kind of difficult for me to sort of gauge what I could do and how to go about it. There’s a very strong craft base in New Zealand. For example, I was really blessed because there was a woman over there called Beverly, who did all of our hand-knitting. I mean, you would never have a hand-knitter at your disposal in a workroom for the full length of a production in this country. You’d have to send it out to a fashion house and get some mockups done first. You’d never be paying someone to hand-knit all the way through your movie, which is what we did, and she did it all on her own practically, which to me is extraordinary. I feel really blessed to have had that.

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Cate Blanchett as Galadriel in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. (New Line Cinema / MGM / Warner Bros.)

HC: Is there a costume design that you’re particularly proud of?

AM: It was lovely doing things for Cate Blanchett, but she could make a plastic bag look good. There are favorite other ones that are coming up on the screen next year. [In the first film,] I’m very fond of Radagast. I’m very, very fond of that one. It’s just everything about it. The actor [Sylvester McCoy] I knew before, had worked on a movie with him before. He’s a very likable man, and the character’s lovely. The costume used every part of the workshop to the fullest. We had embroidery done, we had fabrics made, we had fabrics dyed, the break-down team worked on it, the milliner did a great hat, the boys that made all the footwear did really nice shoes for him. To me, that was one of the most successful ones. And he’s a new character.

PHOTOS: Meet the dwarves from ‘The Hobbit’

HC: You got to start from scratch with that one. What inspired Radagast’s look?

AM: I very much wanted him to be very textured, like some bit of gnarled old tree bark. There was a little bit in “The Hobbit”  — in the script and a hint of it in the books — where you just feel that he suddenly appeared from behind a tree. So I wanted him to disappear into the forest and look like he was part of it, very organic looking. Peter Jackson himself wanted a real lopsided quality to him, but that really came about from having like one long sleeve, one that was torn off, odd shoes, an uneven hem, and then his waistcoat is buttoned up all irregularly. But I had such fun really doing the embroidery designs and picking the fabric, because it’s not all brown; there’s yellows and blues in there. There’s a couple of really good textile girls that I worked with, [and they injected] little threads into the felt [of his hat], and it looks like moss is growing in the hat. I suggested something for the collar on the top coat, where you sewed lots of strips of felt side by side, and then butted them up to each other irregularly, and that looks like tree bark. And we had a lot of fun creating textured fabrics. I’m really fond of layering one fabric over another and then sort of peeling some of it away. I just think it’s particularly successful really. I have to still say it’s probably my favorite. It’s all from the forest.

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Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey, left, and Sylvester McCoy as Radagast the Brown in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. (New Line Cinema / MGM / Warner Bros.)

HC: What was it like to see Sylvester in costume on set after all that work?

AM: It’s hugely satisfying, especially if you’ve gone through a bit of torture along the way. After about 12 or 13 designs, and you kind of nearly get there, nearly get there, and then you get there, and you think, “Now that’s the one.” And it gets approved by Peter, and off you go. And you then have final, final approval the day before a shot, go on set, and it’s a very nervous moment really. When people are shooting something, and you have to take Sylvester in his full hat and costume and parade him in front of Peter so he can actually see it the day before the shoot, so there’s lots of nervous waiting around. But to me, it’s always a thrill. I think, “Great, that’s another one crossed of the list, and I’m happy with it.” The warm glow of satisfaction quickly disappears when you look at what else you have to do.

HC: Quite a few actors and crew members on “The Hobbit” films are “Lord of the Rings” alumni. What was it like to be one of the new folks?

AM: I think it’s good that they had some new people, because I think it needed a breath of fresh air. In the early days, I’d be checking over what they were doing for the hobbit accessories or hobbit bodices, and how they were finishing them off, and I’d find that they were doing something that I didn’t particularly like, and I’d say, “Why are you doing it that way? I’d like it this way.” And they’d say, “That’s how we did it before.” And I’d say, “Well, ‘before’ is 10 years ago. And that’s not what we’re going to do now. We’re in 3-D, we want something better. … That was then, and this is now, and you’ve got to lift your game accordingly.”

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Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, left, and Graham McTavish as Dwalin in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. (New Line Cinema / MGM / Warner Bros.)

HC: What a lot of attention to detail.

AM: You have to. Because the thing is, even if that costume that you spent hours on is only seen on camera for a few seconds, and it flits by, and the lighting’s dark, you know that on a film the scale of “The Hobbit,” at some point there’s going to be a big still photo of it, and at some point it’ll be in some exhibition, and you want to be able to go, “Look at that embroidery. Isn’t it lovely?” Sometimes you don’t see the detail in the movies, but because it’s 3-D and 48 frames per second, you do feel like you’re falling into the picture. You’re going to see a lot of it. So you couldn’t just slap it together.

— Noelene Clark


hobbitauj keyart2 Hobbit costume designer Ann Maskreys favorite look? Radagast

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13 Responses to ‘Hobbit’ costume designer Ann Maskrey’s favorite look? Radagast

  1. @hoppytoad79 says:

    The level of detail and quality of craftsmanship is definitely appreciated. I'd love to have been a grunt in the costume department while these films were being shot. Bilbo's bathrobe (?) is fabulous and all the work they did with Radagast's costume definitely paid off.

  2. Every time I read one of these articles and even back when LOTR was coming out and I read those it's stunned me how much work they put into these movies. Especially in such a short amount of time! I'm so ready to see this movie.

  3. Josy says:

    Please make note that Ann did not 'design costumes' for The Star Wars Prequel, that was Trisha Biggar. 'Alice in Wonderland' was costume designed by Colleen Atwood and 'Clash of the Titans' was costume designed by Lindy Hemming.
    One would never say an assistant director 'Directed' a movie he/ she was working on.

    • Mike says:

      Where in this article does it say that she designed costumes for those projects? It states that she "worked on costumes". Why is there a need to make a note to clarify something that wasn't unclear in the first place?

  4. Ada says:

    It's unfortunate that Ann doesn't acknowledge that most of the designs were completed to a conceptual level by Kate Hawley, or that the characters that carried over from LoTR had already been designed by Ngila Dickson. She also deosn't mention Richard Taylor from Weta Workshop who was instrumental in the design of the Dwarves.

    • noelenecy says:

      To be fair, Ann answered the questions I asked her. I didn't ask her about Weta or working with Richard Taylor, or about the costume design that carried over from Lord of the Rings. Plenty of new characters in the new film. :)

      • Ada says:

        Indeed, but it would at least be polite to mention the other designers with who Ann shares an equal billing (Taylor, Bob Buck) and to perhaps acknowledge the years of work by other designers that was completed before she started on the production.

  5. Cody Coyote says:

    There were five ' Istari" wizards sent to Middle Earth from the Valar in Valinor to deal with Sauron. These wizards were more akin to the Maia high elves , once removed from the elven gods, than human men . I thought Olorín ( Mithrandir-Gandalf) in his grey robes was already a little too disheveled, but perhaps that was his field camo and better suited to his wandering ways. However, this interpretation of Radagast the Brown by Peter J and the costume lady is positively Mayberry RFD or pre-California Beverly Hillbillies. I mean, these wizard types are supposed to be demigods. Does that look like a demigod to you ? Peter Jackson has nothing if not a sense of humour…

    • @JanPee42 says:

      Do tell, what does a demigod look like?

    • Luke Sampson says:

      The Istari also hid their true powers and abilities, disguising themselves in the form of old men. This is a consistent theme in Tolkien's books: that of hidden value or majesty. Aragorn, the vagabond-looking ranger, is the true Heir of Isildur and rightful king of Men. Even the hobbits, comical as they are, are possessed of extraordinary inner strength.

      In the case of the Istari in particular their outer forms as aged humans are vital to their characterization. They were not sent to confront Sauron with their power directly, but rather to strengthen and guide the free peoples of Middle Earth to resist Sauron for themselves. True, the inward power they possess is revealed at times, but in general it is hidden. When you read the books again, notice how many times Gandalf is spoken of as containing something hidden, or some power or light is revealed in him (implying that it normally isn't visible).

    • Elsie says:

      I wonder if you've actually read the books or just some Cliff notes on Tolkien. "Maia high elves" – there is no such thing, nor are there "elven gods." The Istari are Maiar, period; the best English equivalent to their status would be "angel." They are on a secret mission, and their marching orders are to hide their true nature and appear as elderly men, with limits on the powers they may exercise. Their job is not to be godlike, it is to serve and support "the Children" (elves and men) in their war on Sauron.

      The portrayal of Gandalf is accurate; I haven't seen the Hobbit yet and I hear Radagast's costume does go too far; however, it is a fact that his character is quite rustic, so even if his look was true to the books he would in no way resemble a "demigod."

  6. Aragorn says:

    Radagast looks so much less cool then he does in War in the North

  7. Johnathan says:

    I find the costumes beautiful and like her work. My only issue is there seem to be no continuity with the Elven costumes. There are "hints" of the same concepts but they are different enough for it to lack continuity.

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