‘Hunger Games’ Costume Designer Reveals Biggest Wardrobe Challenge

'The dress [had] a very big chance of coming off as cheesy,' Judianna Makovsky says of Katniss' interview frock.

Costume designer Judianna Makovsky has been a member of Gary Ross’ cinematic glam squad for years. That’s why when “The Hunger Games” director was piecing together a pitch as to why he should helm the dystopian drama, he made a late-night call to his trusted colleague. The thrice-Oscar-nominated designer has collaborated with Ross on a number of his films, including “Pleasantville” and “Seabiscuit,” and now the duo may be working on their highest-profile project yet — one in which wild wigs, garish gowns and flame-licked jumpsuits are just another day at the office.

In anticipation of the March 23 release of “The Hunger Games,” MTV News put in a call to Makovsky to talk about the Capitol’s crazy couture and how author Suzanne Collins’ elaborate vision was brought to life — albeit with a few alterations.

MTV: How much did you know about “The Hunger Games” before Gary Ross came calling?

Judianna Makovsky: I had not read them, I have to admit. I hadn’t even heard of them. But Gary Ross had called me, and his kids loved them, and he said, “I really want to do this movie.” I was on another movie set in Shreveport, Louisiana. He said, “You have to go get it,” and I said, “It’s 10 o’clock at night.” He said, “You have to get it first thing in the morning. You have to read it.” I’m like, “OK.” And then I was sending him images every day so he could start thinking. They were talking to several directors, and he really wanted to do it. It was great to start that early with him — trying to find images that were useful to him.

MTV: I have to imagine reading the series and Suzanne Collins’ vivid descriptions were an evocative experience for an artist like you.

Makovsky: I have to say, I try to read everything like a fan, but I also read it as a costume designer, and I go, “Oh my god. How do you do that?” Also, I was lucky enough to have a meeting with Suzanne, and a lot of things that are in the written word do not translate well to film. Lucky for me, she understood that and knew that and said, “Do what you need to do. If you think it’s not going to translate, I understand.” And she was great about it.

MTV: Did you show her any of your drawings?

Makovsky: At that point, if was fairly early. We had very few. We had already done mood boards for the districts and where we wanted to go. And, yes, she was there for that and loved all of that. It was great.

MTV: What were your initial discussions with Gary Ross like?

Makovsky: The initial discussions always start with character. I would say on this movie, we started with the world that they were going to live in. Philip Messina is the production designer. I’ve worked with him before; we’re a great team. Gary, Phil and I all sat down and just talked about what this world was going to be, and how do you have District 12 — how does that reflect in the Capitol? Because it is all the same planet, it is all the same time period. So they have to make sense together … Before Gary got the job, we sent him all these images of coal-mining towns and all these things. He picked up some of them and just went, “This is it. This isn’t a period movie, but I want the feel of these photographs.” So it was basically a discussion about the world they lived in, and then we started talking about individual characters.

MTV: As you started working on each character, how much input did the individual actors have?

Makovsky: There’s no point in designing particular things until you know who the actor is, whether I have a discussion with them or not. Katniss, I worked very closely with Jen [Jennifer Lawrence] because she was cast first. I had actually worked with Josh [Hutcherson] before, so that made that easy. I had worked with Donald Sutherland before. A lot of the actors were unavailable for fittings. They were all over the world shooting things. I sent them images, then I did sketches for them. Then we basically made it without them and they showed up and put it on! I have to say, the age of the Internet is a fabulous thing. You can scan things and send things and have these discussions at three in the morning when they’re in Budapest or wherever.

MTV: Which outfit posed the biggest challenge to you?

Makovsky: I think the interview dress. I think it was the hardest because the description in the book was something every fan loves but, honestly, in my opinion, and in all of our opinions, it wasn’t going to translate. Having this dress covered in flame-like jewels, you know, it’s no longer about Katniss. It’s about the dress. Also, the dress has a chance, a very big chance, of coming off as cheesy.

MTV: I can see how it might verge into figure-skating-costume territory.

Makovsky: See, that’s what I was worried about. It was going to be a “Dancing With the Stars” dress. I said, “I think we shouldn’t go that way.” First of all, all those jewels, it’s going to be so heavy it won’t twirl. She won’t be able to move or walk. People don’t realize that. I decided that it should really be about Katniss, and I wanted a young, fresh, modern couture cut, that when you first see her beautiful dress and she does her twirl, it does what it does. I mean, the bottom does have Swarovski crystals on it. But I really wanted it to be about Katniss. How beautifully she has transformed. It’s not the dress that transformed her. It’s her. Her beauty comes through.

MTV: Fans were also really excited to see Katniss’ sleek Girl on Fire outfit. You have a bit of experience with jumpsuits from working on “X-Men: The Last Stand.” Did you hearken back to those superheroes for inspiration?

Makovsky: I actually had the woman who made my “X-Men” jumpsuits make these costumes for me. She’s a genius at that kind of fit. Everyone thinks it’s leather — it’s not leather. It’s a novelty stretch fabric with this embossed plastic on it. It’s a very strange fabric. There’s also some stretch patent leather in there, but there’s no leather. I just wanted something that would have this incredible silhouette and have the shine of coal. In the books, it’s actually described a little bit more bland to me. It sounds like leotards and tights with high boots. It has a cape. There were all kinds of things that had to change because of physical and practical things on a chariot. The description in the book — Katniss and Peeta wear the same thing. Katniss had this fabulous headdress, but you put the headdress on Peeta and it looks pretty stupid. You can’t always do the same for a boy and a girl.

MTV: Even though Katniss is the one in the spotlight, everyone seems to be most excited about Effie Trinket’s looks.

Makovsky: She’s the essence of the Capitol. Working with Elizabeth [Banks] — Oh my god! I had so much fun. I’ve worked with her before. She actually called me before she was allowed to because her deal wasn’t done. She said, “I think we should start now. I’m coming over.” I had all these ideas that I had pulled out, fabric swatches and whatever. She came over and looked at what would work for her. We tried shapes on her, and they kept growing and growing and growing. It was really funny. Just to give her a certain walk. Effie is very prim in a funny way. So we wanted that primness to come through even though we sort of wanted to lampoon high fashion a little bit. It’s a little bit silly but it is still pretty.

Check out everything we’ve got on “The Hunger Games.”

For young Hollywood news, fashion and “Twilight” updates around the clock, visit HollywoodCrush.MTV.com.