Q&A: Costumer Designer Colleen Atwood on 'Snow White and the Huntsman'

Chances are, if you've seen a movie in the past two decades, you've seen the work of costume designer Colleen Atwood. She's one of the biggest designers in the film industry, with a staggering nine Oscar nominations and three wins for Best Costume Design for her work on "Chicago," "Memoirs of a Geisha," and "Alice in Wonderland." We recently caught up with the busy designer to talk about her work on "Snow White and the Huntsman," for which she created thousands of unique costumes and an entire repertoire of amazing gowns and outfits for the menacing Queen Ravenna, played by Charlize Theron.

What were the unique challenges you faced on "Snow White and the Huntsman"?

With "Snow White," I had a massive amount of costumes to accomplish. Counting extras I don't even know [how many], but stuff we made, there was almost 2000 costumes. We manufactured groups of costumes for different scenes to give it a kind of style. I think the challenge with that was creating a whole world, and then there were the physical challenges, clothes that worked for stunts, clothes that worked for movie stars, visual effects things for elves of different sizes and all that sort of aspect of it. All of it together was the challenge, rather than one specific part.

Colleen AtwoodWas there any costume in particular you were surprised by or excited about?

The moment that the wedding dress worked was really exciting for us, because it was a big dress, so that part was pretty exciting for everybody that made it. The whole thing was so much fun. I had such a great team, I felt like I had a world class team at my hands, all these great craftsman who made stuff. Just working with all those people gives you great ideas, 'cause they'll be off in a corner doing something with a piece of leather that you've never thought of, and you're like, "Oh, that'll work great for this..." They don't know the application, they're just piddling around, but they come up with great ideas.

How long were you involved with the movie?

I was on it for about nine months. The process now, there's no luxury of doing research for a few months. That's sort of changed in the industry; it's kind of compressed. The army [costumes] I started with, that was maybe about 11 months out, and then we went full on for about nine months.

Before I saw "Snow White and the Huntsman," I had just seen the Peter Greenaway film, "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" and your costumes reminded me of the magnificent costumes that Jean Paul Gaultier created for that film. What were your major influences for this film?

I hadn't thought of that, but you're probably right. I was all over the map really. I took historical research, I took all kinds of things to create [the costumes]. The first thing I started with [for Charlize Theron] was the crown and the shoulders and that formidable silhouette which Charlize was so good for and so present. I took it into the realm of the period with rich fabrics and different textures, sort of mixed it up that way with her character. With Snowy and Kristen [Stewart], it was sort of figuring out stuff that was of the era but that kind of could work for a long time and could be something you have to look at for an hour. It is a different kind of challenge.

Snow White and the HuntsmanI loved the silver dress that the queen wears during the film.

I've been dying to do that silver dress for a long time. I've had that idea for ages, but I've never had the movie for it. I was walking around London and went into the fabric store, and I saw the fabric and I thought, "Oh, my God, I can finally make this!" I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it. I took it in the work room, and I said, "We're finally doing it." Because my cutter knew about it, it's one piece folded over and looped around, it's very simple but it's really cool and [Charlize Theron] had the body length to work it, so it was great for me.

Do you have a backlog of ideas looking for the right project?

Not normally, but that particular one was sort of like "medieval meets the '30s," so it's something I've always loved the thought of. It was great to finally realize it.

The collection of clothes that make up the queen's wardrobe looked like a haute couture runway show.

It really is that level of making, the people that made it, the work of the costumes, it's that level of workmanship. It makes me really happy to be able to do that in a film. They used to do that all the time, but now that time is so compressed and budgets are also — it takes a lot of money to make clothes that take this much time to make. I keep saying they should do a museum show before they get lost or messed up.

What's coming up for you?

Hopefully Tim [Burton] will do "Pinocchio" and I can do that. It'd be fun to bring that to life in a different way.

"Snow White and the Huntsman" will hit DVD and Blu-ray on Sept. 11, 2012.