Godzilla vs. Kong is about the titular monsters. Audiences may like Millie Bobbie Brown, Brian Tyree Henry, and Alexander Skarsgård as actors, but they're really watching Godzilla vs. Kong to see Godzilla fight King Kong. Nobody — not even director Adam Wingard — is arguing otherwise. And yet, the people in Godzilla vs. Kong have an important role to play, even if it's overshadowed by the kaiju action. And, those people have to wear clothes, obviously.
It was costume designer Ann Foley's job to put clothes on Godzilla vs. Kong's human characters. (The only "clothing" either kaiju wears are Kong's metal manacles when he's being transported via boat, and they're really more of an accessory than an outfit.) Foley tells SYFY WIRE that she doesn't mind being second fiddle to the monsters, though.
"As a costume designer, I'm there to help serve the story and give the audience visual clues about the characters and help the audience get lost in the world of Godzilla vs. Kong," she explains via email. And while viewers will (understandably) be more focused on the monster fighting than the human fashions, there's actually a lot going on with the humans' clothes. Foley gave us the rundown on how Monarch got their high-tech suits, how Jia (Kaylee Hottle)'s outfit reflects her Skull Island heritage, and how only characters with Titan connections got to wear one specific color.
The Godzilla franchise has gotten a little more outlandish and silly over time — Godzilla vs. Kong is a much less "grounded" film than the 2014 Godzilla, for instance. Did this move away from stricter realism towards a more "anything goes sci-fi approach" influence how you designed the costumes?
I definitely tried to keep it as grounded as possible when it came to the costumes, especially the military elements, but there were moments where we got to have fun with a few of the characters — and Alexander Skarsgård's Nathan Lind immediately comes to mind. For Nathan, we found a very different kind of inspiration. Lind is definitely a child of the '80s and early '90s, so when Alex and I started conceptualizing his character, we decided to do something more inventive and have a little bit of fun with him and we wanted to show him as a little bit of a nerd.
That being said, he is also a hero of the movie, so his costumes needed to feel somewhat heroic. Alex felt Nathan would be a fan of movies like Back to the Future and Lethal Weapon, so we paid homage to those films by adding subtle details into his costume, like his Adidas high tops that we aged down to make them look like he's had them since high school, and his vest, which is clearly inspired by Marty McFly from Back to the Future.
How beholden to the styles of the previous movies were you? I'm thinking specifically of things like Monarch uniforms as seen in the previous Godzilla films and the look of the Iwi from Kong: Skull Island, but if there are other ways in which you used or updated styles from earlier movies, I would love to hear them.
The Monarch logo from the previous films definitely makes an appearance on the military uniforms in Godzilla vs. Kong. I always try to stay true to established looks or ideas from previous films, but I take my design cues from what is in the script and fortunately there was a lot of interesting character information to mine from to help create a look specific to this film.
What were some of the other influences for the costumes? Did you look back at older Godzilla or Kong movies?
Jia's costume was definitely influenced by the past films. It was important to me that her costume represented a celebration of her Iwi heritage while also showing the passage of time for the Iwi, who we last saw in the '70s in Kong: Skull Island. To show that passage of time, we gave Jia's clothing modern twists with her sneakers, shirt, and pants — however, her Iwi wrap is a direct link to the heritage of the tribe and its history. The wrap serves many purposes; a blanket to stay warm, a shawl to disguise her, or a hood to protect her from the elements. I also added the Iwi language down the front of the wrap to help imbue it with her Iwi heritage.
Another costume element I incorporated that is important to her character is the necklace she wears — it is made of Skullcrawler teeth that Jia gathered on the island. It was the Skullcrawlers that killed her family, so this necklace is a talisman of sorts that protects and acknowledges the danger of her past and empowers her for the possibilities of her future.
What costume was the most challenging? Both in terms of designing it and then actually producing it as a wearable outfit?
Probably the Mission Suit for Hollow Earth. This costume was one of the first things I started working on with director Adam Wingard. Adam and I were committed to exploring a new idea that did not mimic the superhero costumes and space suits that have been seen before in other films.
The Monarch team is going into the unknown environment of Hollow Earth and so we wanted to imagine a suit that would offer them both protection from the potentially hostile environment and something that audiences might not expect. Adam and I also wanted to ensure that the fabric for the Monarch team suits had dynamic movement and a singular reflection of light. By using 3D fabric printing I experimented with different techniques and inks until I landed on a red ink that was printed onto a fabric with a black base, and then layered a copper pattern on top of that. The result is that when the suit moves, it changes color, depending on how the light hits it.
It was an incredibly rewarding creative process that resulted in a fabric that is specific to the costume and not seen in any other film. To complete the Monarch team costumes I added a climbing harness over the suit that we modified for the film and a riggers belt with a variety of tools that might be needed in Hollow Earth.
Is there a costume you're the proudest of?
Definitely the Monarch Mission Suit, but I also love the costumes for Millie Bobby Brown, who plays Madison Russell. We get to see the important progression Maddie has made starting as a remarkable young girl in Godzilla: King of the Monsters and evolving into an empowered young woman in Godzilla vs. Kong.
There is a strength that I hoped to communicate through her clothing. I wanted to show that idea, specifically with Maddie's jacket. I had this idea that it came out of her mother's closet and that Maddie is continuing her mother's mission to save the Titans. It's a really wonderful character piece for her and I wanted it to be her mission outfit. Every single one of the characters is on a mission in this film — Maddie is on a mission to save Godzilla and Jia is on a mission to save Kong. And then, of course, much of the rest of the cast is in their actual mission suits as they go down into Hollow Earth.
Are there any Easter eggs or little secrets in any of the costumes you designed that you'd care to reveal?
I used the color red very specifically in the film to denote a connection to the titans. You'll only see it on characters that have that connection.