Veteran designer Kelli Jones shares secrets behind Power Rangers movie costuming

Contributed by
Jun 27, 2017, 9:10 PM EDT

Let's face it: half the fun of the Power Rangers world is the legacy of its now-iconic colors and costumes. Whatever iteration of Power Rangers was your jam, they all carried through with the color motifs and silhouettes that make the Rangers instantly recognizable. So when Lionsgate decided to reboot the franchise on the big screen in March's Power Rangers movie, the costume design was key in making sure the visuals translated for all the old fans and subtly welcomed a new generation into the world.

Veteran costume designer Kelli Jones (Sons of Anarchy) was brought on as director Dean Israelite's costume guru, finding ways to contemporize the looks of the teenage kids who become Rangers in the film and create the dazzlingly over-the-top flare of villainess, Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks).

In an exclusive chat with Jones, we talk about how challenging it was to be subtle in a franchise that's known the world over for its bold and candy-colored visuals. Power Rangers is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD.

You costume-designed for the rough-and-tumble world of Sons of Anarchy for almost 100 episodes. Did Power Rangers represent a fresh challenge for you to undertake?

Kelli Jones: Yeah. I wanted to be able to be involved with how they were updating the franchise and rebooting it. I really liked the vision of the director. And the fact is, everywhere you look it's superheroes. It's just superheroes in TV and in the movies, so I wanted to jump on that bandwagon. I was really excited about a Power Rangers reboot, and then the director was awesome. Everyone at Lionsgate was awesome, and they gave me a lot of artistic freedom.

Most of the film, we just see the Rangers in training as themselves, with subtle allusions to their eventual color connection. Was that an overall goal to not make the film as in-your-face as the TV shows were, in regards to the core cast?

I think the suits were classier. You didn't need to hit it on the head. It wasn't campy. Dean kept some campy elements of it that I think were really important with the nostalgia and the fans who grew up with the Power Rangers. But with like the Pink Ranger, the pinks I used on her were dark burgundy. With Becky [the yellow Ranger], I almost did a mustard color, like in her bomber jacket. So I stuck with their color palettes, but not in an in-your-face way. It was much more subtle.

Did you have much say over the look of the new Power Ranger suits?

The illustrations for the Rangers were done before I was hired. They had been working with Saban and Dean and illustrators at a couple of companies for about a year. I tweaked them with Dean during the process when they were being created, and made, at Weta. We went down to Weta in New Zealand and visited in the middle of them making them. We tweaked the helmets, the shape of the armor, and the material.

What was your design?

I did Rita start to finish and as her character evolved. I did a bunch of illustrations that had her in a black outfit. but I didn't want her to be too Underworld. So I did a bunch of variations for her then, making her dark green.

Elizabeth Banks says one of the reasons Lionsgate approached her is that she's so open to extreme makeup and costuming. How was she to work with?

I got really lucky with Elizabeth. I had already done the illustrations with my illustrator before knowing that she for sure was signing on to the movie. I met her at Legacy, who was going to build the green costume. I made the black costume with the rope and the tarp up in Vancouver. So it was really her coming in and showing her the illustrations and explaining the first variation where she's tied up in ropes to the green variation. How lucky were we that she was like, "Cool." She just wanted to make sure certain things were covered, but she was super open to it. The green costume especially takes 10 to 12 weeks to make, and by the time she does her main fitting, it's a week before she has to start shooting -- so it has to work. But she does full body scans, so they had her sizes down to the millimeter. It was formed to her and held together by this really strong nylon out of France. We couldn't have asked for a cooler actress for those costumes.

Elizabeth Banks, Rita Repulsa, Power Rangers

Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa in Lionsgate's Power Rangers

What is her crazy costume made out of?

Some of it is just molded rubber. We were going to use some neoprene, but that wasn't working. We tried some silicone, but that wasn't working either. A lot of it is molded rubber and then make the molds of it, so it looks like armor but is actually bendable. It's one full suit that comes up to her neck. Even though it looks sheer in the front, that's the nylon holding up the breastplates and holding them together. It takes a hell of a long time to get into the one she puts on, because it's so tight and specific to her body. Even the shoes, we molded pieces over shoes that we got at Zappos. We molded boots over the shoes.

Was there something in her overall design that really pleased you?

Every little piece of Rita's costume, down to her nails. I looked up some avant-garde work online and I saw this crazy nail installation. I thought it would be cool on her hands. And then the crazy helmet that sort of grows out of her head.

Are you already thinking of perhaps sequel costuming ideas?

I try not to do that so I don't jinx it! It's Hollywood, so until you get the word, you can't hold onto the idea too much. You wait until the call comes and then you hit the ground running.

What have you heard in terms of feedback from the fandom?

I think if there's negative feedback they're keeping it to themselves. [Laughs] If people have any criticism, that's super valid, but I haven't heard that to my face, so that's good!

Power Rangers is now out on Digital HD and 4K, Blu-ray and DVD on June 27.