Tim Burton’s Dumbo is soaring into theaters this March. At a press conference in Los Angeles, Production Designer Rick Heinrichs and Costume Designer Colleen Atwood talked about developing the look of the movie.
A VISUAL SHORTHAND
Rick Heinrichs has worked on such Burton films as Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, and Batman Returns. He began by explaining the design process when he works with director Tim Burton. “Every movie I’ve worked with Tim on with, and I’ve known Tim for almost 40 years now, has been an adventure unto itself. What I would say is that there is a shared visual shorthand and I’m sure that all of his collaborators would say the same. And the exciting thing about working with Tim is in many respects, you dig deep into the history and the period and all of the things that one normally does to bring all the toys to play with on the table. And then Tim sweeps all that aside and you sort of put it back together as a Tim Burton film. And it’s always a blank canvas that you start with. It feels dangerous and exciting and challenging and Dumbo is certainly no different from any other time.”
Colleen Atwood has designed costumes for such Burton films as Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, and Alice in Wonderland. Talking about her thought process designing costumes for Dumbo, specifically the big music showcase, Atwood said, “The show costumes for the Busby Berkeley inspired number were, I knew what Rick was going to do with the set. And I knew what the set was. I knew what the choreography was going to be. So, I chose the color to sort of contrast with the color of the area it was in, but to still kind of harkens to kind of circus in a sense. I used sort of the graphic-ness of black trim and black detail and one like black and one like white to further kind of push the sort of graphic quality that Berkeley stuff often had. Where you would turn and it’s a different thing, and you turn the other way and it’s one thing, which gave it another kind of level of visualization. Which I think earmarked those numbers back in the day and sort of helped sell this in that way.”
Heinrichs added, “And then in terms of the Medici Family Circus and all the sideshow elements, there were characters that [Ehren Kruger] wrote that we were working off of. We came up with a few others at the same time. And there is that lurid aspect to circuses and sideshows and all of that that we wanted to put across. It just gives it a sense of story and character in the background and kind of a dangerous edge to it. And just the fact that the posters were always much more interesting and lurid than necessarily the reality was. We wanted to make sure that was clear as well. But yeah. That was a great thing to get to design. And a lot of fun.”
BEETLEJUICE IN DUMBO?
When asked if the suit Michael Keaton’s character wore in Dumbo is a homage to the one he wore in Beeltejuice, Atwood said, “So not. But I mean, we like a stripe, Tim and I. So, there is always going to be a couple of stripes in the movie no matter how you do it. Whether it’s horizontal, vertical. It’s a graphic thing. I think we both have a graphic sensibility that binds us together in the sort of design world. But that was just happenstance that Michael was the worthy wearer of the stripe in this one.”