Each year, the Oscars recognize A-list talent we regularly see on-screen, on the red carpet, and in tabloids. But the Academy Awards also reward those who work behind the scenes: the writers, editors, costume designers, and others who help create trophy-worthy movie magic. This Oscars season, we’ll be toasting those off-screen artists by delving into the hidden secrets that helped create the on-screen magic that we — and the Academy — fell in love with. For more access backstage during this Oscars season, click here for EW.com’s Oscars Behind the Scenes coverage.
The Artist is if nothing else a joyous celebration of the oldest of old Hollywood, of an era when moviemaking magic was still very much in its infancy. One of that era’s lost arts: Costuming in black-and-white. How do you know how a piece of colored fabric will look when its rendered only in grey tones? We spoke with Oscar-nominated costume designer Mark Bridges (previous credits include The Fighter, There Will Be Blood, and Boogie Nights) about how he designed the frocks worn by Bérénice Bejo as Peppy Miller, both when she’s a nobody wannabe actress who has an accidental encounter with mega-star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), and when she herself is a major rising movie star.
It turns out, Bridges had to design costumes both in black-and-white and color. “There was always the chance that the film would be seen in color,” says Bridges. “Partially because of the quality of the [color] film [stock], and some of the film markets in the world don’t accept black-and-white films. So it was a double-layered challenge, because you wanted something that could work in color but also needed to read a certain way in black-and-white.” Bridges had his team put together color boards of all the possible fabric colors, and photographed them in black-and-white. When designing a costume, he would choose the value of grey he wanted first, and then discover the color of the fabric he’d selected. “We would discover that, oh, that’s bright coral! It was kind of a backward way to choose fabrics.” Bridges then consulted Sears catalogues, films, and still photos from the period to get a sense of what people were wearing, and how it looked.
This costume is for Peppy’s first encounter with George Valentin, at the premiere for his latest big silent film. “Whenever [the characters are] a star, they are very high contrast,” says Bridges. “When you’re not a star, we were trying to do more medium values. But for the sake of pulling our leading lady out of the crowd, I used the white hat with the black bow and I used the white color with the little bow to create a little contrast in there so your eye goes to her in the midst of all the madness.”
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