Mary also told TNM that the robot suit designed for Rajinikanth was hard to work in but that the superstar's dedication made him pull through.

20 is unique in sci-fi genre Batman Returns costume designer Mary E
Flix Interview Friday, November 30, 2018 - 18:41

Mary E. Vogt, acclaimed costume designer, has been part of some of the biggest Hollywood productions over the years. This year alone, her exemplary work in Crazy Rich Asians won her numerous accolades, and now with Shankar-Rajinikanth’s 2.0, the veteran costume designer is making headlines in India, once again, thanks to Rajinikanth’s robot avatar which she had designed.

2.0 is her third collaboration with Shankar in almost 10 years now. Having worked with the ace filmmaker for Endhiran and later I, the 68-year-old costume designer says Shankar’s “bold, uncompromising vision” continues to impress her.

Talking about how her equation with Shankar has evolved over the years, Mary Vogt says, “When I first met Shankar in 2008, I was very impressed with his seriousness and determined work ethic. He was uncompromising in his vision for Robot (Endhiran), but was very collaborative and interested in my ideas for the character. I first met him and Rajinikanth at the Stan Winston studio in Los Angeles. After that initial meeting, we communicated through drawings. I was in Los Angeles and he was in Chennai. He expressed his opinions in a very clear way, and I soon discovered he was extremely creative and very open to ideas that are “outside the box”. No idea was too wild or eccentric for him. He has a bold, uncompromising vision. The look evolved from those communications. The process remained the same for 2.0 too, with the exception of I, for which I went to Chennai and had direct meetings with him at his studio, and was also present for the shooting. The costumes were manufactured in LA by Quantum Creation Effects, under the direction of Christian Beckman.”

For 2.0, Shankar met Mary once again in 2015 in LA, where he explained the look and tone that he wanted for the new Chitti (Rajinikanth) and Nila (Amy Jackson); however, Mary wasn’t involved with designing the costumes for Akshay Kumar’s character. At the very outset, Shankar was clear that he wanted a sleek robotic look for Chitti and Nila. And for the song - 'Endhira Logathu Sundariye' - the look had to be robotic, but since it was a romantic song, the costumes had to be comfortable, with less hard components, so the actors could dance.

There’s a more dramatic version of Chitti, version 2.0 so to speak, and this look was created with additional lightning bolts and red light to reflect his intent.

Nirav Shah, the cinematographer of the film, was also present for these meetings with Mary Vogt, and he was keen on choosing patterns which wouldn’t strobe. 2.0 is a much bigger film compared to Endhiran in every possible way, and it also reflects in the costumes that Mary created for the two lead actors.

2.0 is much bigger, and technology has improved so much that we were able to design the costumes in the computer on body scans of the actors and print 3D components to manufacture the Chitti and Nila suits. This process gave the sleek machine look we were going for. The downside is that they are difficult to wear for the actors - the suits are heavy, hot, and not very flexible. Compared to this, in Endhiran, the costumes were made with a soft leather, hot, but easy to move in. The Nila suit had less components, so it was easier to work in. But the Chitti suit, which makes him look strong and heroic, was hard for Rajinikanth to work in. His dedication to the project made it possible,” Mary reveals.

It’s not just the extravagant action sequences that seem ‘out of world’ in 2.0, even the song - 'Endhira Logathu Sundariye' - is unlike anything that has been shot for an Indian film over the years. It’s already being touted as the most expensive song ever, and Mary reveals that the inspiration for the costumes in the song came from the renderings of the sets.

“Shankar told me the mood he was going for and sent me drawings designed by the production designer, Muthuraj. And, I picked up elements and colour from the set designs. Having previously worked with Amy in I, I was familiar with the designs that worked on her and what would be good for dancing. Although both Rajinikanth and Amy were playing robots in the song, they still had to move. So, the costumes were designed accordingly for this song in particular,” she adds.

Having worked with several leading Hollywood directors in her career spanning more than three decades, her admiration for Shankar is palpable.

“My experience of working with Shankar on Endhiran, I, and 2.0 was very similar to a big film made in the United States. The biggest difference is that director Shankar is bolder and not intimidated by colour. He understands the importance of colour and how it connects mood to the audience in a way that is different from other directors I have worked with.”

Although she has worked on very few Indian films, Mary says that she admires Vidhu Vinod Chopra, with whom she had worked briefly in the US.

“I am a big fan of Devdas and 3 Idiots too,” she remarks.

Ask her if in all these years of working with Shankar, there has been one particular incident which has stayed with her, she recalls being more than impressed while working on a song, featuring Amy Jackson, in I.

“When we were doing I, I was designing the “Sprout” dress for Amy. Shankar wanted me to make 30 additional dresses for background dancers. Unfortunately, I was not able to make them and ship them in time for the shooting. When I got to Chennai, the production designer, Muthuraj, had made a set under Shankar’s direction that had multiple mirrors where Amy was reflected that gave the look of 100s of Amy’s in the frame. I thought it was a brilliant solution,” Mary confesses.

For someone who comes with an enviable resume that includes sci-fi films like Batman Returns, Inspector Gadget, and Men in Black to name a few, it often makes you wonder how do Indian sci-fi films like 2.0 or Endhiran stack up to their western counterparts.

Surprisingly, Mary has a refreshing take on this thought. “Both 2.0 and Endhiran have a lot of heart, which is unique for a sci-fi film. Also they are very funny, have great charm, and both the films do enlarge Rajinikanth’s charismatic personality,” she avers.

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