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Costume Designer Deborah L. Scott Talks Designing "Avatar: The Way of Water" with Gold Derby
January 6, 2023

written by Sam Eckmann, Gold Derby

“I think it might surprise audiences, and the industry worldwide, that we actually made every single garment,” reveals “Avatar: The Way of Water” costume designer Deborah L. Scott. Even though a large portion of the film was digitally created, especially where the blue Na’vi species are concerned, the designer still had to craft every single loincloth, wig, accessory, and piece of jewelry in the real world. Utilizing actual fabrics and textiles was essential in making the alien world of Pandora feel ultra realistic. ”It’s a complex route to get to the end of a digital movie,” notes Scott. Watch the exclusive video interview above.

Scott realizes that constructing physical garments for the digital realm is a process that is unique to “Avatar.” “The way Jim works, and the level at which he works technically and artistically, there’s no way that a costume designer could not be in the conversation all through post,” explains the designer in reference to director James Cameron’s immersive approach to filmmaking. Though she describes him as a creator with a “massive imagination,” she also points out that he relies on a fully collaborative process between every department in order to realize the mammoth vision for these films. ”We world build, we clan build, we family build, and we character build,” says Scott.

That intense world building is quite apparent in Scott’s designs for the seaside Metkayina tribe. The designer researched indigenous peoples from all over the globe for inspiration, focusing on tribes who live off of the ocean. And unlike the forest dwelling Na’vi who have endured years of war with humans, the Metkayina have been living in idyllic, peaceful seclusion. “They have more time to express themselves through their clothing,” describes Scott. So she looked to the elements of the beach and the seafloor (such as Pandoran shells or aquatic life) to incorporate into their outfits. “They’re not afraid to use anything in their world to decorate themselves.”

Of course, the vast number of underwater sequences presented additional hurdles for the costumes design. “We did a tremendous amount of testing,” admits Scott, in order to find materials that behaved correctly when submerged. Clothing couldn’t be floating up into the actors faces, nor could it droop heavily as the characters swam through the currents. That research then had to be passed along to the simulators and animators so they could translate the real-world properties of these textiles into their virtual realm. ”We give that information, as the costume department, to the computers,” she asserts.

Scott won an Oscar for “Titanic,” another epic collaboration with Cameron. 25 years after that movie debuted, she is once again designing gorgeous clothing destined for the ocean. “It’s really important to me that people understand that the work we did on this, that it’s just as hands-on as what we did on Titanic,” asserts Scott.

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