Mayes Rubeo: Costume Designer for John Carter
In 1912, Edgar Rice Burroughs published the first of 11 volumes that made up The Barsoom Series, tales written about earthman John Carter travelling to Mars. One hundred years later, Walt Disney Pictures has taken it upon themselves to bring the series to the big screen in the upcoming film John Carter, in theaters March 9, 2012. The film stars Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights) as the title character, Lynn Collins (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) as the princess Dejah Thoris, Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man) and Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes).
Mayes Rubeo, lead costume designer on the set of John Carter, speaks about what it’s like creating a whole new world for audiences to be transported to in the film.
AG: Hi Mayes, so nice to speak with you.
MR: Thank you, Alexandria.
AG: So can you tell the readers a little bit about what you do on the set?
MR: Costume designer is the person in charge to create and make the costumes for the actors to wear in different situations in the movie.
AG: How did you get started in costume design?
MR: I actually went to school for it, and I started to work right after that with other costume designers. I started at from the very bottom position of a costume designer, as an assistant to costume designers. Little by little, I just worked my way up until you become a costume designer. It took years before I could design a movie. So it had come from a long time of assisting.
AG: What was the first movie you got to be lead costume designer for?
MR: I was lucky to work for John Sayles, the director of a movie called Men with Guns, and it was a fantastic experience. John Sayles is an icon for independent movies, which is a great part of the film-making in America and in the world. I worked on a few projects with him. After that, I got the opportunity to work with the film-maker Mel Gibson to do Apocalypto. From there, it opened really many doors for me after that movie, because of the caliber of design and the epic nature of the movie.
AG: I watched that B-roll, and I saw the costumes you designed for John Carter, and now that you mentioned you worked on Apocalypto, I can see, not the resemblance, but the similarity in the genre of the costumes. Is that something that you look for or did it just happen that way?
MR: Not really. Costume designers, we like to be able to do ethnic movies. Any costume designer can do any kind of period, any kind of culture. When you see the whole movie together, you will realize that the design is a palette of designs, not of only ethnicity, just because I’m Mexican, I have disproved that many times. Hopefully with this job and my future jobs, that stereotype will go away.
AG: Can you tell me about your inspiration for John Carter, for the costumes that you designed?
MR: Well, inspirations came from many, many sources. First of all, the director Andrew Stanton and I have a very profound dialogue in terms of this movie; we are really on the same page. He has really excellent input for the costume designer, production designer, anybody that is creative or has a creative part in our film. He’s really good at putting all those together and guiding us through the direction that he wanted the movie to go.
AG: Do any of your costume designs in any of your movies kind of reflect your own personal style in any kind of way?
MR: I try not to. I try not to, because you can’t put your personal style in movies. What we’re making is, we are dressing people that will act the part. We’re not dressing anybody to show a little bit of your person in any work. It doesn’t work for anybody. The costume designer has to be completely separated from her own self and giving to the project. It’s work for the script and the director and the actors for their parts and for the story of the movie. That’s what costume designers do.
AG: How long before filming did you start designing these costumes? How long does it take?
MR: I would say about six months before. We have a pre-production period, and I did it from my studio in Italy. I was able to do prototypes. As soon as we walked into pre-production, we had actually the two armies figured out, and this helped because it was a big part of the costume design of the movie. The Thark and Helium armies play a big part in the story of the movie.
AG: How long does it take to get these costumes made?
MR: Well, you work from the first day of pre-production and have the first week, the movie starts shooting. You never really stop working, you just keep going with the advance schedule. You provide the costume and facilitate the costumes, and then you make sure that all the other work is happening for when it comes the time for shooting.
AG: What was your favorite costume to design on the set of John Carter, or what were you most proud of in this movie?
MR: I really like the whole concept of having the two cities. Every extra had to be unique. But in terms of character, I think the one that I liked the most was Matai Shang, which is a tunic that I had designed for Mark Strong who is the person who had the official power in Barsoom. We used about 300 meters of fabric for this tunic, and just so you know, it’s not heavy, it’s light as a feather, and we were able to do that, to pleat it all in a way that it moved really nicely. This is the costume that I’m very proud of.
AG: I noticed also, all the accessories. How do you manage to keep track of all of that? It looks really intense.
MR: Accessories are a big thing. It’s part of the designs that I do when I’m doing a new world and civilizations, because they are something that create a new look in my mind. That’s what I think. We had a jewelry staff and studio in all the workshops we have for John Carter. There was a workshop for leather, for make-up, for jewelry and accessories, and we had about 20 people working in those accessories. Very talented people from all over the world, from Mexico, from England, from Italy, you name it, everywhere.
AG: Is there anything else you think people need to know about this movie or about your designs in this movie, what we should look out for?
MR: What I think, what I hope people find interesting, is that we tried to create a whole new world and aesthetic for a world that none of us have been in but the director, Andrew Stanton, and Eric Rice Burroughs. Eric Rice Burroughs wrote the book, but Andrew really knew what Barsoom looks like. We just had to look into his mind to decipher all that. I hope all of this reflects in what you’re going to see in terms of the certain look of our movie. That’s the message I have.
AG: Well thank you so much for your time!
MR: Thank you so much, Alexandria!