The ‘Foundation’ Costume Designer On Sci-Fi’s Shift To Uniform Looks

Foundation is a hugely popular show on Apple TV+. It’s based on the award-winning novels by Isaac Asimov, an American science fiction writer who changed the landscape when it came to science fiction.

Even though Asimov the book was published in 1942, the legacy of this story lives on with Foundation. The otherworldly series chronicles “a band of exiles on their monumental journey to save humanity and rebuild civilization amid the fall of the Galactic Empire,” according to Apple TV+.

The show’s creator David S. Goyer said in a statement that the show is about hope. “Hope in the human spirit, and hope in mankind’s capacity for ingenuity—because let’s be honest, we need that ingenuity now, more than ever.”

As Goyer explained: “It was important for me that we provide a sliver of light at the end of the journey.”

What we see onscreen is far from what you expect, in terms of costume design. In fact, science fiction costume design is changing, one show, and one film, at a time. And Foundation is a great testament to that.

It isn’t all tinfoil-esque textures, antennae, or boxy robot suits. It has become so much more earthy and practical. The Foundation costume designer Eimer Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh explains her approach.

“I never did science fiction before, its an exciting thing to do,” she said. “I’ve done period films. I decided to have a similar approach with a period film. Even though you can’t really research the future, there’s all these planets to look into.”

After reading the script a few times, Mhaoldomhnaigh worked closely with the production design team to tie into their sets, which was partly inspired by brutalist architecture.

The outfit for the maiden costume worn by the character Demerzel (Laura Birn), reflects the colors of Malta, the island where it was shot, which is covered in sandstone and peachy colors.

“It’s like a classical romo-grecian empire outfit,” she said. “Taking those tropes and working with those.”

Even the The outfit for Brother Dusk, played by Terrence Mann, is inspired by the Catholic church, partly, the “religious pomp” says Mhaoldomhnaigh. The Vatican was also part of the inspiration, as well as the type of costumes we see in Renaissance paintings. It has a papal vibe, for sure. The goal was to show something sect-like.

“It felt like a religious, Christianity thing,” she said. “A Catholic thing. The resurrection. It’s strange the things you don’t normally play into with science fiction. Here, the costume plays into the Vatican and papal elements.”

“It’s the ceremonial grandeur and idea of royalty,” she adds.

The battlefield garments are a bit medieval, however, they also make each person look somewhat like a beetle or an insect. “Like a protective shell,” she said.

Could all sci-fi costume design be moving towards becoming more utilitarian, overall? There’s less excess, it’s more minimal. There aren’t pointy shoulders or shiny silver, much, anymore. It’s very uniform like.

“If you think about films like Flash Gordon (1980), the tinfoil robot from outer space, strange, altered voices strange and extravagant makeup, now there is the idea of ‘make it something futuristic, but also realistic,’” said Mhaoldomhnaigh.

*It has a streetwear look to it, as well.”

“It has become more utilitarian look, coming away from the flashy origins of Metropolis,” she said.

Her favorite part of sci-fi films is the resistance, the underground. “I always love the underworld part of it,” she said. “That’s usually the more realistic part, the punks and goths in sci-fi films.”

Mhaoldomhnaigh used Italian textile fairs as a starting point for her fabrics. “Some look like petrol,” she said. “I used natural fibers too, a color palette that dyes very easily. We put wax on them, too.”

The best part was designing the costumes for the warrior women that we see onscreen, like Leah Harvey’s costume.

“There’s a pattern with sci-fi, to see if we can move away from it all looking like the same,” she said.

“Catwoman, those days are gone, hopefully.”

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