Costumes & Characters
"TORUK-The First Flight presents unique challenges: for one, the story
is being told mostly by one of the main characters, the Narrator. This means
that the costumes must also tell part of the story." - Kym Barrett, Costume
When she took on the challenge of interpreting for the stage the animated
characters in AVATAR through costumes, Costume Designer Kym Barrett set out
to respect the dress codes established by James Cameron’s team without copying
exactly what was done in the movie. “While we worked within the parameters of
Pandora, we had room to create our own version of the mythical first flight,”
says Kym. Since the movie is set 3,000 years in the future in relation to
TORUK – The First Flight, the Costume Designer needed to determine how the N
a'vi's clothing culture had changed over that period of time and, working
backwards, create her designs accordingly. She also needed to strike the
perfect balance between comfort for the artist who wears the costume, and
authenticity for the audience. "We’re trying to create Pandoran fibers which,
of course, don’t exist in our world", observes Barrett.
Pandora’s inhabitants, the Na’vi, are divided into five clans – Kekunan,
Omaticaya, Anurai, Timpani, Tawkami – each with its own colors and attributes.
Some wear elaborate headdresses while others are adorned with organic accessories.
"Just like in real life, each has its own personality and style." The Omaticaya’s
domestic culture revolved around weaving and bead-making and using the things
they found in their natural surroundings – from seeds and vines and leaves, to
bones and precious stones. And one look at the Storyteller’s mantle is enough to
know that he is well traveled and has received various tokens from other clans
over time. Likewise, the Shaman’s costume suggests that travelers to and from the
Omaticaya’s home have brought her ornaments and treasures that she has incorporated
into her ceremonial robe.
What’s more, the costumes need to look like they were handmade by the Na’vi. "We
use certain materials that imitate objects that would normally be found in nature,"
she adds. Hence the organic, handmade look to the wardrobe. Textures and prints were
designed to overcome the fact that there are no fabrics on Pandora. The artisans in
the costume department sought out materials that potentially looked like they were
naturally available to the Na’vi in their environment. They
“invented” Pandoran fibers that do not exist on Earth. Some varieties of
“extraterrestrial flora” used in the costumes are in reality cut-outs of loofah
sponge or molds from cabbage leaves. A loincloth that looks like it was made from
leaves is in fact made of crinoline, an open-weave horsehair and linen fabric usually
stiffened and used for interlinings, skirts or underskirts. some costumes are made
with parts of hammocks and fishing rods, and bones were used as inspiration to
sculpt the Anurai decorations and to adorn the corset of the Storyteller.
There are 115 costumes in the show, an average of 3.3 costumes per artist. The
costume department produced more than 1,000 items in all, including shoes,
headpieces and necklaces. Some are colored using turquoise silkscreen ink.
As turquoise silkscreen inks are extremely sensitive to sunlight, all
costumes with this feature need to be covered with a black garment bag
"Another main challenge with TORUK – The First Flight lies in transforming a stadium
into a whole other universe while giving a 180 degree panoramic view to the audience,"
explains Barrett. In spite of the sheer size of the set, the audience should feel
immersed in Pandora’s landscape, even when the action takes place a bit further away.
"All characters and actions need to be clearly visible from all angles," and the
technical intricacies of the costumes should remain invisible to the audience. That’s
why the costumes need to show just enough details so as to look handmade when seen
close-up, and still have that organic, shimmery, intriguing feel from afar, explains
the costume designer.
Before designing the first elements of the clan couture however, the team needed to
address the epic challenge of reproducing the look of the Na’vi’s skin convincingly
in terms of color and skin tone.
Kym chose four different blue base skin tones to account for natural DNA variations
among the Na’vi people. These skin colors had to work on all performers, regardless
of their complexion. Twenty-five different variations were created for the Na’vi
base. The base skin fabric, an optical white synthetic fiber, was silkscreened to
create the muscle and distinctive stripes. The bioluminescent effect is created
using a product that reacts to the light filters used in the show.
With its long, prehensile lemur-like tail, the body of the Na’vi is leaner and taller
than a human’s. Acrobats do not generally fit this mold. By and large, performers in
the circus arts world are more of a medium stature and more muscular than thin. The
team had to start by establishing the muscle structure and the base print colors then
create the Na’vi body stripes. They elongated the thorax as much as possible in order
to replicate the Na’vi’s body form by raising the chest design a few inches on the
costume in relation to the artist’s own chest.
Although they are morphologically similar to humans, the Na’vi have a wider nose
and larger eyes. To suspend the audience’s disbelief and create the illusion that
the 35 performers on stage are in fact Na’vi, the make-up artists in the costume
department needed to “remodel” the artists’ faces. In addition, countless hours were
spent finding and creating unifying bioluminescent patterns that pass seamlessly
between the printed fabric of the costume and the make-up, which is a unique
foundation color that was created specifically for the show.
There is an aura of mystery about the Storyteller – a wanderer who roams the
land, going from village to village and from clan to clan, in constant touch
with his people. Wrapped in his beautiful, weathered mantle, the wise yet
unassuming Storyteller exudes wisdom and compassion. As for his age, nobody
knows for sure. Time seems to stand still for those who experience life-
changing events of the highest magnitude. Regardless of the clan he was
born into, the Storyteller’s soul contains the joys and sorrows of all his
Na’vi brothers and sisters. He is a guide and a connector – a messenger of
peace and unity. Long ago, the Storyteller earned a special place in the
hearts of his people, and that is where his true home is.
Ralu, Member of the Omaticaya Clan, is the son of a formidable hunter
who taught him exceptional focus and discipline. Ralu is a sensitive and
compassionate boy on the brink of adulthood. Although he is only 14 years
old (in Earth years), there is a calm and quiet force about him that
underscores his carefree attitude. Always on the lookout for his childhood
friend and protégé Entu, Ralu is a natural born leader. Whenever the going
gets tough, he channels all his energy and skills into the challenge at hand
and invariably gets the job done. Just ask Entu, whom Ralu once saved from
certain death by luring away a thanator during archery practice deep in the
rainforest. No wonder everybody rallies behind Ralu – his is a doer and a
thinker with a heart of gold!
Entu, Member of the Omaticaya Clan, lost both of his parents early
in life in a freak attack by a thanator. He is the same age (14 years old
in Earth years) as his lifelong friend Ralu – his mentor – with whom he
has always engaged in a healthy competition that has definitely kept
him on his toes. Spunky and intense, Entu is fully in touch with his
emotions and knows to follow and trust his instincts. One day, when a
member of his clan ventured too far out on a cliff edge and was left
dangling on a limb, Entu instantly concocted an ingenious counterweight
device using his pack, a sturdy branch and some vines to lower himself
down the mountain face and save the boy, showing total disregard for his
own safety. With his quick wit and dauntless spirit, Entu is eager – and
ready – to dive headlong into the adventures that lie ahead.
Tsyal, Member of the Tawkami Clan, is the only child of a village
chief who lost her mother at a tender age. She was raised by her grandmother
with the help of other members of her clan, as is the custom among the Na’vi.
Highly proficient in herbal lore, her grandmother was a chemist widely
revered among the Tawkami for her unique remedies and concoctions. Tsyal’s
clan is renowned throughout the land for their knowledge of chemistry and
alchemy, and the abilities she inherited from her grandmother are transmitted
every two generations through a special bond among clan members. Spurred by
her grandmother’s legacy and wanting to live up to the expectations bestowed
upon her, Tsyal has taken great pride in creating innovative mixtures and
recipes of her own. True to her clan nestled deep inside the primeval forests
of Pandora, this easygoing, sprightly girl with an indomitable spirit has a
cheerful nature and loves to play tricks. With a mere seed, she can put the
fiercest beast to sleep; with the frailest-looking flower, she can induce
the most beautiful dreams or provoke the most terrifying nightmares. Such
is the tremendous power of the natural elements that Tsyal and her clan
have learned to understand and harness.