How ‘Dune’s Costume Designer Made Stillsuits That Actually Kept the Actors Cool

dune stillsuits

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Dune costume designer Jacqueline West revealed that she made 2,000 costumes for the Denis Villeneuve blockbuster — after turning down his request to work on the film several times.

“Denis, I love your work,” she told him, “but this just isn’t my genre.”

Thankfully, the acclaimed director was able to talk her around and she soon got to work bringing Frank Herbert’s novel to life, with West explaining, “Initially, Denis was most concerned with two things: What Baron Harkonnen would look like, and how we would create the stillsuit, because it’s described in such minutiae in Frank Herbert’s book.”

Indeed, the stiillsuit is described as being a wearable device that converts the body moisture of its user into potable water, so West enlisted the help of costume supervisor Bob Morgan to create something that would not only look amazing on-screen but be comfortable for the actors to wear as well.

West went on to explain the process saying she started with a concept sketch which was then taken to a special effects firm specialising in costume and creature design for a prototype to be made.

From there, the prototype was taken to the filming location in Budapest so that a crew could be hired to create 250 stillsuits “which all had to be bespoke because they were so form-fitting,” said West.

“We had actresses that are 5-foot-3 like Rebecca Ferguson, to Jason Momoa who is 6-foot-5. They were made individually for each body and each one took two weeks to create.”

She continued, “Denis loved them and I think they’ve been a huge success. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from people who love the book about how authentic they feel. I’m most happy about the fact that they looked like they could really function — and they really did keep the actors cool when they were shooting in Jordan.”

When asked to elaborate on the cooling features of the stillsuits, West elaborated that there were some key differences between the ones she created and the ones described in Herbert’s book.

“They functioned to an extent … the actors weren’t drinking their own wastewater,” she laughed.

“In the book, the suit is a distillery. It collects human wastewater — perspiration, urine — and it distils all the ammonia out of it, and, through the nose piece, oxygen is added to the hydrogen, which creates potable water. In the book, only a thimble-full of human water is lost during a day in the desert when you’re wearing the suit.

“What we did was create a bodysuit out of five or six layers of what we called a “micro sandwich” of fabric,” she continued.

“It’s not unlike some of the fabric that Under Armour uses to wick water away from the body when football players wear it under their football padding. We selected a beautiful Japanese fabric that would wick water from the body and then it would kind of cool the body when the moisture hit the air of Jordan, through a mesh system of cotton, nylon and acrylic. When there was a breeze in the desert, there was a cooling effect on the wearer — and the actors said it really worked.”

Incredibly, West and her team were able to create a costume that included a network of tubing to collect outside air through the nose piece along with absorbed body water which was filtered via pockets throughout the costume. That distilled water then created a cooling system around the entire body —  all mechanized by a pumping system that “starts at the heels with the whole thing powered by the musculature and movements of the body,” West said adding that it was “a big challenge, definitely.”

West is a three-time Oscar nominee who has created costumes for period films such as 2000’s Quills, David Fincher’s 2008 film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and 2015’s The Revenant. 

She has also worked on films such as Terrence Malick’s The New World and Tree of Life, Ben Affleck’s Argo and will next turn her talents to Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon.

Given how remarkable the costumes that she has created for Dune are, it would not be at all surprising to see her nominated once more at the 2022 Academy Awards.

Dune has been a huge success, pulling in USD $41 million in ticket sales in its first weekend, and nearly USD $225 million globally, with Legendary Entertainment already announcing that Dune 2 has been given the green light.

The film will be in HOYTS cinemas from December 2, 2021.

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