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Harold and Kumar – Fitting The Buds With Perfect Duds

Having strayed from comic films for a while, costume designer Mary Claire Hannan was intrigued with the thought of digging her heels into “A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas.”  What really sold her on the project, however, was the chance to work with 3D.

“It’s new and it’s another element we can use in filmmaking, and I thought the script was very funny when I read it,” said Hannan.  “I really wanted to be part of the project.”

Just as she had done on all her other films from “Into the Wild” through “The Kids are All Right,” Hannan began her work on “Harold and Kumar” by closely examining her emotional reactions to the script and finding designs and styles that achieve those emotional responses to the characters and situations.  She had not seen the previous two “Harold and Kumar” films and avoided watching them until she had designs and color palettes in mind. At that point she watched the previous films to reference what had transpired with the characters

“You do reference the others, then it’s up to you as the new designer to take it one place further,” said Hannan.  “I don’t read about them, I don’t review the movie stars before I meet them.  I don’t work that way because I have to believe in what I’m doing, and it has to come from me.”

Hannan discovered that the 3D aspect of the movie was a defining factor in the type of clothing and colors she chose.  She had to avoid any fabrics or patterns that were too busy.  The image had to remain as clean and simple as possible.  One character the special effects department was particularly concerned with was a baby that would sometimes be crawling through the crowd, seen only as a small spec but always present.  Hannan avoided flamboyant baby clothing and outfitted her completely in red to solve the problem.  Simplifying colors and textures for 3D also made the transition of the outfits Hannan created easily adaptable for a Claymation scene in the film, another element she had to keep in mind during her preparations.

A challenge in designing costumes for a comedy comes in keeping the looks simple and real while also punching the high notes with color and strong, solid images.  For “Harold and Kumar,” Hannan crafted a “catalogue” look: clear and simple visions of what each character is.  Harold (John Cho) is a business man, so Hannan designed his look to consist of angular, gray business suits with a striped tie, while Kumar (Kal Penn) is a couch potato, so his outfits are layered shirts and vests that are messy, dirty and contain brighter, primary colors.  Because Neil Patrick Harris plays a cruder version of himself performing a musical number, Hannan crafted a loud, bright red velvet suit.  Designing an appropriate outfit for the hoard of female dancers was a little more challenging.  Originally Hannan wanted to provide them with classy Rockette bathing suit styled outfits, but director Todd Strauss-Schulson gave her the direction to make it “cheesy.”

“At first I stepped back and I was thinking, I’m the costume designer, I have good taste, then I realized wait a minute, he is so right, they hired the right director,” said Hannan.  “Instead of doing outfits that Rockettes normally wear, we cut the middle out, giving them bare midriffs and hip hugger flared skirts.  It was very sexy, very cheesy, and that’s what makes this picture fun.”

Hannan enjoys maintaining a dialogue with the director when putting together the costumes for any project, to ensure that what she is designing matches the believability in the characters they are envisioning.  Generally these conversations provide a springboard for extensive research needed to get styles, fabrics and colors accurate.  When preparing for “The Kids Are All Right,” Hannan had in depth conversations with director Lisa Cholodenko and her partner, and attended dinner parties with their circle of lesbian friends.  This aided in capturing the mindset of the lesbian couple correctly in the outfits they wore.  For her current project, “End of Watch,” director David Ayer requested the gang members depicted in the film be dressed in their current styles.  Hannan found many traditional methods of research provided dated information, so she found herself thinking outside of the box, including speaking with gang members, shopping where they shop, and watching the most current videos she could find.

“Youtube; that was a new resource for me that I never used before,” said Hannan.  “That’s part of my job, to think about how I’m going to get information.  My motto is mostly go directly to the source.”

Cultural research also played a role in “Harold and Kumar.”  Harold is married to a Spanish woman and the close, tight-knit family bonds are a factor in the movie.  While working on scenes that included Jewish men gathering at a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Day as well as Irish Catholics, Hannan wanted the Santa Claus characters scene in the movie to become a culture onto themselves as well, an aspect of the movie she really enjoyed creating.

“I have a mall Santa; he’s out of the package, then I have the working class Santa, he had suspenders and old pants and boots, and we had the quintessential Santa, with the antique fur, very Norman Rockwell, opera Santa,” said Hannan.  “In my mind when I was creating Santas I made them a culture.  That was really fun for me.  You have to entertain yourself to keep it fun!”

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