Laura Jean Shannon is a seasoned costume designer whose iconic work can be seen in films such as Iron Man, Elf and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, as well television shows such as Doom Patrol, Star Girl and Black Lightening. We spoke with her about her design work on the hit Amazon series, The Boys.
You have had an interesting career path. You started as a traditional costume designer, but you transitioned into a super-suit designer. Was that something that was a natural progression based on the projects you’re working on or was it something you’ve always had an interest in?
Well, both, really. My interest has always been piqued by fantasy and science fiction. I’ve always been a bit of a geek and was the five-year-old kid/forty-five-year-old woman who would be poring over my Saturday morning cartoons, my favorite of which were always superhero cartoons. And graphic novels are something that I’ve always very drawn to. So, while I made great efforts to make sure that I was well-rounded and had a broad base as a costume designer, I think I always knew that I would be doing more custom, creature, fantasy super-suit-based design work because that’s where my heart lies. I definitely made choices for my career path to lead me here. I was also a modelmaker and a sculpture major in college so a lot of the elements that we utilize, the unconventional materials and sculpted elements, are all things that I could actually physically build myself as well. My brain is kind of like an engineer’s brain combined with the costume design. It’s a marriage of knowing how to work with the actors in character building and how to work with directors and showrunners and producers while also being a geek and being inspired by the genre itself.
When you’re designing a costume, like Homelander’s costume for example, are you first trying to match the source material or are you thinking about practicality first?
That’s a really good question. I would have to say that the first thing that we do is a deep dive into research for any character, whether they be existing in source material, or whether they be someone that we’re creating just for our own story. For a character like Homelander specifically, because he existed in the book, we did a deep dive into the source material, and we went through as many as many things as we could to pull together referential information about him. And then we had to decide what aspects of that do we want to highlight and bring to life in our version of him for our very grounded, gritty, real-world that he lives in. One of the things that was very important for our show right from the onset was that we weren’t looking to make our costume be a farce. We really wanted our super-suits to live in a world where they were grounded and where they were legit. So, we were inspired by the book, but then we took it to the next level to create something cinematic and grounded.
Speaking of, of grounding the costumes, there’s been a trend within the genre, going back to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, to texturize. costumes, or which Homelander’s is as well, but not all of the costumes are. Do you think it’s audience expectation now, or are you trying to avoid the stereotypical spandex look?
I think that texture and patterns and unconventional sculpting and a really refined paint job, all really do help create an upgraded design aesthetic. I think you hit the nail on the head. It’s kind of a combination, but one of the things that we have now with modern audiences is an expectation of refined sensibilities for the suits themselves. People jokingly and lovingly still refer to super-suits as spandex but gone are the days of spandex being part of the super-suit. We’re looking to elevate the aesthetic and bring more materials that are custom created, that help gives easter egg sometimes to the suits themselves, and also bring a tactical vibe.
I understand you attempted to create a slightly more comic-accurate suit for the Deep.
Well, we did play around with helmet design. It’s funny because early on, when we were designing our original Seven, and [Executive Producer] Eric Kripke felt pretty confident that I was not going to find a helmet, but he let me explore it as a nod to the fans. And at the end of the day, ultimately, he was right. It was Chace [Crawford] that we wanted to be seeing.
Were there any suits that you felt were more challenging in regard to practicality or in the design itself?
You know, every suit poses its own challenge, but I always look at challenges as like an exciting adventure. One of the challenges that we actually created for ourselves was to see how many knives we could put on Black Noir. I think it’s something like twenty-six. It was just so much fun. Even as we created his helmet, I had them sculpt into it, what I refer to as the eyeball blade. So, he has some on in temples, he has blades on his ankles, he has blades on his hips, he has blades on his side, he has blades on his forearm, he has blades on his biceps, he has blades on his lower back. And then if all else fails, he’s got the eyeball blade, which is a tiny little knife that’s actually fragile, and he can yank out of the top back of his helmet and get you right in the eyeball.
Not every suit we see on screen has source material to pull from. How much detail do they give you from the script and how much freedom do you have in the design?
That’s a great question. We had some characters that technically were in the book, but were completely reconceptualized for the show. For instance, Stormfront, played by Aya Cash. In the book Stormfront is a man, so, we were really starting from scratch with that character. The only real influences that she had that was similar to the books was a color theme, and then some deconstructed iconography. We weren’t even sure if we were going to do a cape or not, which we did end up doing, which is in the book, but it’s very different from what we ended up with on-screen. So, everything is sort of like a living and breathing entity that we explore and bring to life together.
Eric Kripke and Seth [Rogen] and Evan [Goldberg] are very collaborative. We’ve all been working together for quite some time now on several projects, so there’s, there’s an open discourse when a character comes up that we want to explore. They really do give me a lot of creative license and there’s a lot of fun and excitement in terms of us all working together to come up with fun ideas. I’ll customarily work with my concept artists and my assistant designer and my visual administrator and we’ll, we’ll give them a lot of research right out of the gate, and then we just start playing and we just start throwing ideas on paper. We’ll have anywhere between three and forty-three thumbnail sketches before we actually paper doll it all together and pick pieces from each of them that we like and create the amalgam that ends up becoming our concept design that we build from. So, I would say that there’s a lot of freedom, but like any great creative partnership, there’s a lot of collaboration within that freedom.
I do want to ask one more question before I let you go. I know that you can’t talk about Season Three, but can we assume that we’re going to see some more super suits from you?
Oh, of course.