Interview: Costume Designer Melissa Bruning Talks To Us About ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’

Space Jam: A New Legacy is an interesting hybrid film, mixing 2D and 3D animation with live-action characters in a rebranded version of the iconic “Tune Squad” jersey. One of the most interesting sequences of the entire film was its climax, with its audience comprised of diverse Warner Bros. IP characters, all of them recreated through their iconic costumes, such as Pennywise the Clown, The Mask, or the Adam West/Burt Ward costumes of Batman and Robin. During our interview with costume designer Melissa Bruning, we touched upon recreating costumes of previously established Warner Bros. IP characters, the process of designing the new jerseys, and working with the animation department. You can read the interview in its entirety below.

Maxance Vincent: I’m really interested in knowing a few things about the film’s costumes. Most notably, during the film’s climax. There are many characters from previously established films by Warner Brothers. I’m wondering how difficult was it to recreate many iconic costumes from previously established Warner Brothers IP characters for the basketball game’s audience? Can you give examples as to what were your favorite costumes to recreate? Or what were the most challenging ones to recreate?

Melissa Bruning: Yeah, definitely. It started with a single line in the script that said “The Tunes and LeBron hear thumping in the background and turn to see IP Warner Bros. villains streaming down the hill to watch the game.” And I was like, “Okay, well, this seems like a lot.” So the first thing I did was I had to start clearing properties. I went through the Warner Brothers catalog and made a list of the different films and who I would like to see in the film. Then we sent it over to legal and waited to see what would get cleared and what wouldn’t, and there were a lot of things that instantly did not clear. I said to the producers, “Hey, how about we look into heroes also?” So we started with the iconic ones, like The Wizard of Oz. I was like, “Okay, let’s do The Witch and the flying monkeys. And maybe they’ve got Dorothy tied up next to them.” And so we just sort of approached it in that way. Whenever a property would clear, we would be like, “Okay, how many people can we get out of this?” And then we started building different worlds. For example, Warner Bros. has done a lot of those early sorts of noir gangster films. So we had a lot of ’30s and ’40s gangsters and tap dancing 42nd Street chorus girls to help round out that group. And then we would move on to the next world.

Some properties didn’t clear until almost the end of our shooting. We waited a long time for all of the Harry Potter stuff to clear. So we had Voldemort and the wings ready to go, and we had Gryffindor and Slytherin uniforms for them to wear. But we didn’t get clearance until like the last week, and then we were putting them into the stands. It was hard because we were limited by what would clear, and then we were also limited by the extremity of the costumes. We narrowed it down to 25 to 35 hard-built costumes that actors would have to do intensive fittings for. The Mask, The White Walkers, The Night King, Mr. Freeze in his bathrobe, Pennywise, were some of the characters we knew would be harder to do and these costumes had to stay up, since they shot them for three and a half weeks.

The day would begin at 4 am at the Equestrian Center near the Warner Bros lot. They would start there getting ready to go through the wardrobe, get through makeup and then they would have people-movers when they were ready. They brought them over to the stage and then they would start placing them on the set. And this happened every day, for three and a half weeks.

MV: Do you have examples of characters or IP properties that didn’t clear?

MB: One that I really wanted to use was Damn Yankees. There is the devil character, Mr. Applegate, and he’s just in a gray suit with a string tie. It’s a movie I’ve always loved and it’s based on a musical called Damn Yankees. I was like, “Oh, this is awesome I get to do this.” But it did not clear. Most of these properties are divided into estates, so because it was a musical, the estate of that author owns rights, Warner Brothers owns rights and then somebody else owns rights, and you have to get permission from all three.

MV: As LeBron James navigates the different universes in the ServerVerse, different costumes are attributed to him. What was the most important element to design for LeBron’s costumes as they sort of continuously change throughout the universes, like DC, or other types of universes, even though many of them are cartoon costumes?

MB: It was important for me to hit it so that within a second you knew who he was and what he was in to make it authentic. Of course, nothing comes in his size. So everything had to be made, even the boots in The Matrix. We looked at a lot of photos and did fabric samples to make sure the cape had the right amount of swish like Neo’s. We just really kept chipping away at it until we felt like we had him in that costume. I personally love the Mad Max costume. I thought it was great.

MV: Don Cheadle’s character Al-G Rhythm changes a lot of outfits as he sort of adapts to the ServerVerse he creates. What was the process to navigate Don Cheadle’s identity in the ServerVerse through diverse cyber-inspired outfits?

MB: I think there was a lot of trust because up until a week before he was shooting, he was completely virtual, so all I had was a motion capture suit for him. Then it was decided that, you know, we have Don Cheadle and he’s awesome. Why don’t we use Don Cheadle? And then we can augment him to computerize him a bit. So that was sort of a Panic! At the Disco moment at the costume house. And we were like “Okay, well, we’re starting with zero.” So we immediately looked at our one-liner to try to figure out what costume comes in what order, and we had to come up with a quick plan. I have a tailor that I work with, that I’d also worked with on Black Monday, which Don Cheadle stars in.So I did have a shortcut, I had a tailor who knew how to make suits for this man. I was able to go and shop forfabric, and I picked out a couple of different suits and looked for images that I liked online. Then the tailor and I went through it and designed it, and they made the first suit in one night. It just kept steamrolling from there. We just kept doing more and more things. We probably made twice as many outfits, as you see in the film, that just didn’t make it. There was a whole song and dance number with backup dancers that wasn’t in the movie. There was a throne room, and there were just so many things that didn’t make it. But you cannot assume something won’t make it. You have to assume that it’s going to, so every outfit has a degree of care given to it.

MV: The movie mixes animated and live-action characters, both in 3D and 2D animation. So there must have been some sort of collaboration with the animation and costume departments to create a seamless look between the live-action costumes and the cartoon costumes. Particularly when the Looney Tunes transition from 2D animation to 3D animation. Can you explain how that collaboration went down?

MB: Yes. First off, I love the animation department. It was such a treat for me to work with all of them. I think where we really collaborated was in the Tune Squad uniforms. My goal was to work with the director [Malcolm D. Lee] to get his vision. He was very into the Warner Brothers logo and wanted us to do something with that. But he did not want the original white uniform, and he was open to other colors. So the next thing I did was go to the animation department and ask them about colors because every Tune had a tone. So I couldn’t do a gray uniform, because Bugs Bunny is gray. I couldn’t do an orange uniform, because Lola’s skin is kind of peachy. We didn’t want to do white, so Foghorn Leghorn was fine. But we had to go through each of these things, and then we also wanted to make sure it was bright enough. I was able to reach a color, we tested it on set, and realized the way that they were shooting it was “space night.” This made the lights on set draw some of the colors out of the uniform. So we punched up the color even more so that it didn’t look dull. From there, once we found a design that we liked, they went to start putting the writing on it and doing some other details. And I was like, “Wait a minute. We haven’t talked to animation,” because they have a thing called pencil mileage, which is when they are redrawing or re-rendering these Tunes in the uniform. Everything within that uniform is an expense because it takes somebody’s time to draw it. So we presented a uniform to them, and they came back with how much it would cost to do it. Then Warner Brothers had to say “Okay, we’ll absorb that cost.” So a lot of my job was making sure that the other departments were being heard, and that we all stayed on the same page and kept the budget.”

MV: So was the process in designing the Tune Squad uniforms similar to the Goon Squad uniforms?

MB: Yes, definitely. Although, the Goon Squad uniforms, except for Dom’s, and possibly Don Cheadle’s, were never going to be on actual people. We made them the size of that athlete, and then we would put them on set. There, they would photograph them in different lighting so that when they went to re-render it, they had visual knowledge of how the fabric would work in the lights that were on set, even though they’re re-rendering it digitally if that makes sense.

MV: Yes, it does. I don’t have any more questions. you’ve answered pretty much everything that I had, so thank you so much.

MB: Oh, my pleasure!

Space Jam: A New Legacy is now playing in theatres and streaming on HBO Max for 31 days.

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity]


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Written by Maxance Vincent

Maxance Vincent is a freelance film and TV critic, and a recent graduate of a BFA in Film Studies at the Université de Montréal. He is currently finishing a specialization in Video Game Studies, focusing on the psychological effects regarding the critical discourse on violent video games.

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