Disney Heroes & Villains: The Art of the Disney Costume is Not Just Window Dressing at Seattle’s MoPOP
The MoPOP Disney Heroes & Villains exhibit: Last week, I was privileged to join other journalists and writers at Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture to preview the touring display of Disney costumes originally shown at D23. For Serious Insights, I concentrate on logistics and design. As suspected, project management, IT, and some very diligent task management. Here is what I learned during my interview with Robert Maxhimer, Exhibitions Manager, Walk Disney Archives. The interview has been edited for clarity.
About the exhibit
Disney Heroes & Villains features more than 70 original pieces and spanning more than 6,000 square feet of museum space, the exhibition explores the vision, process, and craft used to create the costumes worn by some of the biggest names in entertainment. Visitors will see ball gowns, sorcerers’ capes, military uniforms, tiaras, and of course glass slippers, from some of Disney’s toughest villains and kindest heroes, many on custom mannequins, as well as photographs and a special film.
Disney Heroes & Villains: The Art of the Disney Costume Museum of Pop Culture 325 5th Ave N Seattle, WA 98109
Opening Saturday, June 5, 2021 through April 17, 2022 Key Dates
Exhibition Open to Public: June 5, 2021
Opening Weekend Hours: Saturday June 5: 8:00am-8:00pm I Sunday June 6: 8:00am-6:00pm
MoPOP Regular Summer Hours (beginning May 27): Every Day 10:00am-6:00pm
Tickets: Special exhibition fee of $6 + general museum admission
MoPOP Members: this special exhibition is included with membership with no additional fees (more at: www.MoPOP.org/membership)
The Disney Heroes & Villains Interview with Robert Maxhimer
SI: Can you provide some background on the exhibit.
RM: We started development on the [The Disney Heroes & Villains: The Art of the Disney Costume exhibit] in 2018. The D23 Expo happens every two years, and we have a pretty big space on the show floor, about 12,000 square feet. We have to bring something every two years. We’ve done Disneyland, we’ve done the Pirates exhibit.
This time, we wanted to take a slightly different approach, and focus on costumes, but specifically costume design, and what goes into bringing these characters to life through wardrobe.
What we did was identify the costumes based on the designers and the work that actually goes into it, not specifically looking at the film, or the actor, but really trying to find those special detailed moments in each of these costumes. So it evolved into what you see here.
And by splitting them between heroes and villains, and anti-heroes, we were able to really focus on those detail moments, and separate them so that people can stand and read a quote, you know, and look at something that might seem mundane, like this costume [pointing to Ben Gates costume worn by Nicholas Cage in National Treasure], but there’s a lot of work that goes into putting this together for that film.
[Cruella De Vii, worn by Glenn Close 101 Dalmatians (1996) Costume Design by Anthony]
SI: Yeah, that’s not easily off the rack stuff.
RM: No, no, exactly. Not off the rack. And if it is, it’s gonna be customized, the designers are just so detail-oriented.
SI: So how do you track this internally? I’m assuming there’s a database, photography.
RM: As far as the kind of logistics of the exhibition we start with, with a curatorial brief, everything that we do starts with basically a thesis statement. And then we go and write that into an outline into the galleries. And once that’s really formulated because that’s the spine, the backbone of our whole exhibit, then we start moving into object selection.
We go through our collection and our database, and we see what might fit each gallery based on the theme. And then it’s tracked through an object list. So we have an object list that will have the object number or numbers, dimensions, material address that kind of stuff.
Disney Heroes & Villains the Slide Show
SI: And most of these are multiple parts…
RM: Yeah, exactly. And that’s, that’s the tricky thing with costumes. A costume does not travel as one piece. There are coats or jackets or socks. There are cufflinks, necklaces, and hats, and millions and millions of pieces. So it’s a lot to keep up with. But it’s fun, especially when it all comes together…like this, up and running.
SI: Do you do have something like a bill of materials for one of the costumes that basically says the you know, for this, for this part of the exhibit tits these pants, these shoes?
RM: Yes, yes. So we have a registrar on the exhibition’s team. And that’s pretty much her whole job is to break that down into a detailed list and then come up with a manifest for shipping and condition reporting for the installation.
All of us individually, even the mannequins themselves are tracked, because the mannequins we had custom made per costume. Currently, we would take a still from the film, saying like when the Wolf bends down in front of Red Ridinghood, and then we worked with a mannequin manufacturer who 3D printed these in China, and then they’re shipped over, painted. The idea was that they’re in kind of that primer looking color. So they [the mannequins] kind of disappear, you know, focuses is on the costume.
As far as shipping, some of the older costumes, Mary Poppins for example, that has to be undressed, boxed in an archival box, and shipped independently of the mannequin. Other more robust costumes can travel on the mannequin. They’ll go into custom crates where they’ll have their accessories and hats. Packed separately. The costume itself can live on a mannequin.
SI: I am curious if there was in terms of the layout and Design changed from the D23. floor plan to this one?
RM: It was a lot of collaboration with MoPOPp. This is a very unique space. At the Expo, we basically had a big rectangle. So what we did is we had the workshop, so people would enter and understand what costume design is with Cinderella as kind of a case study. Then they would enter into the main gallery, and we had villains, heroes. And then back on the far side, we had the anti-heroes.
Everything was around the perimeter, except for these platforms, the rotating platform, and they would be in the middle. The reason for that really was just the volume of guests that we have come through. We had almost 20,000 people come through in three days. It’s got to be kind of a quick thing.
When you have a bigger open space, it flows a little bit easier, right? Here, they’re not going to have that issue, because of the number of guests that can be in here at one time. So everything’s a little bit more intimate, a little bit closer together. With the plexiglass, you can really get up and look at the designs and the details. So yeah, that’s probably the biggest change.
SI: What was the difference in thinking between this exhibit and the earlier Marvel one? In the Marvel exhibit, there were a lot of architectural components.
RM: This one is really focusing on the costume. We wanted it to be very simple. We wanted the backgrounds to use the exact same Pantone colors as the mannequins, so they would kind of fade away. We use some lighting, just for effect. The [design] focus was just on the costume. They did a great job with just these little set pieces because it helps bring them to life. But it can very easily get overwhelming. It worked for the Marvel exhibit is experiential and you’re in this world. With this one, it’s more just focused on the past.
SI: Does your team manage Comic-Con, like when they had a stormtrooper exhibit?
RM: So there are different divisions within the company that handles things like events and Lucasfilm, especially if it’s a newer title. We will receive assets after production is completely done—advertising, marketing, all that stuff is complete. So sometimes, and we’ve had some things at Comic-Con before, but not at the scale of like Lucas.
SI: We hear you have now adopted the Fox archive?
RM: Yes. Yes. That was amazing. I’m a cinephile. So having some of those pieces in the collection, it’s so much fun, especially when you’re developing an exhibit like this is very specific, the Disney studio films, right this exhibit. But there are other ones we’re working on that we can incorporate other material? You know, Fox assets into it or Lucas.
SI: We appreciate the time and hopefully we’ll shake your hand at some point in the future.
RM: Appreciate it. Thank you.
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This interviews Disney Heroes & Villains: The Art of the Disney Costume was transcribed by https://otter.ai.
See the original D23 Disney Heroes & Villains exhibit through the eyes (or iPhone) of Disneyphile on YouTube
Daniel W. Rasmus
Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.