The believability of an alien planet is of great importance in a television show like Stargate, and that means the demands are great on its costume designers. Christina McQuarrie
was with the show for over ten years, and in that time she developed literally thousands of costumes for hundreds of races.
From the System Lords
to the miners of P8X-412
, McQuarrie's team was responsible for kicking out convincing civilizations every week on SG-1
. This meant designing not only human costumes but the many alien races we encountered -- save for the Asgard
, of course, who wore nothing.
GateWorld took time with the costume designer to discuss her journey in the Stargate franchise and her current assignment on the SyFy hit Sanctuary
This interview runs approximately 26 minutes and is available in audio. It's also transcribed below!
GateWorld: Christina, you have been designing costumes for over 20 years. How did you get into this?
Christina McQuarrie: Well, it started a long time ago. I was in theater for 10 years and as the film industry started to grow in Vancouver, a lot of us migrated over into that. It was sort of a natural transition at the time. I loved it and never went back to theater.
GW: How did you get into theater, originally? Was it your pursuit to get into costume design or was it just something you fell into?
CM: No, I absolutely fell into it. I didn't quite know what I was doing, although I'd always loved theater and I'd always loved clothing. Then by sheer happenstance I ended up working in our major theater company. I worked with a woman who was out from London and she taught me an awful lot. It was in the days when you could almost apprentice. So I did a lot of theater work and did do some design for theater, then made the shift over.
GW: What kind of differences were there between doing design work for theater -- costume designing -- and then for television and movies? Are there timetable differences? Lighting? How does that work?
McQuarrie enjoyed developing different period pieces for the Highlander TV series.
CM: Well, it's quite hugely different. The theater that I was involved in, it's very period oriented and a lot of that sort of approach is very overdone if you see it on film. On film, everything has to be very real, even if it is like a period costume. You have to change your theatricality, you have to tone that right down -- unless you're doing a very special piece. You're dealing with much more reality.
However, as time passed and science fiction started to come into my life, then there's a different kind of theatricality, which I absolutely love because we got back into what I call "real costume." It's fabulous. Although it's not specifically period, it's extremely creative and it can be very, very strange -- and very challenging -- in a really wonderful way.
GW: You worked on Highlander. That was one of my favorite television series when I was growing up. You can tell how young I am that way.
CM: Oh that's OK, I was young then too [Laughter]. I loved that. That still is one of my favorite shows partly because it had this wonderful time travel and we got to go to different parts of the world and different periods and it was just totally something I loved. That was before I had discovered this other science fiction world, but at that point that was my favorite show. I did love it.
GW: Would you have preferred science fictions shows or doctors and lawyers shows where you could basically go to a store or specialty shop and buy whatever?
CM: No. I love the challenge and I love the creativity of the science fiction world. It's fabulous. I'm very happy with the fact that I've been able to do it for quite a long time now. I don't mind having the odd break from it because sometimes your mind begins to seize up with trying to find something new to do.
I must say that over the years I was on Stargate there were times when it was like, "Oh my God, how many ways can you cut the cloth?" There's only so many things you can do so the challenge is huge! So it's almost relaxing to be able to do a show where everybody's wearing a suit. It's like "Yahoo!" [Laughter]
GW: Exactly. Apophis is coming in in gold trim every single week, wouldn't you just like him to show up in jeans and a t-shirt for once?
CM: Exactly! Absolutely! It's nice if there's a bit of a mix and you can sort of go both ways because each thing offers its own challenge.
GW: Michael Shanks was talking about when he was playing Daniel earlier in the show, the show was much more based in ancient Earth cultures and as the show grew, you guys began to develop your own mythology.
McQuarrie found herself with a real challenge in the number of costumes she had to produce for the SG-1 pilot.
CM: That's very true. Totally. In the beginning, because that's where the movie started, we were in the ancient world, and then we started creating worlds. Boy, that was fun and interesting and, again, hugely challenging. And that carried on through into Atlantis because, of course, those were totally created worlds.
GW: When you would do a planet, like Pelops' planet in Season One, I think the episode was "Brief Candle", it has a very strong Greek mythology. Would you get Greek books and look there for inspiration or would you just go from scratch?
CM: Actually a lot of the reference work was artwork, and not specifically historic, because that's scratchings on a wall ...
GW: Hieroglyphs and carvings!
CM: That's right! But there are some wonderful paintings, and I think that one in particular, I seem to remember that there was a painting from probably the 19th century, because they romanticized the Greek era. There were some really beautiful paintings from that period, from the early 19th century or something like that, and I think that was where I took my lead, from that, for that particular episode, because it was all flowy.
GW: Would you work pretty closely with [Stargate SG-1 Production Designer] Richard Hudolin to make sure that the sets matched the costumes reasonably well, that they fit into the same universe?
CM: Yes, it is important to work with your production designer, art director and your set decorators, just so that you're all trying to keep the color palette together. And obviously the style. Some production designers are more involved and more concerned about costume than others, which is a different sort of situation, but you do have to work with them, absolutely.
GW: When you were brought aboard to do Stargate obviously they did go back to Abydos for a little bit in that pilot. Did you go over the film with a fine-tooth comb?
"It is important to work with your production designer, art director and your set decorators, just so that you're all trying to keep the color palette together."
CM: We did. We definitely were looking at the film a lot and in the very beginning we actually had some pieces that we worked from for the beginning of Stargate. They were ... some of those ... what were they called, the big heads that we used ...
GW: The Horus guards.
CM: The Horus guards. Of course, that goes into the prop cost. There were so many elements of costume in that show, I did not do the big prosthetic heads and things like that. We had the whole model shop that did a lot of costume pieces and elements. It was fabulous. A lot of the armor, headpieces, all that kind of stuff would come through the model shop.
GW: So the art director designed the Serpent heads, for instance?
CM: Absolutely, yes. And sometimes I would design things that they would create or it would be a combination of the art department and me, for armor. So there was a big interdisciplinary department. It was fabulous. It was absolutely a wonderful experience.