Macbeth: Design Development

After feedback from my first few design ideas, I did a little more knit research before developing some new ideas for Lady Macbeth.


Macbeth research – knit (2)

I started thinking about layers of knits, contrasting fine with chunky, open and closed knits, loose and tight fitting. I began to think that trousers were not the right option for my Lady Macbeth. If she were that liberated and empowered would she not kill Duncan herself rather than have Macbeth do it? So while I tried her in knitted leggings I also put a knitted skirt with a slit over the top, so she while still having a relatively large amount of freedom of movement she is still a little restricted by the codes of her sex at the time. I scanned in some of my knitting samples and coloured them in photoshop before collaging onto my figure with them, and images of knitting from my research.


Macbeth – design development


Macbeth design development – Lady Macbeth


Macbeth design development – Lady Macbeth


Macbeth design development – Lady Macbeth

I was unhappy with these designs, I did not think they were quite the style I was going for with my production so I moved back towards my earlier silhouette and colour ideas. I kept a bit of layering and those chunky sleeves.


Macbeth design development – Lady Macbeth

My tutor still didn’t think I was capturing what my mood boards conveyed. She hinted it could be my method of drawing that wasn’t working. She also said that my designs had become too 20th century, which could be the fault of the boots. I was advised to go darker, so tried out my design in grey.


Macbeth design development – Lady Macbeth

Having my deign questioned made me a little unsure of myself. I felt a lot of pressure to have perfect design because it was going to be made, and would represent my skills in a costume show. I felt I needed to place it within the context of the other characters, and Lady Macbeth’s other costumes. So I set about designing the whole cast before I was ready to make my costume.

Macbeth: First Designs

From our mood boards we then began to design the costumes. I did a little extra research into interesting knitting stitches and pieces.


Macbeth research – knit (1)

I always sketch out my initial ideas onto little figures so I can work out shapes and proportions quickly before working up into larger costume drawings.


Macbeth – 1st ideas

We had been asked to design groups of characters. I used loosely Shakespearian era fashions, using some contemporary textiles.


Macbeth 1st ideas – men


Macbeth 1st ideas – women


Macbeth 1st ideas – witches

The feedback I was given was to definitely use collage on my drawings. I was also advised to loose the period, which in hindsight was a mistake. Without looking to period references I floundered a bit. I had my fabrics and textures, knitted and woven wool, and fur, but I didn’t quite know what to do for shapes.

I then tried out some machine knitting samples. It had been a while since using a machine on my foundation, but after short time it all came back and I had a lot of fun with different yarns, making holes and ladders, weaving things in and out, and fringing.


machine knit samples

Next I tried out some more ideas, and designed the Macbeth’s coronation costumes.


Macbeth – design development


Macbeth – design development


Macbeth – coronation

My tutor was still a little unhappy with these, we agreed that they didn’t look quite wild enough (though I do think fur trousers are pretty wild). My tutor felt I had lost what she like from my mood boards – more messy, less refined materials, think about layering knits. I was encouraged to continue working on Lady Macbeth, and to think about whether she would dress for practicality (trousers) or is she less gung-ho than that? More design development needed.

Gothic Design Project: Mood Boards

Next step after research for Macbeth and The Castle of Otranto was…mood boards! First came the ‘world mood boards’, which were meant to sum up the feel of the whole text: the story, the environment, its themes etc. Colour, texture and atmosphere are important here.

Through making my mood boards for Macbeth I began thinking about the symbolism of land and power, nature, and from that fur and wool. I really liked the misty and sort of desolate landscapes.


Macbeth mood board – world (1st)


Macbeth mood board – world (2nd)

For The Castle of Otranto I was thinking more about heavily decorated interiors, isolation, and the captivity of the female characters.

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The Castle of Otranto mood board – world (1st)

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The Castle of Otranto mood board – world (2nd)

After that we were asked to put our characters into groups and make mood boards for them. The men in Macbeth are mainly soldiers, roaming over a harsh landscape. They can be rough, and might be worn down by the violence they’ve seen and endured.


Macbeth mood board – the men

The women have to be tough too. Left alone for long periods of to run things at home they only have a little more delicacy to them. Between the two of them the Ladies Macbeth and Macduff have nurturing, controlling, and steely natures.


Macbeth mood board – the women

The Weird Sisters are above all things spooky, and they are at one with nature. It was at this point that I developed the idea that they saw animals as gods. In their pagan worship they try to undo the work of men, replacing reason with chaos. By planting the idea of being king in Macbeth’s head they throw Scotland into turmoil.


Macbeth mood board – the witches

The women in The Castle of Otranto are deeply religious. Seen by the men as existing purely for their desires, they are in fact more complex and can been seen to grow as characters through the piece.

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The Castle of Otranto mood board – the women

Onto designing costumes!

Gothic Design Project: Macbeth and The Castle of Otranto

Phew!! Second year is almost over and I haven’t had any time to upload my work so far, so here we go! The first project of the year was a ‘gothic’ design project. We were given the choice of designing the costumes for either Shakespeare’s Macbeth, or The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole. We would concentrate on one character and then make our final costume design. We began the project with an introductory lecture on the Gothick and Walpole etc. It turns out that at the time The Castle of Otranto was written (1764) people thought of almost everything that came beforehand as ‘gothick’, and so I drew influences all the way from Byzantine up until the 18th Century.

As per, I found it very difficult to make a decision about which text to design for. I loved the fantasy nature of The Castle of Otranto, with it’s heightened emotions and it’s tendancy to be a little ridiculous. But was also inclined to challenge myself with Macbeth, and found it hard to resist the chance to use tartan! I began by working on both, which became a bit of a mammoth task, and did cause problems for me later in the project.

Our first task was research. My mistake here was the assumption that reading the introductions and appendices to both texts, as well as my – generally quite good – historical knowledge of the periods involved, was enough. I did not collate my written research as I should have done, instead I created visual research boards. These were not what my tutor calls a ‘mood board’, which is a collection of evocative imagery not necessarily related to how you want your play/film to look, but rather to convey the mood of the piece using metaphors. What I produced were more similar to the kind of mood boards used in the film and television industries. I use them to pull shapes, styles and colours from when designing the costumes, I can’t design from thin air!

With Macbeth I was very influenced by medieval, viking and Pre-Raphaelite imagery. For The Castle of Otranto I found lots of gothic and renaissance paintings, as well as many from later periods, finding religious imagery especially relevant. For both I used the fabulously rich illustrations of Victor G. Ambrus.


Macbeth research – story


Macbeth research – Lady Macbeth


Macbeth research – Witches


Macbeth research – soldiers


Macbeth research – tartan

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The Castle of Otranto research – story


The Castle of Otranto research – architecture

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The Castle of Otranto research – Manfred

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The Castle of Otranto research – Hippolita

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The Castle of Otranto research – Matilda

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The Castle of Otranto research – Theodore

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The Castle of Otranto research – Father Jerome

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The Castle of Otranto research – Frederic

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The Castle of Otranto research – Isabella

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The Castle of Otranto research – Strawberry Hill House

Next step mood boards.

Is Mad Max: Fury Road better than the ‘originals’?

Once again it has been a while since my last post. We were thrown in at the deep end at the beginning of this year, and I’ve been left with little time for anything other than my uni work. But with the first three projects of the year completed I have some breathing room to update you on my progress. My work for our two design projects will follow, but for now how about my Critical and Contextual Studies essay from last year?

While writing essays can be a little tortuous for me, I did really love writing this one – or maybe I just loved that I got to write about a topic I was interested in and produced an essay I was proud of. It’s a shame I couldn’t talk about Jenny Beavan’s BAFTA winning costumes more, but I think you can tell who I thought should have won Special Visual Effects at this year’s awards.

How important is authenticity or originality in a work of ‘art’?

In this essay I aim to discuss how important the concept of originality is regarding the film Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). The Mad Max trilogy: Mad Max (1979), Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) possess originality, because they were made first, and for a while were unique. I will compare them to the recently released reboot, to decide whether the ‘originals’ or Fury Road are more successful films, and whether this is because they are originals. I will argue that Fury Road is a better film for having evolved from a tradition where three originals have already been made. Director George Miller has learnt from making the original trilogy and has returned with a new and improved version, updated for modern audiences. Technology, politics and changing values about equality have all had an impact on his filmmaking practice.

All the Mad Max films use dystopian themes that resonate with contemporary audiences. Walter Benjamin argues that ‘the manner in which human sense perception is organised, the medium in which it is accomplished, is determined not only by nature but by historical circumstances as well.’ (2007, p. 216) Audiences view films in context to the times they are from. Stephen Maher writes that the first two films ‘use visions of a collapsing society to express middle-class fears about the spread of urban criminality into suburban spaces, and the superficiality and emptiness of modern life.’ (2015) Nathan Abrams, Ian Bell and Jan Udris, write that the science fiction genre rests on ‘the ‘what if?’ question’ (2001, p. 185). Mad Max was inspired by the violence that accompanied the 1973 oil crisis. This particularly resonated with the audience because it showed them a possible, close at hand future, where fuel shortages have sparked violence and chaos. Ben Rawson-Jones supports that one reason Mad Max remains ‘so effective is because it all feels vaguely plausible.’ (2015) Road Warrior demonstrates further societal breakdown, revealing the aftermath of a great war between two ‘warrior tribes’. As Paul Mason observes, with the beginning of the ‘new cold war’ in 1979 ‘it became possible to imagine the world ending in a ball of flame, and what a post-apocalyptic society might look like.’ (2015) Beyond Thunderdome shows us the ruins of a modern city, and confirms that nuclear weapons are to blame. The attempt at civilisation depicted emulates our own: a world of commerce, lacking in spiritual values, where our leaders, like in Bartertown, ‘can make incremental progress but instead of bringing about reform, they are satisfied benefiting from the fallen state of things.’ (Sanes, 2000) The originals all connect to audiences by offering a possible, dark future for the world at the times they were made.

Fury Road shows us the most desolate landscape of all. Aligning with today’s audience anxieties about climate change, Fury Road shows ‘the disintegration of society and the regression of humanity into barbarism [that] goes hand in hand with widespread ecological destruction and resource scarcity’ (Maher, 2015) Civilisation is reduced to one despot who deals in commodities, among them water, food, gasoline and ammunition. Among his slaves, his educated wives ask ‘Who Stole the World?’ One possible answer is ‘toxic masculinity’ (feministmadmax, 2015). The question, and film, stand as a warning to the leaders of today that the situation is in their hands. Bryan Ghingold writes that ‘science fiction has been a tool for authors and filmmakers to warn us about our own decadence, greed, and quest for knowledge and control.’ (2011) In Fury Road we see a slave state run on false religious fervour, and the objectification of men and women alike. The chosen few women are objects for procreation and the harvesting of their milk; and men and boys become parts of machinery or soldiers. Once again Miller gives us an exaggerated version of the real world, past and present. Maher points to the metaphor of suicide bombing in regards to the War Boys’ aspiration for a glorious death in service to their godhead, and subsequent entry into Valhalla. (2015)

Erik Kain argues that there are ‘a jarring number of survivors, and feels more like a civilisation than a post-apocalyptic future of isolated settlements and roaming bandits.’ (2015) However, this gives more scope to the situation, giving a clearer and more desolate picture of the world. In the originals we have no idea what the rest of the world looks like or how people are living. Both the originals and the reboot are successful in showing what could happen if the world continued on its current paths. But Fury Road creates a world, though set further in the future than the originals, that has more parallels with our own world, and therefore raises more questions and has a greater impact on contemporary audiences.

Online media means that people all over the world are watching Fury Road simultaneously and commenting on it. Benjamin argues that ‘the greatly increased mass of participants has produced a change in the mode of participation.’ (2007, p. 232) Online media influences audiences’ perceptions. Mad Max prompted outrage on release, for its violence and ‘exploitative take on heroism.’ (Mason, 2015) Fury Road on the other hand, has sparked positive debate about the representation of women in film. This created media attention for the film, increasing its viewing numbers, and in turn showed the industry that people want to see, and enjoy seeing, women with agency in film. Rawson-Jones writes that the originals don’t lack ‘warrior women’ either. (2015) But Sasha James argues that ‘with the exception of Tina Turner’s Aunty Entity [in Beyond Thunderdome], there is no focus on female agency – especially in regard to heroism.’ (2015) Fury Road’s use of gender and sex is utilitarian. The female characters ‘use their womanhood as a weapon’ and are able to ‘enact as much agency as its men. They are allowed to survive by whatever means are available to them.’ (2015)

Mad Max is simply a fantastical speculation of a dystopian future, while Fury Road is more successful at making a political point. The originals do not attempt to address gender even though the issue was around at the time. James asks whether Fury Road is Miller’s answer to his own misogynist franchise. (2015) Science fiction can be used to address concerns about ideology as much as technology. (Abrams, Bell and Udris, 2001, p. 185) Fury Road tries to alter the real world by drawing our attention to the injustice of inequality. In the film people are ‘reduced to objects valued only for their utility.’ (Richmond, 2015) This might seem an extreme scenario but in some parts of the world slavery, sexism and other kinds of discrimination have and do exist. In Fury Road ‘the world director and writer George Miller has created shows the horror of sexism and the necessity of freedom from patriarchy.’ (Valenti, 2015) He has addressed the same issues as in the original, but has added gender, relevantly and effectively.

New techniques and technologies in filmmaking, invented since the originals were made, has meant that the spectacular visuals at the core of Fury Road, were possible. Making the film with the intention of releasing it in 3D pushed the filmmakers further visually. As Benjamin says ‘the work of art produced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility.’ (2007, p. 218) The filmmakers have made more dynamic action sequences by incorporating movement that lends itself to a 3D viewing. Rawson-Jones argues that in Mad Max: ‘there clearly wasn’t much money to play with, unlike the expansive Fury Road, yet what George Miller excels at is orchestrating and executing every action sequence and emotional beat to precision. The carnage that ensues when the cars and bikes thunder across the roads is on a tiny scale compared to Fury Road, but still instils that same immersive sense of jeopardy and lodges hearts firmly in mouths.’ (2015) However the use of CGI in Fury Road has allowed Miller to make a much faster paced, visually stunning car chase. Kain argues that it is simply a new, vamped up, extended version of the one in The Road Warrior, and that ‘it does lose some of the gritty realism that made Road Warrior so effective.’ (2015) However the CGI, used in conjunction with real stunts and practical effects, adds another level and quality to the action on screen.

CGI has also helped create a more established despotic world. The Citadel’s towers are entirely CGI, but built up of photography of mountains, to create a new but natural looking structure. (Flicks and the City, 2015) As Debord argues, ‘the spectacle that falsifies reality is nevertheless a real product of that reality…Reality emerges within the spectacle.’ (1983, pp. 8-9) Kain argues that the use of CGI ‘detracts from a sense that this is our world laid low by nuclear war.’ (2015) But where in Mad Max and The Road Warrior the Australian ‘wasteland’ was clearly recognisable, with it’s vestiges of society – roads, houses and businesses – in Fury Road we have a barren desert, and an unrecognisable city. It is clearer than ever that we are on a post-apocalyptic Earth, flattened by nuclear war.

Benjamin explains how new technologies and techniques can enhance the visual experience. (2007, pp. 229-230) Being able to use digital cameras in Fury Road meant easier editing and adding of visual effects. The cinematographer John Seale says ‘you can change it, manipulate it, [it] allows you [to] do anything you like. I know with Mad Max [Fury Road], it won’t look anything like a ‘good film image’ and it won’t look anything like a ‘good digital image’…it will look like its own image. I think that’s the wonder of it.’ (2015) The visual effects which include sky replacement, innovative colour grading, extensive environment work, and some pyrotechnics, have created a visual experience that surpasses the originals. (WIRED, 2015)

The original films’ narratives are borrowed from the classic Western. Max is the solitary fighter who ends up a hero. He is ‘the lone gunman in the dusty West, up against the group of outlaws, helping protect the good townsfolk.’ (Kain, 2015) In Road Warrior this is exactly what happens. Beyond Thunderdome ‘like Westerns and other frontier stories, it is about humanity’s exile from civilization, and the founding, or, in this case, the refounding, of civilization.’ (Sanes, 2000) Voltaire argued that ‘originality is nothing but judicious plagiarism.’ (Deathridge, 2003) All the films borrow from each other and outside influences, Fury Road is part of the Mad Max ‘tradition’. Deathridge argues that ‘people prefer the idea of originality, something new, or someone who’s producing something new, inside a tradition without realising those two things are rather contradictory, because you can’t have a tradition without people stealing from everybody else and sharing a language.’ (2003) Benjamin argues that ‘the uniqueness of a work of art is inseparable from its being imbedded in the fabric of tradition.’ (2007, p. 217) Kain argues that Fury Road is a big budget remake of the action sequence in The Road Warrior (2015) In Road Warrior ‘the audience sees only what Max sees. It feels very personal…Even the big action sequences are carried out with some sense of intimacy.’ In Fury Road ‘since we see the world through both her [Furiosa’s] and Max’s eyes (and from the perspective of the villain Immortan Joe and the War Boy Nux) we maintain a wider, less personal scope.’ This is likely deliberate on Miller’s part, he wants us to experience, and therefore understand, this world from different viewpoints.

Miller has had 30 years to collect ideas and meditate on his plot.‘Benjamin conceives texts – and memory, too – as material, as woven.’ (Leslie, 1998, p. 7) ‘The ability to tell stories, Benjamin tells us, is rooted in two factors; travel to faraway places and knowledge of past local lore.’ (p. 5) In the modern world knowledge of faraway places, as well as an array of stories from different places and genres, is easily accessible through things such as the media, television and the internet. Fury Road is rooted in the tradition of Mad Max, and the traditions of the genres of westerns and science fiction dystopias. ‘Fury Road feels like a Mad Max film ought to feel. Weird, almost incoherent, a bizarro punk-rock muscle car vision of the future, where gas is scarce but everyone drives fast and burns it anyways.’ (Kain, 2015) It fits with the originals, but the narrative has been crafted for the times, to be powerful and thoroughly entertaining.

In regards to the importance of originality in the Mad Max films, it does not matter that Fury Road is not one of the originals. But it is better for having evolved from them. It uses the same genres of western and dystopia to comment on modern issues, but is more successful. As a social commentary Fury Road has more impact because, while Miller has addressed similar issues, he has done so more obviously. The reaction to this film, which is due to a combination of discussion of its representation of women and its spectacular visuals, has mainly been possible due to the prevalence of social media, and online media in general. Technology has also made it possible to improve upon the action and landscapes of the original films. Fury Road could not be what it is without belonging to the Mad Max ‘tradition’, but Miller has updated and improved the narrative and message. As Mason says ‘the subtext of most modern dystopias is the futility of rebellion…In Mad Max: Fury Road rebellion happens. It is spectacular, it is feminist.’ (2015)

Works cited:
Mad Max (1979) Directed by George Miller [Film]. UK: Warner Bros.
Mad Max 2: The Road Wrrior (1981) Directed by George Miller [Film]. UK: Warner Bros.
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) Directed by George Miller and George Ogilvie [Film]. UK: Warner Bros.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) Directed by George Miller [Film]. UK: Warner Bros. Pictures

Abrams, N., Bell, I. and Udris, J. (ed.) (2001) Studying Film. Great Britain: Arnold. Studying the Media.
Benjamin, W. (2007) ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, in Arendt, H. (ed.) Illuminations. New York: Schocken Books.
Debord, G. (1983) Society of the Spectacle. Detroit: Black & Red.

Leslie, E. (1998) ‘Walter Benjamin: Traces of Craft’, Journal of Design History, Vol. 11 No. 1, pp. 5-12. doi:

Online Newpapers/Magazines:
James, S (2015) Mad Max: Fury Road: George Miller’s Feminist Answer to His Own Franchise? Available at: (Accessed: 8 June 2015)
Kain, E. (2015) ‘Mad Max’ Review: 5 Reasons Why ‘Road Warrior’ Is Better Than ‘Fury Road’ Available at: (Accessed: 9 June 2015)
Maher, S. (2015) Mad Max and the End of the World Available at: (Accessed: 9 June 2015)

Mason, P. (2015) The ultra-violent world of Mad Max no longer shocks us – it’s too close to reality. Available at: (Accessed: 8 June 2015).
Rawson-Jones, B. (2015) Re-Viewed: Mad Max – How does the 1979 original compare to Fury Road? Available at: (Accessed: 8 June 2015)
Valenti, J. (2015) Sexists are scared of Mad Max because it is a call to dismantle patriarchies. Available at: (Accessed: 10 June 2015).

Cinematographer John Seale captures ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (2015) Available at: (Accessed: 9 June 2015)
feministmadmax (2015) hey girl Available at: (Accessed: 10 June 2015). Ghingold, B. (2011) Science Fiction: Tool of Social Critique Available at: (Accessed: 9 June 2015)
Richmond (2015) We Are Not Things: The Themes and Imagery of Mad Max: Fury Road. Available at: (Accessed: 8 June 2015).

Flicks and the City (2015) 12 Things You Didn’t Know About Mad Max Fury Road. Available at: (Accessed: 11 June 2015)
WIRED (2015) Mad Max Fury Road: Choreographing Complex Stunts & Car Chases | Design FX. Available at: (Accessed: 9 June 2015).