‘The Little Mermaid’ Costume Designer Colleen Atwood Explains How She Built Ariel’s Mermaid Tail

To bring Disney’s iconic mermaid princess, Ariel, to life in “The Little Mermaid,” costume designer Colleen Atwood constructed a life-size tail that ran from star Halle Bailey’s chest down her legs.

“We did it to scale and 3D screen printed the tail and painted over it so you could get the nuance of the colors,” says Atwood. “We used different layers of transparent material, which gave the tail and scales an iridescent effect.”

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Her biggest challenge was blending the tail scales into Bailey’s skin. “I solved that problem by putting in little fabric fins so there was a delineation between where the fish ends and the skin begins,” she says.

The intricate details helped the visual effects team, who then scanned the full costume to develop the CGI for the underwater scenes.

For Ariel’s dress that she wears when she finally comes down to earth, Atwood knew she wanted it to be blue – but getting the right shade took a lot of trial and error. “I tried a lot of different shades of blue,” she says. “But I felt that this slightly turquoise-tinged blue could be the sky or the ocean.”

As for Ariel’s six mermaid sisters, Atwood has created distinctive colors, fish-inspired patterns and silhouettes for each person. “I took the marks from an ocean where they resonated from. It helped the graphic palette of each fish and defined their design and character,” she says. . The Brazilian fish was red, blue and vibrant.

Melissa McCarthy as Ursula in Disney's live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID.  Photo courtesy of Disney.  © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

Melissa McCarthy as Ursula in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

When it came to Melissa McCarthy’s Ursula, the Sea Witch, Atwood opted for something glamorous yet dark to go with her cave. “As we know from science, an octopus changes color to match its surroundings, so we needed something dark,” says Atwood.

Atwood wanted to make it look like Ursula was surrounded by glamorous lights to show that she’s a “showgirl at heart.” She ended up using a purple sequined fabric with a layer of laser-cut black suede leather on top. “It broke it up and gave the outfit a real octopus skin texture,” she says.

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