Earlier this year, Saban’s Power Rangers from director Dean Israelite hit theaters with a new generation of heroes. But in a break from the classic 1993 series, the movie ditched the spandex in favor of shiny armor designed by New Zealand studio Weta Workshop. Costume designer Kelli Jones, whose credits include Sons of Anarchy and Straight Outta Compton, was then tasked with actually making functional costumes for five teens fighting against Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). It took three months to make sure the Power Rangers’ costumes were in fighting shape.
Costuming superheroes after outfitting rappers and bikers was a learning curve for Jones, who had never before dressed superheroes. “Making suits that are scanned onto bodies, that was challenging,” Jones told Inverse in a phone interview. ”That was something I needed to get my feet wet on, because the superhero world is where it’s at. Everything I learned will come in handy on everything I’m doing in the future.” Now she’s working on Fox’s new X-Men series, The Gifted, so the Power Rangers experience really has been huge.
The movie had to explain how exactly the kids got into those costumes when it was morphin’ time — there was no phone booth like in classic Superman stories. “It comes out of their skin,” Jones explained. “It looks multi-dimensional and translucent. Weta, they’re magicians. They had never done anything like that before. It was a lot of R&D from every single angle. They were stressed as anyone making those suits.”
That the suits come from within and are shaped to fit the Rangers’ bodies explains why the two female heroes had the divisive breast armor. In many fandoms, shaped breast armor is a trope that has been spoofed because of how impractical they are. But Jones defends their use on the Rangers.
“First of all, the original Rangers had skirts on,” Jones says, referring to the original TV costumes. “People were up in arms about it, like, ‘Oh my god, these girls have boobs.’ The fact is these girls do have boobs, so to make them androgynous, what’s the point when the original Rangers had skirts? I think the alternative would have looked off. To fit those girls, they would have to be flat and so far off their bodies that it wouldn’t have looked right.”
Jones admits that the breast armor “maybe looked more pronounced” in promotional images than in the movie, “but no one saw an issue with it” on set.
Jones didn’t create the initial concepts of the new Power Rangers, but the actual making of the costumes, and ensuring they were stunt-friendly, fell on her shoulders. “I was thrown into the build process,” Jones says. “Weta sent us samples of rocks and materials, and then we [Dean Israelite and I] would go through materials for the exact mold. Shapes changed, more tweaking, changing the helmets — we didn’t really get them on the actors until about a week before they shot.”
In all, 250 versions of the Power Rangers costumes were made, with each suit consisting of about 30 pieces. Tweaks were made to ensure that the stuntmen, as well as the actors, could move with ease. They achieved their goal — for the most part. Every change came with some kind of price. “Once we tweaked it to get it functional, we lost how cool it was,” says Jones. “It was a tug of war. It was back and forth and back and forth until you finally go, ‘This is right.’”
While the old TV costumes were functional, they were also low-grade in a charming way (like Adam West’s Batman costume in a more flattering trim). The new costumes had a big idea behind them: In Israelite’s vision, the Morphing Grid — the alien energy that connects the teens to their powers — flows through and within their costumes. The new diamond chest piece is a “window” into their energy, and the suits exist as an extension of their own bodies. Hence the organic, liquid texture to all that metal.
One of the stars, Becky G (“Trini,” the Yellow Ranger) told Inverse that wearing those suits was a mixed bag. “I know everyone always makes this grand answer, like, ‘It was amazing,’ and trust me it was, but it was so uncomfortable,” she says. “These suits are made to look good on camera, so you had to stand a specific way. But when you see what it looks like on camera, and when we saw it in the mirror for the first time, it was a surreal moment, like, ‘Wow, I’m a superhero now.’”
In addition to the five Power Rangers, Jones also helped outfit Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), a former Green Ranger gone bad who terrorizes Angel Grove. But Jones didn’t know her background at first. “She was originally [dressed in] black. We were gonna leave her charred and [Dean] was like, ‘Actually, she’s the Green Ranger,’ so it evolved from there. We wanted her to look evil and menacing, crazy, and original.”
There was also no effort made in trying to hide the “twist” of Rita’s Power Ranger past. “Even Elizabeth tweeted something to play around. I think if they wanted to hide it they would have photoshopped the color.”
In making big movies that bank on nostalgic properties, it’s always a challenge whether or not to stay faithful to the source material or try something new. While Jones says that she ensured “the legacy stood up for people who have high nostalgia,” she wasn’t afraid to make things different. “Everybody’s tastes change. People shy from something new. As soon as they get used to it, it becomes familiar again. That’s what happened with the Rangers. I don’t like change either, so I get that.”
Saban’s Power Rangers is available now on Blu-ray and Digital HD.