Chapel Hill News

Costume production students create 'Dune' stillsuit

In the movie “Dune,” the stillsuit can turn sweat and other bodily fluids into cold water for survival on the desert planet Arrakis,

The stillsuit replica on the second floor of The Paul Green Theatre serves a different purpose.

While companies are developing technology like the stillsuit, a piece of clothing that all humans on Arrakis must wear, the main purpose of the one in the Paul Green Theatre is to last.

Students and faculty in UNC’s Master of Fine Arts program in costume production have been working on three projects for The Museum of Science Fiction, opening in Washington, D.C., in 2018.

So far they’ve produced Neo’s black costume from “The Matrix” and the white stewardess outfit from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which has already been displayed at Reagan National Airport.

Since one of The Museum of Science Fiction’s unofficial taglines is “Yesterday’s science fiction is today’s reality,” they wanted to display a “Dune” stillsuit replica.

Costume production students and faculty are replicating Dr. Kynes’ stillsuit from “Dune,” the 1984 movie based on the 1965 book by Frank Herbert. Kynes is a prominent ecologist and planetologist in the story.

The stillsuit replica is scheduled to ship out next week to join the other two costumes at “Escape Velocity,” The Museum of Science Fiction’s fundraising event, in July 1-3.

The original costume was made of latex and is not in good enough condition to be displayed.

“Those items weren’t built to last a year, let alone 40 years,” said Steve Dreyer, vice president of visitor experience for The Museum of Science Fiction.

They’re creating the stillsuit in two different halves but once it’s on display it will still have the same unitard look as in the movie.

The “Dune” replica has a neoprene base, followed by layers of foam. After “skinning” and spandexing it, a leather weld will add a sheen that looks like latex but will last longer, said Jennifer Guadagno, assistant costume director. They will then treat it to give it a worn look in certain areas.

“What our stillsuit needs to be is not an exact copy of the initial one,” said Rachel Pollock, costume crafts artisan. “It needs to be something that will last in a museum on a mannequin for 20 years for 40 years for 100 years, and latex will not do that.”

Costume director Judy Adamson established the MFA in costume production 20 years ago. The three-year program accepts two or three students a year and has about seven students at one time.

As a science fiction fan, Pollock said contributing to The Museum of Science Fiction is exciting.

“It’s gratifying for them to recognize my expertise as an artist and an engineer of costumes and to want us to participate in a way other than spectatorship,” she said.

Stout: 919-829-4628