Costume Designer Mayes C. Rubeo has designed costumes for superheroes, apocalyptic worlds, and ancient times. She has even designed costumes for CGI characters. And the Mexico City-born Rubeo made history by becoming the first Latina to ever be nominated for an Oscar in the Best Costume Design category when she was recognized for her work on Taika Waititi's 2018 comedy-drama Jojo Rabbit.
Rubeo began her working relationship with Waititi in 2016, designing the costumes for the short film Team Thor. The two most recently re-teamed for Thor: Love and Thunder. "Taika Waititi is a turmoil of ideas," Rubeo tells A.frame about working with the director. "I like to be constantly challenged. That's why I thrive working in costumes, because it's a new thing every day. And, for me, it was nothing but a great experience."
Coming off of last fall's Werewolf by Night and this summer's Blue Beetle, Rubeo has several upcoming projects, including Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes and Deadpool 3. Below, A.frame lists the essential films of her career so far.
Rubeo’s first time designing the costumes for a feature film was on The Arrival. This sci-fi movie, written and directed by David Twohy, follows Zane (Charlie Sheen), a radio astronomer whose life gets turned upside down once he discovers intelligent alien life! He soon finds himself in a lot of danger since the aliens are trying to hide a deadly secret.
Set in the early 1500s in Yucatán, Mexico, Apocalypto follows a young hunter named Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) who is captured and taken to a Mayan city for a human sacrifice. The epic journey continues as Jaguar Paw attempts to escape so that he may return to his family. This action adventure was nominated for three Oscars: Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Makeup.
In a featurette for the film, Rubeo discussed researching the history of the Mayans to bring the costumes to life. "To set all the different tones that we wanted to use, we made samples of all these colors from natural vegetables and animals that the Mayans used," she explained. Every single thing you see in this movie is hand-sewn, handmade; you can’t take any shortcuts."
This epic sci-fi action adventure from filmmaker James Cameron introduced viewers to the lush planet of Pandora, home of the indigenous Na'vi. Avatar follows Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paralyzed former Marine in the year 2154 who becomes a part of the Avatar Program, which enables humans to link their minds to biological human/Na'vi hybrid bodies called Avatars. In his Avatar, he meets and falls in love with Na’vi native Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña). As Jake's love for Neytiri grows, however, he is drawn into the battle for the survival of Pandora and is torn between helping Neytiri save her home planet and remaining loyal to the Colonel (Stephen Lang) who gave him his Avatar.
"When you work on a movie that has that kind of technology, for me, my experience hasn’t changed because I still build the costumes... so the actors can wear them," Rubeo reflected on working on Avatar in an interview with the Costume Designers Guild.
Avatar is the highest grossing film of all time. It was nominated for nine Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, and won three: Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, and Best Art Direction. While Rubeo isn't attached, its long-awaited sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water, hits theaters on Dec. 16.
Brad Pitt stars as former U.N. investigator Gerry Lane in this epic zombie movie from Marc Forster. A lethal virus, spread through a single bite, is turning healthy people into feral, vicious zombies. Cities are erupting into chaos. With all of humankind in danger, Lane leads an investigation to find how the outbreak originated in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.
In this Zhang Yimou fantasy action adventure taking place in ancient China, a European mercenary warrior (Matt Damon) in search of gunpowder is imprisoned within the Great Wall of China. There, he encounters the secret Chinese warriors who defend the Great Wall against monstrous creatures. He joins them to defend the great wonder of the world against the waves of besieging beasts. Yimou, the director behind 2002's Hero and 2004's House of Flying Daggers, once again delivers breathtaking spectacle.
"I spent 11 months in China, having already spent two in Italy, studying and doing initial research. Time went very fast," she told The National Student in 2017. "You had regular contact with the director, sticking to the same schedule and had to have everything in order. It was very organized."
Taika Waititi made sure to make the third Thor film visually stunning. More lighthearted and comedic than the first two, Ragnarok follows Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as he’s imprisoned on the planet Sakaar and made to fight against other creatures, including the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Thor then devises a plan to escape the planet and stop the villain Hela (Cate Blanchett) from destroying his home of Asgard.
In an interview with Awards Daily in 2017, Rubeo explained that, between the cast and the crowd of extras, she made about 1,700 costumes for Ragnarok.
With Jojo Rabbit, Rubeo landed her first Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design. She was also honored with the Costume Designers Guild Award for Excellence in Period Film. Set during World War II, the film follows a lonely 10-year-old German boy, Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), whose imaginary friend is his hero, Adolf Hitler (Waititi). However, Jojo is conflicted after he discovers that his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic. Jojo Rabbit received a total of six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, and ultimately won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Rubeo described the inspiration for the film as the wartime aesthetics of the Neorealist Italian films of the '40s, per The Hollywood Reporter, with the goal that the movie "should be World War II in the summertime with a brightness as seen through JoJo’s eyes. We did not want this to be a [black-and-white] documentary, we wanted to do something different in a respectful way." She also made sure that Rosie’s character was more fashionable and wore bright colors, with an emphasis on her red-and-white shoes – that play a major role in the film.
Returning to the world of Thor, Rubeo was able to design costumes for a whole new set of characters. Love and Thunder sees Thor teaming up with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Waititi) and ex-girlfriend Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) to take down Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale). In one pivotal scene, Thor gets a massive surprise when he sees Jane inexplicably wielding his old hammer, Mjolnir, and revealing herself as Mighty Thor.
"They're all fun costumes. Come on! I mean, a new Valkyrie, insecure Thor, Mighty Thor, and Gorr, and all of Omnipotence City," Rubeo tells A.frame. "There were so many costumes to figure out."