‘The Masked Dancer’ Designers’ Eye-Popping Looks Help Contestants Put Their Best Foot Forward

Fox’s latest incognito hit, “The Masked Dancer,” like “The Masked Singer,” relies on fantastical costumes to both hide the contestant and offer clues as to the person’s true identity. For “Masked Dancer,” which debuted just after Christmas, that meant not only turning out glittery, colorful, oversize and sometimes mythical costumes and masks but also making sure that the celebs inside the creations could move around freely.

Yet the biggest challenge costume designers Gabrielle Letamendi and Candice Rainwater faced involved making sure the contestant’s identity remained concealed even as they danced. Rainwater notes that not even skin or a lock of hair could be revealed, and the contestants also had to be able to have enough visibility to move around the stage with the show’s regular troupe of dancers (who are also masked).

For instance, while contestant Tulip’s head covering is indeed an enormous flower, it’s quite light because, Letamendi says, the show employs “talented mask makers that we collaborate with, and they keep us aware of the available material that we could use,” including foams and Kydex, a type of plastic. Still, there were added considerations due to shooting in the time of COVID-19. “We didn’t get to do as many fittings as we normally would have,” the designer says.

It takes a team of five, on average, two to four weeks to build one of the costumes. Everything is hand-stitched, down to the last sequin and rhinestone, says Rainwater. And they have to build two of every costume and mask in case one gets damaged.

Since the celebs on “Masked Dancer” aren’t necessarily dancers but people who love to dance, like recently unmasked Bill Nye the Science Guy (he was Ice Cube), creative director Tiana Gandelman says, “What I encourage is that the choreographers are there to support the celebrities. So I’m saying to them, ‘You guys, this is a workshop. If you feel comfortable doing a certain move, go for it.’ If they don’t, find a resolution. But I put my trust into my choreographers.”

Gandelman also worked on “Masked Singer” and brought over to “Dancer”  lessons learned on the series, including the use of augmented reality. AR has been used by both shows, which are shooting under COVID protocols, to fill out the studio audience and create background sets. For “Dancer,” however, everyone got a little more comfortable with AR and what they could do with it under tight schedules. “On ‘Dancer,’ we found our feet,” Gandelman says — pun intended. “It did build the atmosphere of our stage.”

Despite the familiar format, Gandelman says different tests still present themselves. “The shows may have [more or less] the same title, but there are still new hurdles to jump, and we’re getting better and better with the tech and the talent and the costumes,” she says. “We keep challenging ourselves and meeting it.”

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