Imagine a civilization thousands of years old, building a flourishing society far beneath the ocean’s surface.

What would their buildings look like? Their technology? And of course, what would they wear? These questions are what the people behind DC‘s upcoming Aquaman movie, out December 21, grappled with when creating the kingdom of Atlantis.

A lot of what we consider the standard rules of physics go out the window in Atlantis due to its underwater location. For instance, unless you’re on a plane, travel usually requires you to stay on a single axis; you can’t be strolling down the street and then suddenly start walking upwards into the air. In Atlantis, however, those rules no longer apply. People can travel by moving vertically, horizontally, diagonally, or any other which way, because they’re moving through water. It’s like being in zero gravity, production designer Bill Brzeski said, or “on the Space Station.” So on Atlantean buildings, “doors are on the top, on the bottom,” which means we might be in for some funky takes on architecture.

Although Atlantis is a fairly weapons-heavy society, living underwater means no standard metals. The rust levels would be off the charts. Instead, Atlantean weapons incorporate structural and visual elements from marine life. Guns are made out of materials like mother-of-pearl or coral, explained weapons designer Richard Mansfield, while their shapes are inspired by “the line work that you’d see in nature,” such as the throat grooves on a whale.

What Will AQUAMAN’s Atlantis Look Like?_1
Credit: Sean Hoyland

Sort of like this.

(Okay, the guns are actually made out of stuff like polymers and 3D-printed plastics, but on screen they’re meant to be coral all the way.)

Why does Atlantis have so many weapons, anyway? The short answer, said Brzeski, is that it’s still stuck in a much older mindset regarding society and politics. “It’s a very tough place, Atlantis. It’s technologically advanced, but culturally they’re still living in, like, Game of Thrones.” Hence the presence of monarchy, “ritualized combat,” and fights to the death for the throne. To reflect this, Atlantis’s overall aesthetic echoes classical Greco-Roman architecture and sculpture “mash[ed] up” with other early cultures, which is a riff on the real-life roots of the Atlantis myth. “It came from the Greeks,” Brzeski noted. “Plato is the one who told us the story of Atlantis.”

“Underwater Classical Greece with coral guns” is already quite the pitch, but such a distinctive setting needs equally distinctive fashion. Maybe that’s why Aquaman‘s costume inspirations range from famous paintings to marine biology to international body modifications. We can look forward to seeing ancient Atlanteans in outfits inspired by traditional Pacific Islander tattoos and clothing, while modern Atlanteans will be sporting colorful, sealife-inspired ensembles.

“It’s technologically advanced, but culturally they’re living in Game of Thrones.”
Because the Atlanteans have worked so hard for millennia to remain undiscovered by humans, said costume designer Kym Barrett, “I felt like [the costumes] should be very camouflaged in a way.” So if a human caught a glimpse of an Atlantean while, say, flying over the ocean, “it shouldn’t look like a person in a suit.” Instead, Barrett said, “it should look like some scales moving under the water, or some glow-in-the-dark octopus moving in the water, or a school of sharks. So the backs of the costumes would be the patterning of a shark, for example.”

In an ocean environment, that camouflage often means shiny, striking colors and textiles that evoke certain images rather than going full-on fish. Hence clothing with “abstract fish texture and color patterns,” said Barrett, or metallic outfits with geometric patterns that “give a scale-like impression without having scales,” almost like “a kind of cellular structure.”

Image: Whit Welles

Sort of like this.

If you like your references more highbrow, how about some Austrian symbolist art? In addition to the many colors and varieties of the creatures inhabiting our oceans, the art of Gustav Klimt also provided aesthetic inspiration for Atlantis’s fashion trends.

Image: Gustav Klimt

Klimt, most famous for his painting The Kiss, loved his yellows, golds, bright earth tones, and metallics. “There’s something about those Klimt paintings that has quite a reflective, underwater [feel],” Barrett said.

Exactly how this variety of influences will look when everything’s put together remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: viewers won’t have seen anything quite like it before.

What do you hope to see in Aquaman‘s Atlantis? Tell us below!