'The Masked Singer' Designer Marina Toybina Shares Costume Secrets and Original Sketches (Exclusive)
By Desiree Murphy
Meet the visual mastermind behind the intricate, fun and fabulously bizarre costumes on The Masked Singer!
Marina Toybina has been in the business for a while now, with a resume that includes everything from costume design work for TV shows like So You Think You Can Dance to creating for pop stars like Britney Spears, Carrie Underwood, Katy Perry and, yes, even those famous sharks you saw dancing around her during the Super Bowl XLIX Halftime Show. But the Emmy-winning costume designer has taken her creations to a whole new level after landing a gig with the most popular competition series on TV right now.
"This is right up my alley and everything I've been doing for the past 15-20 years, so when the opportunity came around and I saw the link to the original [Korean] shows [that inspired it] I was like, 'This is something that I have to take a shot at,'" Toybina tells ET. "One of my biggest dreams is to do film and features, and I figured this would be the way to kinda combine all of my knowledge from fashion to costuming to all the tours and big events I've done. You don't really see anything this cinematic for TV. So, it's great to bring it to the viewers."
Toybina says it took her about three weeks to sketch out the ideas. She came up with a total of 20 original artwork pieces and then, along with producers and the network, narrowed it down to the final 12 they wanted to feature on The Masked Singer, keeping the cast in mind. From there, she did all the fabric shopping herself and worked with a team to build the elaborate costumes from scratch within an impressive timeline: just under two months.
"We were kind of choosing the costumes that were appropriate for the casting. Some of the celebrities had a choice as far as who they wanted to be or who they related to," says Toybina, who is exclusively sharing her original sketches of the final 12 designs with ET. "One hundred percent what you see in the sketches is what I was able to replicate with my incredible team. I kept it very authentic to its original concepts and details."
"It took us truly going back to the old-school way of costume design, in order to accompany all the details, making sure everything was just beyond perfect for every single costume. There was no room for error or mistakes," she continues. "As we were doing fittings we were still going through and tweaking some of the masks. In general, I think I've only had some people one or two fittings to get it right. And then as the show was going on ... the only thing we had to do was make sure that the masks were secured, that the stars could breathe, see and perform."
Toybina, a lover of fashion and film, revealed that all of the costumes she created were actually inspired by her own personal influences.
"The Rabbit was very much influenced by a combination of Donnie Darko and Edward Scissorhands," she reveals. "The Lion and The Unicorn, all the detail work that was done by that was influenced by more of the fashion designer aspect of it. And the masks were very much the whimsical side of movies like The Chronicles of Narnia, bringing a little bit more kid-like element to it."
"One of the ones I know people are loving is The Poodle, which was a little more inspired by everyday conceptual," she adds. "The Poddle was influenced by the Beverly Hills dog; like everybody has their little dogs, and they die their fur different colors to make it look fun. Conceptually I wanted to create some sort of a poodle-type character that had a little bit of an attitude, that was a little more diva-esque."
And because secrecy is a major factor of the competition, Toybina says fittings were done in a private location. "It was done in a very cool way," she explains, confirming that she is one of only seven staffers that know the true identities behind the masks. "Production, everybody, was kinda on the hush-hush, and have no idea who these people are and still don't."
Fans who watch the show have been very vocal on social media regarding which looks they love most, but does Toybina have a personal favorite?
"I put so much work into each and every one, so it's kind of hard to choose which one's the best or the favorite. I think each process was so different," she says. "For instance, The Lion mask was one of the most different ones out of all the 12. That one was casted for over two and a half weeks, created in two personal molds for who was wearing the mask, and then we coated it in gold."
"Since that one took the longest, it was kind of like my little baby, overseeing the project and making sure everything was done perfectly," she adds. "I'd probably say it's a tie between The Lion and The Monster for me."
As host Nick Cannon brought up in a previous interview with ET, The Lion appears to be the most prominent in promos for the show and he believes that the person underneath the costume, therefore, must carry the most star power. That being said, Toybina doesn't think this character necessarily has "an advantage," as some fans are arguing.
"I really don't think it matters who has the star power. I think The Lion kind of created the overall vibe of the show," she explains. "It was such a perfect promo costume to express what the show is all about and the intricacy that went into the work. I think every single costume was created around the person that's wearing it, but at the same time, everyone has their power and everybody was kind of matched with their shape and body to carry on the specifics of the costumes. So, I think as far as the star power behind each mask, it's spread out pretty equally."
"I don't think The Lion necessarily has an advantage because there are so many great close-ups in the show. For instance, The Deer costume and the power behind the entire persona that was presented on stage shows that power," she continues, referencing former NFL player Terry Bradshaw, who was the latest to be unmasked. "If you look at this kind of aged, soldier-like creature, to me, that right there is showing strength and incredible stage presence. I would say it's all about stage presence."
Read more from ET's interview with Toybina below, and keep scrolling to see the rest of her original sketches!
The fans watching, they obviously know what the costumes look like on the outside, but what's an interesting hidden secret you can tell us about the inside of one of them?
Marina Toybina: The Monster, it's 360-cylinder based costume, so we definitely needed some room for it to breathe while performing. We made sure the base was made out of L200 [foam] and then we made vents open out of mesh to make sure the air could go in and out, giving them enough oxygen to be able to sing live and giving enough visibility [to see]. We created a comfort level for them to balance [the costume] while being able to run around the stage and perform.
Some people are saying, "I just watch for the costumes." As a designer, what does that mean to you?
Every single costume has something that I think people could relate to, which is what I also think is so successful. Because not only are people watching to figure out who's behind the mask, but they're almost rooting for their favorite character. It's pretty incredible. Originally designing the show, we never thought about how much influence the costumes would have. It was more about just creating something so incredible that it would become a show-stopper kind of opening for a new show. But the reactions ... it's so surreal to me.
Being a designer for so long you kind of get adapted to the idea of letting go of the costumes, but to see that this is what's driving the show and what's making people so excited, it's pretty rewarding -- especially for the work that went into it. I think on behalf of myself and my team and everybody that worked on it, we're pretty grateful. To see that it's such a movement. I do believe that this is something that is also going to open up doors for costuming again. I do hope that this becomes a really cool pathway for a lot of designers to do bigger and better things for their art.
You said you had 20 original sketches. What did you do with the others? Will we ever see any of those come to life?
The show's been really great, so we're hoping for season 2. So, maybe there is something that will get to be reused from the original artwork. However, just seeing the feedback right now, if the show comes back for season 2 I would like to go bigger and better and kind of be a little more theatrical since it's been such a welcoming process. Everybody really loves all the details that goes into each costume. We'll see what happens!
You're the mastermind behind the costumes, but if you were up on that stage competing, what would your disguise be?
I don't even know! I think since I have such a love for Japanese culture, I would do some kind of anime. I have a secret obsession of ninjas and geishas, so I would probably create something really cool in that world that encompasses this doll-like character.