Batman behind the scenes – The making of the Batsuit
BLOG 3 – Batman behind the scenes – Making the Batsuit
When people ask me about my career as a costume maker and designer, the project they ask most about is Batman. Particularly in the US, where it is American culture through and through. There are die-hard fans in the UK too, but in the US, Batman devotees take it to the next level when it comes to their knowledge of the subject. Some even know chunks of the scripts by heart and others study the ‘Batsuit’ to a degree where they reproduce them as replicas – to the extent, that often I simply do not know whether it is from the movie or a replica!
The ’89 suit’ (the first Batsuit) has become cult; stories surrounding it have become folklore. My favourite story is about the famous black and yellow Bat emblem worn on his chest.
On Batman ‘89 the tail of the emblem had three points and on Batman Returns, only one. What was the significance of this?
The cynical (and perhaps true) answer, is that the model maker was working all night to meet the moulding deadline and he omitted two of the points, simply to save time and to get the job done on time. It went unnoticed all the way through to the final castings of the emblem before anyone noticed they were missing; when it was far too late to change. I was running the ‘Batshop’ in Burbank on that movie and I can’t say either way; but I like this version of the story best, as I would be tempted to do the same myself with such a tight deadline!
The answer was “No”
Some 3 years earlier, 2 x Oscar nominated Costume Designer Bob Ringwood (Dune | Empire of the Sun |Troy) asked me to make the hero costume for new movie Batman after we’d finished working together on a film in Spain. Although flattered, I turned the job down because I thought it was too masculine to be made by a girl! Having started my career in ballet, Batman was really not my thing; I had never been a fan of the comic book super hero. I loved decorative fairy tale costumes with colour and texture, where I could invent and improvise as I went along; I thought Bob had got it wrong.
But Bob was persistent, he was convinced that I was the person to do it. I had recently created Aslan the Lion for the BBC’s Chronicle’s of Narnia, which involved sculpting a Lion’s head. Bob told me that he wanted the Batsuit to have ‘animal’ qualities and that we would sculpt the suit. He had a bull terrier dog called Rose at the time. We studied her form and sleek lines, likening her to a Bugatti car – and the Batmobile. That finally got my interest; sculpting sounded intriguing, a new approach that had never been done before on a costume, so I agreed to sculpting a mock up of the head (the cowl), over a plaster head of the actor to pay Batman; Michael Keaton, to show director Tim Burton on his recce to the UK where the film was to be shot at Pinewood Studios.
I was not a ‘proper’ sculptor at all; at best I was a modeler. It was simply part of the process of producing costume props and masks in the theatre where I made a lot of masks. At the Jim Henson Organization I was literally surrounded by sculptors on The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, so something must have rubbed off on me.
Sculpting, not sewing the Batsuit
I love working in 3D, whether in clay or mixed media ‘maquettes ‘and ‘mock-ups’. I find it more expressive and practical than 2D drawing, which does not come naturally to me despite studying basic life drawing at art college.
With no pressure at that stage and with no idea that the movie would become such a big box office success, I took a broken hack saw blade as a modeling tool and knocked out the sample head in a couple of hours, roughly in clay, leaving the saw blade marks in the clay. It was by no means slick, but Tim Burton approved it immediately, and Bob finally convinced me to take on the whole suit with just 6 weeks to go to the beginning of principal photography – no mean feat!
I could say that the rest is history, but not all of it is documented, so I will write more in a future blog, so stay tuned!
Batman sculptors: My co-sculptor on the first movie, Alli Eynon, went on to sculpt the Penguin suit on Batman Returns, when we brought in two top level LA sculptors Jose Fernandez and Steve Wang to sculpt the new Batsuit and Catwoman mask. From Batman Begins onwards, the super talented British sculptor Julian Murray subtley changed the look of the new Batsuit again. Sculptors work under the auspices of the costume designers, (Bob Ringwood and Lindy Hemming), but the sculptor’s stamp will be inevitably on the suit, it will be their handwriting.
Finding the right sculptor for creating such costumes is akin to finding the right actor to play the starring role.