In the realm of comic book blockbusters, adapting a superhero costume into the real world is a nearly thankless task. Yet for the upcoming Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, costume designer Michael Wilkinson isn't just charged with creating a new Superman suit based on director Zack Snyder's changing vision, but designing Ben Affleck's Batsuit and Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman attire from scratch.
With just a photo or two of each to go by, Wilkinson's latest insights - ranging from the mechanics of making a superhero suit that works as well as it looks, to the 'movie magic' behind a superhero's rock-hard muscles - shed some much-needed light for fans eager to see the DC Comics heavyweights' new costumes.
In not just conceiving of his Justice League universe, but letting the public at large in on the secrets (little by little), Zack Snyder has shown an undeniable continuity in the costumes themselves. The muted, tactile take on Kryptonian dress seen in Man of Steel may not have been every Superman fan's favorite, but when placing it alongside the new Batsuit, and Wonder Woman's battle armor, it isn't hard to see the three heroes sharing the same screen - or tailor.
Speaking with Fashionista about the challenges of costume design in a superhero market, Wilkinson condensed director Zack Snyder's approach, while stating that the online discussion and reactions to every costume reveal have changed the game for the men and women actually stitching the clothing together:
"[Zack Snyder] really wants these characters to connect directly to our world. So if you were walking down the street and you came across Superman or Batman — of course it would be startling and powerful — but it could actually happen in our world rather than in a stylized version of our reality.
"It’s no longer a designer just in his workroom pushing a costume out into the world and that's it. There’s a real sense of a conversation and engaging in a dialogue about this stuff... People have a lot of complaints about [Aquaman's] orange skin and the green tights and that whole thing."
Wilkinson's mention of Aquaman is of particular note, since he apparently will be handling costume duties for the hero in Dawn of Justice and Justice League (again implying Jason Momoa will appear in Batman V Superman). And if the reveal of Jason Momoa's Aquaman costume proved anything, it's that Snyder's vision is one worth seeing in action.
The small changes being made to the Supersuit for Dawn of Justice have already been pointed out and debated by fans, appearing more vibrant in color, with more alien ridging throughout. However, the most notable change seems to be the size of the actor inside the suit. Star Henry Cavill underwent a startling transformation in bulking up for the role the first time around, but as the film series takes another step into comic book mythology... well, calling this Superman broad-chested would be an understatement.
Yet movie magic can't be forgotten in that regard, with Wilkinson pointing out that a superhero's costume can often work against the fitness regimen of the performers. For Henry Cavill, the costume begins with a "sculpted chrome muscle suit" used to not necessarily inflate Cavill's physique, but make up for the form-fitting fabric constricting said muscles.
The suit's exterior (what casual onlookers would assume is the entire costume) is simply a "thin, sheer and 3D-printed chainmail-like blue mesh overlaid with foam-latex shapes," meaning it's the muscle suit beneath that actually gives the suit its alien 'shimmer.' As Wilkinson explains, the goal is to apply the layers so the finished product looks as rigid and powerful as comic fans dream (a little deception could be forgiven for that goal).
We've spoken at length about superhero musculature being more complicated than most moviegoers may realize, meaning the six-pack seen in the first Batman photo isn't entirely the result of Affleck's workout and meal plan. But as Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight film series showed, creating the hero's iconic cowl is a challenge all its own. In fact, the problems Bruce Wayne faced in turning his head was worked into the films themselves, leading to a 'motorcycle helmet design' that proved effective, if less faithful to the comics.
The first look at Ben Affleck's suit - heavily inspired by both Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns" and famed artist Jim Lee - showed what may be the most faithful Batsuit every fashioned. And immediately, what looked to be a rigid cowl again concerned fans. Luckily, Wilkinson says it won't be an issue:
"That’s actually one of the first things that Snyder mentioned to me in one of our initial meetings... It’s a very important thing to Zack that the Batsuit would be comfortable and very flexible, but then would be able to perform in a very natural and forceful way. So a lot of incredible engineering went into the development of the new black cowl."
The reception to the new Batsuit proved effective enough, as Zack Snyder has held off revealing any other image (despite another being shown alongside the Wonder Woman costume at Comic-Con 2014). There is also the matter of a heavily-armored suit teased in Batman's fight with Superman - but viewers may end up seeing even more variations on the costume than they realize (according to Wilkinson, a total of 18 Superman suits have been designed for the various demands and rigors of a big-budget blockbuster).
What do you think of the costumes, now that some time has passed since they were first unveiled? Are you anxious to see them in action, or do you wish Snyder had taken a different approach?
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice will be in theaters on March 25th, 2016; Suicide Squad on August 5th, 2016; Wonder Woman - June 23rd, 2017; Justice League - November 17th, 2017; The Flash - March 23rd, 2018; Aquaman - July 27th, 2018; Shazam - April 5th, 2019; Justice League 2 - June 14th, 2019; Cyborg - April 3rd, 2020; Green Lantern - June 19th, 2020.