Redesigning the Bat Suit for The Dark Knight

Posted by: PuppetMaster
The silhouette of Batman is an indelible image, instantly recognizable to even the most casual observer. Chris Nolan and costume designer Lindy Hemming knew it was important to preserve that image in redesigning and updating the Batsuit for "The Dark Knight."

Focusing on increased comfort and better flexibility, Hemming and her team did extensive research into the protective suits worn by motocross riders, as well as military issue protective armor. "We wanted the new Batsuit to be a more supple, more maneuverable, more breathable piece of equipment, like a modern suit of armor instead of a rubber suit," Hemming says, referring to the neoprene material used in making the Batsuit for "Batman Begins."

The new Batsuit is comprised of 110 separate pieces. The base layer of the suit was made of a polyester mesh material, which is employed by the military and high-tech sports manufacturers because of its moisture-wicking properties. Then individually molded pieces of flexible urethane were attached to the mesh to form the overall armor plating. For added protection, carbon fiber panels, which are light yet incredibly strong and resistant, were placed inside a select group of the urethane pieces around the legs, chest and abdomen.

To illustrate the evolution of the Batsuit from "Batman Begins" to "The Dark Knight," costume FX supervisor Graham Churchyard points out, "There were essentially three main components to the Batsuit in 'Batman Begins' and on this film there were more than 100, so it was a very complicated suit. Add to that, all of those individual pieces had to be modeled and then molded and cast. Each piece also had to be replicated dozens of times for the multiple Batsuits needed for the overall production. It was an extraordinary amount of work."

At the behest of both Nolan and Bale, Hemming's main mission was to modify the Batsuit to allow more rotation of the head and neck. "In the past, Batman has always had to move his shoulders to turn his head, so that was a definite priority," Bale affirms. The seemingly simple answer was to separate the cowl from the rest of the suit, but it had to appear seamless so as not to compromise The Dark Knight's imposing silhouette.

The overall redesign suited Christian Bale perfectly. "It was much more comfortable and far less claustrophobic than the first suit. It was also more agile and gave me better range of motion, which helped with the action and fight sequences. But it still gave me that feeling of invincibility," he acknowledges. "You can't help but feel protected and more powerful when you put the Batsuit on. It just works."

When it came to fighting and protection, the new and improved Batsuit did more than offer added flexibility. It is also outfitted with a variety of gadgets to aid Batman in his war on crime, including razor sharp fins that can be extended and then fired from the gauntlets on his forearms; and sonar-imaging lenses which flip down within Batman's cowl, enabling him to see sonar images in 3D while masking his eyes behind glowing white shields.

The only design element of the Batsuit that remained unchanged from "Batman Begins" to "The Dark Knight" was the cape. Hemming says, "We spent a lot of time getting the cape right for the first film, and we didn't want to change it." The cape does have one added feature: it can fold itself into a kind of backpack and then unfurl on command, which was accomplished through digital effects.

While Bruce Wayne's image is not as iconic as that of his alter ego, he has his own distinctive sartorial style, dictated by his financial and social status. To clothe the man behind the mask, Hemming collaborated with legendary fashion designer Giorgio Armani. "Chris Nolan and I wanted Bruce Wayne to have an elegantly tailored appearance," Hemming offers. "We felt that the Giorgio Armani brand was emblematic of the contemporary classic look we were going for. We chose the fabrics and then worked directly with Mr. Armani and his people to tailor an entire wardrobe of suits, custom-made for the character." As Bruce Wayne, Bale wears Armani's newest line, Giorgio Armani Hand Made-to-Measure. Each suit carries Armani's traditional customized owner's label, in this case Giorgio Armani for Bruce Wayne.

Harvey Dent obviously does not have the financial means of Bruce Wayne, but Hemming says his wardrobe still had to denote an air of authority and confidence. "We dressed him simply, but impeccably in suits by (Ermenegildo) Zegna."

The costume designer was able to get a lot more outlandish in costuming The Joker, modifying the character's familiar look to reflect the generation of the actor playing him. Hemming explains, "Once I knew The Joker was going to be played by Heath Ledger, I wanted the costume to have a younger, trendier style than previous versions. Basically, my research ranged from Vivienne Westwood to Johnny Rotten to Iggy Pop to Pete Doherty to Alexander McQueen. I was collecting all sorts of images."

Hemming ultimately designed an eclectic ensemble that she says "has a somewhat foppish attitude to it, with a little grunge thrown in." Staying with The Joker's traditional color palette, his outfit is topped by a purple coat, worn over a green waistcoat. Changing up his look, he also wears a lighter jacket that was based on the Carnaby Street Mod look. His shirt was patterned after a shirt that Hemming found at an antique market.

The Joker's shoes are from Milan and were selected by the costume designer because they had an upward swoop at the toe, which she thought was reminiscent of clown shoes. His tie was fashioned from a fabric that was specially woven to Hemming's specifications by Turnbull & Asser, a London-based clothier better known for dressing British royalty and the like. "Heath wanted it to be thin, so it's a '60s tie but in a Turnbull & Asser fabric. I dare say it's the weirdest tie that Turnbull & Asser has ever made," Hemming laughs. "When Heath came in and we showed him all the bits and pieces of the costume, he thought it was fantastically original and just went for it."

The Joker's make-up was also a departure from past incarnations of the character. While he retains an allusion to his familiar white-faced, sneering visage, his make-up for "The Dark Knight" was intended to give him a more frenetic look that also lends to its shock value. The Joker's face is covered in a white pancake that is cracked and runny in places. His eyes are thickly rimmed in black, and a sloppy red grin is painted on, extending from his mouth to his cheeks but not quite masking the terrible scars beneath. His hair is a more subtle, but still noticeable, shade of green.

Make-up and hair designer Peter Robb-King remarks, "Clearly, there was a perception in the audience's mind of what The Joker would look like, but we wanted to get under the skin, so to speak, of what this character represents in this story. He is someone who has been damaged in every sense of the word, so it was important that we create a look that was not, forgive the pun, 'jokey.'"

Heath Ledger's make-up artist, John Caglione, Jr., calls the application of the actor's make-up "a dance." He describes, "Heath would scrunch up his face in specific expressions, raising his forehead and squinting his eyes, and I would paint on the white over his facial contortions. This technique created textures and expressions that just painting the face a flat white would not. Then I used black make-up around Heath's eyes while he held them closed very tight, which created consistent facial textures. After the black was on, I sprayed water over his eyes, and he would squeeze his eyes and shake his head, and all that black drippy, smudgy stuff would happen."

The Joker's make-up also represents a revolutionary advancement in the application of prosthetics, developed and executed by prosthetic supervisor Conor O'Sullivan and prosthetic make-up artist Robert Trenton. "They used a brand new silicone-based process that enables the prosthetics to be laid on the skin in such a way that it's seamless," Robb-King describes. "It's absolutely amazing because you can put a camera right up to the face--even an IMAX camera--and there are no issues."

O'Sullivan reveals, "It took us about two years to develop the technology, but after a few glitches, we hit on it. We are now able to produce silicone pieces that are applied directly to the skin. And it blends with the skin perfectly; if you didn't know it was there, you would have a hard time seeing anything."

In addition, the new process cut the application time to a fraction of what was needed in the past. O'Sullivan confirms, "The Joker prosthetics would previously have taken a good three to four hours. Instead they took about 25 minutes and looked far superior, which was great."

The clown masks for The Joker's gang were individually sculpted and molded and then hand-painted. Interestingly, the filmmakers learned that every clown face is registered and owned by the person who first created it, so all of the clown masks in the movie had to be cleared; none of them could be copied from existing clown faces.

The more graphic make-up effects for the character of Two-Face involved a combination of prosthetics and visual effects. Robb-King and his team worked closely with visual effect supervisor Nick Davis to depict the damage to Harvey Dent's face, because it is so severe that it could not be achieved entirely with prosthetics. Eckhart recalls, "It was interesting for me in that, because of the technology, I didn't have to spend hours in make-up every day. The whole process was effortless...at least for me," he smiles.

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