The geeky appeal of wielding Aquaman’s three-pronged spear, aka the Trident of Neptune, cannot be overstated. Tall enough to tower above actor Jason Momoa’s six-foot, four-inch frame, this aurelian weapon is said to be so sharp as to cut through Superman’s flesh. The one in my hand is not quite that deadly in real-life, but it’s certainly weighty and could do some real blunt damage. It’s also one of the many nerd-friendly toys in Michael Wilkinson’s Justice League costume workshop.
Indeed, something of a rarity in superhero cinema, an entire workspace and garage on the Leavesden Studios lot outside of London has been appropriated as the one-stop shop for the most discerning of superheroes’ accoutering needs.
“We feel this is quite a unique scenario,” Wilkinson says through a microphone while wearing his own dapper pairing of red and gray. “I don’t think any other major superhero films have done this before. Usually, you get your different vendors and you send one costume here and one costume there, you check in on them, and they come back, and you shoot them. Here, we had this amazing situation where we can create all of our costumes in-house.”
Indeed, other than the suspicious absence of a certain Man of Steel’s new threads, I and a swath of fellow journalists were able to examine, study, and even play around with heavy weaponry from each hero’s attire.
In the case of Aquaman, he and his supporting cast of Queen Mera (Amber Heard) and Vulko (Willem Dafoe) were the first stop in our costumed tour. Unlike the Aquaman concept art thus far released to the public, it appears that in Justice League, Momoa’s superhero will don a full set of gilded armor. The gills themselves look closer to three-dimensional chainmail that protrude tiny spikes of orange, green, subtle blacks, and, in the boots’ case, gold.
But each of the Atlantean characters will have a different color scheme. Whereas Aquaman’s predominant color will be comic-book ready orange, Mera is almost entirely green save for gold trim highlights, which match her golden crown (and red hair). Conversely, Dafoe’s Vulko is predominantly defined by the color silver, which informs his more ornate character who hails from a different generation.
While like Momoa and Heard, concept art showcases flowing locks on this Atlantean advisor, Dafoe’s character is one with history, and the gills are more pronounced; the color scheme also seems less ostentatious, which matches his simpler silver spear.
To realize these costumes, Wilkinson explains that he took inspiration from a multitude of sources, be they comic books, video games, or couture fashion, and specific Alexander McQueen wardrobes. Most curious though was his desire to mimic the bioluminescence of deep sea creatures that are the stuff of nightmares (or Finding Nemo punchlines). The results are costumes where the armor is actually translucent, both a second skin and a dazzling underwater display that when backlit will glow even from the depths of the Mariana Trench.
Says Wilkinson, “I sort of cast the net wide in all of my researching, and I put together this board, and we start drawing and creating our own original things. But yes, you can see a lot of all sorts of things I’m interested in from the world of nature.”
To realize these costumes, and so many others, Wilkinson’s workshop employs on any given day 50 to 55 people, coming and going with designs and fabrics ready to be made. During the few minutes that we were there, we glimpsed a bank of 3D printers firing away at realizing every hero’s better fashion sense, as well as one person hard at work at painting another piece of Wonder Woman’s spare armor.
The designer, who previously created Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck’s iconic looks for other Zack Snyder superhero movies welcomes comparisons to being everyone’s Alfred. And like the good butler, he seems to find the use of 3D printers indispensable in managing the progress on each suit.
Of the other heroes on display, much of Cyborg will be left to computer designers to realize, though we saw Wilkinson’s concepts of a half-man, half-machine hybrid with a see-through abdomen that’s brightened by his red core (plus an equally luminous but blue arm-canon). However, the Flash, Wonder Woman, and Batman were on full display.
The Flash is probably of special interest to fans since he already has a pretty impressive design on television thanks to the efforts of Colleen Atwood. Yet, the potential for competing visions of the superhero speedster did not necessarily worry Wilkinson.
“I don’t think there’s really rules that weigh about what we do have or don’t have to do,” Wilkinson says on the contrast. “We just sort of started from square one with the way Flash has been drawn over the decades. We thought about what made sense for the universe that Zack’s creating and the script.”
For that universe, we studied Flash’s first “prototype” suit that he will be using when Bruce Wayne first meets Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen (Bruce Wayne and Alfred will give Flash an upgrade later in the film). A shinier and almost metallic looking red—it’s actually made of the same material NASA uses for flight suits, which are designed to withstand high-temperatures and electricity—the suit is strikingly different from the TV counterpart. Additionally, it’s wrapped in a kind of conduit wire that crisscrosses around the suit, looking from certain angles like scratches… and like lightning marks from others.
Apparently representing a way for Flash to harness the electricity and energy from when he really gets going, the wires are intended to literally pulse with electrical currents thanks to CGI in certain action sequences.
“We like to kind of think of him as this incredible human-sized electrical coil,” Wilkinson says. “And so during the film, you’re going to see these wires, there’s going to be a digital effect where they flash and circle his body, and he can really create a lot of energy that way.”
The practical appearance is manifested by placing elastic cables within each wire casing and creating something that bends with his body instead of restricting it. All in all, the Flash costume has 148 parts, including the sneakers that have giant yellow lightning bolts on their soles (cross-promotion opportunity?). This makes the fact that Miller is able to get in and out of this costume in five minutes, and with the help of three people, all the more remarkable.
Presumably, Ben Affleck’s costume transitions are a little more elaborate given the ever adding layers to the uniform. Despite being mostly the same shape, if a bit thinner than his costume in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the suit has undergone some subtle changes. The first major one to be noted by the naked eye is that it’s a darker gray than what appeared in his previous film. Still more amusing is the cowl, which now enjoys a far more expressive and aggressive scowl. It should make Batman fiercer with a carved-in rage similar to Christian Bale’s later masks, but given the gray affectation and shorter ears of this universe’s Dark Knight, it reminded me of the eyebrows on the Adam West Batman suit. But you know, angrier.
The costume also has new armor plating derived from a carbon fiber weave that is discreetly hidden under the familiar mesh from the last movie.
However, what was more of a work in progress is the Batsuit that Affleck will don in the film’s third act. Still in the molding stage and painted black (it will be gray in the final film), the costume is described by the filmmakers as the “Tactical Batsuit.” It will be designed by Bruce and Alfred after they decide he needs more protection when going up against New Gods, which is apparent in its heavy strapping and unhidden carbon fiber plating and proud uses of leather. It also will come with, according to concept art, a carbon fiber cape and goggles for the eyes.
To Wilkinson, it is another fun reminder of the whitened eyes Batman has in the comics, with the idea of the goggles playing off the light during the climax of Justice League.
In almost total contrast to Batman’s heavy and modernized costuming is the sleekness of Wonder Woman’s costume, which the designer says continues to chase the elusive superpower of grace.
“This is a costume Wonder Woman has worn for 5,000 years of her existence, and she hasn’t updated it,” Wilkinson reflects. “She kind of tells the story of the battles and her victories.”
On that note, it is mostly identical to the one in Batman v Superman, though according to concept art, she will wear a cloak that was designed for that film but never used. Her sword and shield are also returning with elaborate ancient Greek lettering that, sadly, none of the journalists present could translate on the spot. However, there have been some subtle yet noticeable alterations between films. For instance, at a glance it is a much richer crimson and gold that adorns Princess Diana’s royal frock.
Admits Wilkinson, “We did a slight tweaking of the color too. We enriched the red a little bit. We always talked about it a little bit of [being] centuries of blood from her victims…. So it’s a really rich, blood red.”
Indeed, the ruby really pops on the suit, as does the film’s inspirations for modern Amazonians. While earlier concept art showcased ancient Amazonians as women of simple browns and leathers ready for battle, the influences spotted on a board for their 2017 styles promise something much more elaborate. For instance, I recognized one pictured dress as being the sexy royalty chic exhibited by Emilia Clarke on Game of Thrones. Wilkinson also pointed out that designs as varied as actual ancient garments found in the British Museum to modern Parisian runway fashion will inform a bold new look for the modern Amazonian warriors.
Overall, the superhero designs, as well as every other major article of clothing in Justice League, is meticulously coming from one location on set. As a result, all the actors we saw later that day looked uniformly excellent in their regalia. If fashion is meant to make a statement, then the Justice League will be exclaiming “POW!” and “BOOM!” when they walk in front of cameras.