Dick Grayson might have been the first young ward of Bruce Wayne to take on the mantle of Robin, but that’s not his only superhero alter ego. After leaving his role as Batman‘s famous sidekick, Dick created a new persona all of his own: Nightwing. Ever since Brenton Thwaites took off the domino mask and burnt his iconic red and green suit in the first season of Titans, Dick Grayson fans have been wondering when he’ll put on the butt-hugging blue and black that has become synonymous with Nightwing.
Now that we’ve seen the suit in all its glory during the Titans season 2 finale, we’ve got all the behind the scenes info on how the striking new super suit was made. At an exclusive event at Warner Bros. Studios in Hollywood we got a sneak peek inside the suit workshop where costume designers crafted the first live action Nightwing suit and we’re going to take you through every step!
Though we didn’t get a chance to see her process one of the coolest things that we learnt was that LJ Super Suits created a new role visual administrator. It’s a dream job for any comic book fan, as in her role Jenny Davis-Chen (who holds the title) looks back over the history of each character to define the costume and its influences.
“With all of our characters, our first jumping off point is always to look at every iteration that there has ever been of the character,” Davis-Chen says. “Dick’s story has passed through the hands of so many amazing writers [and artists]. The priority for us is always to really honor the source material and what each of the different writers and artists had to offer with this character.”
Our first stop in the top secret tour for a group of lucky journalists was the office of concept artist and costume design illustrator Gina DeDomenico Flanagan. The room was plastered with pictures of your favorite superheroes from Titans alongside their DC Universe superhero colleagues from Doom Patrol and the CW’s Black Lightning. The team here create and supply super suits for that trio of shows alongside the upcoming Stargirl. The impressive spread included Ravager, Deathstroke, Thunder and Lightning, Hawk and Dove, Jason Todd, and (of course) Nightwing. As DeDomenico Flanagan worked on adding some dramatic lighting to her final sketch of Rose Wilson as Ravager she explained how her collaboration with head super suit costume designer Laura Jean Shannon was key to the creative process.
DeDomenico Flanagan’s office was filled with incredible art as well as classic DC Comics like New Teen Titans, which she assured us were hers. “They’re mine from when I was growing up! I was a big comic book collector when I was a kid so this is my dream job.” As for the process of creating the suits, it all begins with Flanagan and Shannon. “In the beginning, LJ [Shannon] comes and sits with me and at that point I’ve received the research for the comic books from Jenny, our visual administrator,” she says. “Once I receive all of her research she comes and chats so I know what we’re doing. She tells me what her vision is, she discusses how she sees this character, and how we’re going to bring them to life. She tells me everything that she’s been dreaming up in her fabulous creative brain and it’s my job to put it on paper… well, digital tablet.”
It’s a vital conversation that begins with the basics. “We start with simply: what is the pose like? What embodies her character? Because the pose tells us a lot about how the character is feeling, and the attitude–the attitude says everything about the character.” When it comes to crafting authentic costumes for the women of the DC Universe there’s always a dedication to creating something that feels real. “Sometimes in the comic books the clothes float and so we have to work to make them live and feel like they fit in the real world.”
If you can believe it, this all happens before the team even learns who will be playing the hero. When an actor is cast, that’s when the next step begins. “Then we get the casting and we can design right on the actress’s face right so then the actress gets cast, and they do a body scan of her. Then Andy who you’re going to meet next will take the body scan and my artwork and they’ll create a 3D version where you can turn and look at the whole thing all the way around and upside down…So basically my illustrations are the guide for all the departments and I love it.”
Costume Build and Textile Finishing
After the concept design stage, the master crafters at Creative Character Engineering take over for the practical build. It’s different for each character but Creative Character Engineering’s Lesley Bercerra explains that for Nightwing it was all about harking back to the hand sculpted era of costume making.
“When we sat down and talked about how we were going to create this character, we actually decided to take it back, go a little old school, and do traditional hand sculpting, like the way the original Batman suit was made,” Bercesrra says. “We had some amazing sculptors that had been in the business for years and probably had hands on sculpting those suits. We also did some really beautiful things with 3D modeling certain armor areas, integrating it into the sculpture, so that you have this kind of high tech but old school sleek feeling.”
We got a first hand look at the team 3D printing a “hero boomerang” for Nightwing, as well as a selection of masks, armor, and bodysuits that they’d crafted for the show. As we examined some of their creations, Creative Character Engineering’s owner Andrew Clements gave us an insight into just how a super suit like Nightwing’s comes together.
“To start we use different materials to generate the suits,” Clements says. “A lot of the time we’ll make a two part mold that has a soft interior and then it’s got a hard exterior that actually helps to hold a shape. What we can do with that is we can run any number of different materials, as we have a huge array of materials that we can use based on the longevity or the flexibility or the translucency of them. There are so many different factors that go into what type of material we’re going to choose.”
After the team has decided on the perfect material then it’s time to make the suits a reality. “Once we’ve actually generated those molds, we have to generate a different type of model for each tiny little piece that goes on to the suit,” Clements says. “We’ve got dozens of pieces on the suits and each one has their own little model, so we’ve got to keep track. Once we’ve got all of those components together then we start the process of actually running them out. We have a whole department that runs all of these.”
The last stage of the process that we got to see was the textile finishing stage where LJ’s team has the super fun job of airbrushing the suits, adding shadow and detail to the impressive costumes in the hot Burbank sun. The process usually takes about two weeks as the team painstakingly adds intricate finishes to the suits. The best part was that our visiting group of journalists even got to try out the airbrush, although it was definitely not as easy as it may appear!
Bringing the Suit to the Screen
“It’s such a big deal becoming Nightwing and we didn’t just want him to show up with the suit one day. It had to be a representation of where he evolved as a character over the course of those two seasons,” Titans executive producer Greg Walker says about how the writing informed the introduction of the iconic suit.
If you’ve been keeping up with the newest season then you’ll know that it’s been one of transformation for show’s cast of characters. That’s been especially true for Dick as he’s tried to find a way out of Bruce Wayne’s shadow, something that was key for Walker and the team. “Season two for him is a journey of recognizing what mistakes he made in the past, assessing himself, trying to figure out his relationship with Bruce and evolving past Robin,” Walker says. “When he’s not Robin anymore, then who is he?”
As for specific comics that they looked to for inspiration? Davis-Chen gave us some insight into the stories that shaped Titans’ Nightwing costume. “In particular, we were looking at Dennis O’Neil’s Blüdhaven arc in the late ‘90s in terms of the overall color story for him with the black and the blue,” Davis-Chen says, citing the iconic look designed by Brian Stelfreeze and drawn by Greg Land. “For the actual crest on his chest, we were really referencing the post-Flashpoint red and black suit in terms of the shape of the bird looking upward, sort of towards the sky.”
Jean Shannon agreed that story is always the most important driving force behind the choices the costume team makes. “Each of our of our shows has a very different voice,” she says. “Titans has a different voice in the writing, in the storytelling, which is then the impetus for us giving it a different visual voice. Whatever choices that we bring to the table, the jumping off point is always the story itself.”
You can enjoy Nightwing and all the brilliant super super suits by LJ and her team in Titans S1 and S2 which are streaming now, as well as Doom Patrol and The CW’s Black Lightning.