THE BATMOBILE (continued)
Additionally, the crew utilized a combination of the arm and the lever head attached to a motorcycle with a sidecar, and a camera was mounted to the front of a police car that one of the stunt men drove and kept within a few feet of all the big action sequences. Pfister and Nolan also used a space cam and a helicopter to capture spectacular aerial footage of the Batmobile driving around Chicago and on the open highway.
The massive amounts of planning, work and dedication devoted to developing and executing the Batmobile earned it a special place in the filmmakers' hearts. "For a long time there was actually going to be a moment at the end of the movie where we were going to destroy the Batmobile," recalls producer Emma Thomas. "But in the end we just couldn't bring ourselves to do it - the Batmobile had become like a character to us."
THE BATSUIT & GADGETRY
Batman's image invokes something primal, almost bestial, striking terrible fear in the hearts of those the Dark Knight has sworn to defeat. It was imperative to the filmmakers that their Batsuit enable Christian Bale to strike that menacing chord. "I looked at the great comics and graphic novels through the history of Batman to try and distill the essence of what those extraordinary pictures and drawings were saying about what Batman should look like," says Nolan. "Each artist interprets the costume differently, but there are these common aspects that define the essence of the character."
The Batman Begins filmmakers wanted to create a very mobile Batsuit, as opposed to previous suits, which were quite stiff and thus physically restrictive. The newly designed suit allows Bale to perform all of the demanding action that the film's stunts and martial arts fight sequences called for.
"A major consideration with the Batsuit was that Chris didn't want it designed just to look at, but to be very functional in execution," says costume designer Lindy Hemming (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Lara Croft Tomb Raider). "He wanted the legs to be supple so that he could crouch down when necessary, and he very much wanted Christian to be able to move his head and not have to do the superhero movement of turning the shoulders and the head at once." (Full head movement was not possible in previous feature film incarnations of the Batsuit.)
In Batman Begins, the Batsuit is born when Bruce Wayne modifies a prototype he discovers in Wayne Enterprises' Applied Sciences division: the Nomax Survival Suit, nearly impervious body armor designed for soldiers to wear in combat.
The Batsuit designed by Hemming and her team is comprised of a neoprene undersu
it, much like a diver's wet suit, with molded cream latex sections adhered to it. "The suit is made of waterproof armor with components inside that maintain the body temperature and keep the muscles from freezing up, so it's multi-functional," says Hemming. There are seven separate latex sections of the Batsuit: the knees, calves, legs, arms, torso, spine and cowl.
The Batman Begins Costume FX workshop, codenamed "Cape Town" for security purposes, was located at Shepperton Studios in London. The workshop was a 24-hour security-controlled compound, comprised of a whole village of portacabins that contained administration office and canteen, as well as all the technical workshops, including the Sculpt Room, Dye and Laundry, Spray Room, Cutting and Sewing Room, Art Finishing Room, Mold Shop and Foam Lab. Upwards of 40 people worked on the Batsuits at the height of the Workshop's output.
Christian Bale was sculpted and molded for the Batsuit at Cape Town months prior to filming, before he began training to build up his body into the necessary physical shape and condition for the role. "We always knew that when Christian came back from training, he would have developed into a different shape," Hemming says. "He did get enormously bigger, and when he first came back, we were like, Oh, no. It's never going to fit!" (Bale gained back the 63 pounds that he had lost for a previous film role, then put on an additional 20 pounds of muscle to complete his Batman physique.)
Once a full body cast was taken, a plastic model of Bale was produced from that mold and then sculpted with clay. Next, a specialized material called plastiline was added to achieve a smoother surface - if the suit were molded straight from clay, imperfections would be picked up that would be visible on-screen. After the plastiline molds were made, they were taken to the foam lab, where they were injected with a latex foam mixture.
An enormous amount of research and development went into finding just the right recipe for the mixture - hours were spent trying to achieve the level of foam that would give the suit flexibility and lightness, as well as the durability that it needed. Getting the foam as black as possible was also a problem, as that process reduces the durability of the material - the more pigment that is added, the more it undermines the strength of the foam. After arriving at the perfect balance, the molds were injected with the foam mixture, cooked in a large oven, and the pieces were de-molded and trimmed very patiently with fine scissors, as they must appear as if they were cut by laser rather than by hand.
"It was like a chemical lab, with people actually stirring big pots and sticking stuff in ovens and getting the perfect temperature, then testing and working out the flexibility," Bale says of Cape Town.
One aspect of the Batsuit that Nolan was determined to capture was Batman's cape. "There are wonderful illustrations of Batman striking iconic poses with his cape flowing, and we wanted to capture that element into our portrayal of the character," says Nolan. "We designed a flowing cloak that's used for concealment and therefore is a matte black fabric that blows and flows as it does in so many of the great graphic novels."
"I'm especially pleased with the cape," says Hemming. "Chris didn't want that armored feeling. He wanted to take the romanticism of the cloak from the comics, and he wanted him to be able to emerge from the darkness and fade into the darkness in places on the screen - it's almost like parts of him vanish."
To achieve this distinct look and feel, the team invented their own fabric - a parachute nylon that was electrostatically flocked to achieve a velvety finish. The flocking is a British Ministry of Defense-approved process that is employed when minimum night vision detection is required. It is used on London police force helmets, and it was their technicians who ended up teaching the production team how to flock the cape fabric.
The flocking is achieved by running a static electric charge underneath the material, which has been brushed with glue. Fine hairs are then dropped onto the fabric, which they cling to, attracted by the charge. "It's like when you were a kid and you combed your hair to make it stand on end," costume effects supervisor Graham Churchyard describes. "It's the same thing, except we use 60,000 volts to hold it in place."
The cowl, Batman's distinctive mask and head covering, also presented a challenge to the designers. In previous incarnations, the cowl restricted the actor's movement so that he would have to turn his entire torso instead of just his neck when he wanted to look around - inevitably, it looked quite awkward.
Hemming worked with Nolan and sculptor Julian Murray to devise a way to make the cowl thin enough to permit movement and supple enough to prevent it from wrinkling up when Bale turned his head. The result is a sleek, almost panther-like silhouette that allowed for natural movement. "I love the sensitivity of the cowl," says Hemming. "You can almost feel the workings of his face underneath it."
"The cowl itself is very expressive," adds Churchyard. "This is a man who has angst and that really shows through the mask - rather than concealing his emotions, it actually reveals his character."
In the film, the cowl boasts many features that make it a practical tool as well as an intimidating disguise - crafted with an impact-resistant graphite-composite exterior, there's a Kevlar panel that shields Batman's head from small caliber weapons fire; high-gain stereo microphones are concealed in the ears, allowing Batman to eavesdrop on distant conversations through walls or magnify his voice to formidable volume via a hidden loudspeaker; and a radio antenna in the earpiece that allows him to monitor police band and emergency response channels.
While the suit may have been more supple and allowed more movement than previous versions in prior Batman films, it was by no means comfortable, and during filming, Bale had to wear it for hours at a stretch. It took three people to suit Bale up every day. Overheating was a major concern, and at times Bale wore a "cool suit," which had tiny plastic tubes running through the inside of the body, similar to what high-altitude pilots and astronauts use as a cooling system.
"I put it on as much as possible so that I could really get a feel for it and get the moves and the presence of the Batsuit correct," says Bale. "Naturally, after six months of filming, I had a kind of a love-hate relationship with the thing. It induced headaches and would send me into a foul mood after half an hour. But I wasn't going to be some little acting ninny who says I can't deal with it anymore, take it off. I used the pain as fuel for the character's anger. Batman's meant to be fierce, and you become a beast in that suit, as Batman should be - not a man in a suit, but a different creature."
"Christian had a very controlled and specific approach to how he wanted to portray the aggression and the animal-like quality of this character," says Nolan. "He spent a long time looking at graphic novels and illustrations of Batman, to form his own sense of how he should move and communicate with the other characters. I think that his portrayal is very striking in its intensity and its seriousness."
"The first time I saw him in the suit I knew that he was meant to play Batman," says producer Charles Roven. "He just takes on a completely different presence. He's a fantastic actor and a tremendous guy in real life. But when he puts on the Batsuit, he becomes very intimidating."
In creating his character, Bale thought of Batman as a creature, an image that was aided by his menacing guise. "The suit gives you this huge neck, like a Mike Tyson neck, which you really rarely see amongst humans. It's more like a panther. It gives you this real feral look, as though you're going to pounce on somebody any moment."
"I was very surprised at how intimidating he becomes and how much it changes him," agrees Gary Oldman of working with the Bat-suited Bale. "It was very disconcerting."
"Everybody on set felt quite a charge when Christian would walk on in the Batsuit," Nolan concludes. "It was quite shocking and quite striking. You felt it in your bones."
Batman captures the imagination so strongly in part because he is a superhero with no super powers; he is a mere man striving to eradicate injustice, and so in order to gain an edge over the vast evil that he must overcome, he equips himself with an array of innovative tools and weapons.
It was important to Nolan that every piece of Batman's arsenal have a clear and practical purpose. In the film, Bruce Wayne takes a gritty, do-it-yourself approach to developing his tools, including spray painting his suit matte black and grinding his own Batarangs. In this way, it's possible for the first time to see the genesis of Batman's weapons and gadgetry, from their crude beginning until they are refined enough to fully equip him to begin his crusade.
Originally a Wayne Enterprises prototype climbing harness, the Utility Belt was modified by Bruce Wayne, who removed the shoulder straps but retained the Belt's convenient sliding attachments. Because Batman vowed never to take a life in the pursuit of justice, all of the apparatus in the Utility Belt are considered non-lethal deterrents.
The Utility Belt features a grappling gun with a magnetic grapple and monofilament decelerator climbing line; a flexible fiber optic periscope that allows Batman to see around corners; Batarangs, weapons with razor-sharp edges that can be thrown shuriken-style, with its sharp points imbedding in an intended target, or used like a boomerang (Batman's gloves are Kevlar-reinforced so that the returning weapon doesn't slice his fingers); ninja spikes that can be affixed to Batman's hands and feet for scaling sheer walls; mini-mines and explosives; a mini cellular phone with an encrypted signal; and a medical kit containing antidotes to various nerve agents and toxins.
Another of Batman's key tools are his scalloped brass forearm gauntlets, which are painted matte black like the rest of the Batsuit, and are used by the Dark Knight for climbing and defense against bladed weapons, so he can parry sword strikes without injury. Batman also uses a special sonic device, located in the heel of his boot, to call swarms of bats to a scene, either for protection or to create a terrifying distraction.
FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT
In developing Batman's singular method of hand-to-hand combat and choreographing the film's visceral fight sequences, director Christopher Nolan and fight arranger David Forman (The Last Samurai) were looking to find a style that marries the gritty intensity of street fighting with a disciplined martial arts approach.
"For Batman, everything is about function, it's about the most effective way of doing something," Nolan says, "so we needed a style that is brutal, economical and real."
"We really wanted something that would look as though Bruce Wayne-as-Batman had created his own style of fighting, something that was unique in style and look," Christian Bale elaborates. "A big part of the Batman persona is the aggressive, animalistic way he attacks his enemies. I wanted to show how devastating he is when he charges forward and attacks people, and his resilience in taking blows as well."
The director also wanted the combat to be more jarring and realistic than the graceful, balletic form of fighting that comes from wire work. "We've gotten comfortable seeing fighting portrayed in this graceful, dance-like fashion to the point where the violence loses its threat," he muses. "I wanted to take it back to a grittier place, where you feel the punches a bit more."
The Keysi Fighting Method, also known as Keysi or KFM, is based on a series of tight, controlled, efficient movements. An evolving discipline that was founded only 20 years ago, Keysi is an intuitive, low-grounded fighting method that requires superior leg and upper body strength, with a strong emphasis on mental focus and awareness. Unlike other martial arts developed for sport, KFM lends itself to combat in close quarters and can be applied to fighting in any environment, against multiple attackers from all directions.
"The Keysi Fighting Method is a very intuitive kind of martial art, but also very, very brutal," Bale relates. "It's all about going for the break straightaway. It's quite instinctive and it adapts to many different situations. So it truly looks as though this is Batman's own style that he's come up with."
"Christian is an excellent student," Forman attests. "We were very surprised at how quickly he absorbed the information when we gave him his first lesson."
Bale dedicated himself to five months of rigorous physical training to prepare for the demanding role. Achieving the necessary level of agility and fitness was made all the more challenging by the fact that he had lost 63 pounds - dropping to an emaciated 121 lbs. - for his previous role as a tormented insomniac in The Machinist.
"I completely destroyed my body," Bale admits. "I'd reduced myself to something almost less than human. I tried to do a push up and couldn't. I went down and I didn't come back up. I couldn't do one single push-up because I'd wrecked my muscles so much."
By the time filming commenced, Bale had gained back his former weight and added an additional 20 pounds of muscle to achieve his Bruce Wayne/Batman physique.
To film Bruce Wayne's down-and-dirty confrontation with seven prisoners in a Bhutanese jail, which takes place before he acquires the training to develop a brutally effective fighting method of his own, Forman choreographed a series of crude movements for Bale.
"This is where we see Bruce Wayne at his rawest," Forman notes. "He's got a lot of inner anger, so his fighting has to come from pure brutality. No formal techniques and nothing too technical."
Staging a realistic seven-on-one battle also presented a challenge. According to Forman, "It's difficult to choreograph a fight where you have seven characters assaulting one character and make it feel like they're all attacking him at once. We wanted the fighting to be as realistic as possible."
The first fight sequence filmed was Bruce Wayne's grueling swordfight with his mentor Ducard, which was staged on a frozen Icelandic lake beneath a towering glacier. "It was beautifully dangerous and quite daunting," Neeson says of filming in the shadow of the largest glacier in Europe. "Every so often between set-ups we'd see ice crumbling away at the head of this glacier and bits of rock and muck falling off, and we knew this thing was a big living force that was moving towards us."
Due to the danger of filming on the temperamental ice, the safety team allowed only six people, including Bale and Neeson, to be on the frozen surface at a time. "We'd start hitting each other and smashing into the ice and then suddenly hear a big crack! right through the middle of the lake," Bale recalls. "We'd all stand dead still and look around. Then the safety guys would shout Okay, get off! Get off! Thankfully, we got the whole thing in that one day, because by the next, there was no ice whatsoever. It had melted into a lake again."
In preparation for filming the backbreaking swordfight, Forman and his team spent weeks rehearsing with Bale and costar Liam Neeson at an ice rink. The actors were trained in the art of wielding Samurai swords, defending against blade attacks with forearm gauntlets, and as Bale puts it, "practicing how to fight while standing on ice without falling on your ass all the time."
"The cuts are very powerful," Forman says of Samurai swordfighting movements, "and it's difficult to defend yourself against them. It takes a lot of energy and Christian and Liam both put one hundred percent into their performances. They did very well, both with the Keysi and the swordfighting."
"Lawrence Olivier was once asked what he thought the greatest attribute an actor can have, and on top of his list he put stamina," Neeson says. "Christian has unbelievable stamina. He's also a very talented actor. When he says his lines, I believe him. I believe what comes out of his mouth and that's what it's all about for me."
"It's a great advantage to have actors like Liam and Christian, who are willing to dive in and express their characters' physicality even in the most extreme situations," says Nolan. "I was extraordinarily impressed by the authenticity and intensity that they brought to the film's fighting and action sequences."
FILMING BATMAN BEGINS