Tuesday, July 22, 2008
The Dark Knight's Costume Designer Describes Creating the Joker's New Look
Great supervillains aren't born, they're made - something that costume designer Lindy Hemming will happily tell you. The costume designer for Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight recently talked to Wizard Universe about the process whereby she created the new look for Heath Ledger's Joker in Nolan's sequel to Batman Begins.
[Director] Chris [Nolan] didn't want him to have a brand-new costume made," Hemming says, "I started getting pieces together, and we made up a look, but always keeping them in various shades of purple. There are like 25 of those coats, all in different stages of breaking down because of the things happening to [the Joker]." Given that restriction, Hemming began looking at the character's past appearances in comics, and then comparing that to modern fashion.
"The first place that I looked [for inspiration] was obviously pictures of the Joker in past graphic novels, comic books, films, whatever, and then after that, I started to think, 'Well, how could someone be like this?'" explains Hemming. "Then I wanted to contemporize it, so I started looking in fashion."
"You say, 'What's the rationale for him being able to dress like this?' That's when I started looking at the pop world and I ended up looking at the Sex Pistols and Johnny Rotten. I was just thinking, 'Well, there are plenty of guys out there who actually are as extreme as this, and there's nothing wrong with doing it.' You've got to make it look like someone really dresses like this. It can't just be, 'Hello, I'm putting on my costume.' It's got to be wherever he lives and whatever he's been doing, he's been wearing that."
Hemming explains that when viewers first see the Joker in the film, he is already in "costume." "You can assume that he might've been dressed like that for years. He may have always been wearing those clothes. Instead of putting them on like the Joker has done before, you find him wearing these. He's already scarred in the film, so the makeup comes from what he does to enhance that rather than to look like a clown."
The Dark Knight opens on July 18, 2008, and stars Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart and Maggie Gylenhall.
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.