The Making of The Batman Redesign of the Batman Suit
When I started this project I had already completed a couple of other robot designs but I wanted to do a very challenging hard surface/mech project for my portfolio. I had a Super Hero project in the back of my mind for quite some time and I decided to combine the two ambitions. I thought about combining a Super Hero/Mech design but I didn’t just want to do a straight copy of anything in existence. The idea had to be a new design, something original but not necessarily completely innovative/never seen before. I wanted it to be an exercise in concepting, creativity and a hard test of my tech/soft skills.
I decided to take a look at Batman since he has always been one of my favourite Super Heroes considering the fact that he is only one of the best known Heroes that actually does not have any Super Powers. In essence he probably is the only true Super Hero out of them all as he has everything to lose. It’s easier to be brave when you know that no one else can do anything to hurt you – like Superman for example.
As Batman also uses a lot of tech gadgets it would be quite easy to do a Mech project on him as it would fit his character. Since Burton’s remake in 1989 Batman has taken a significant make-over and added more technical innovation to his suit and personal armoury. Especially if you consider what his character was like in the 60’s TV shows where he was dressed up with his under pants on the outside of his tights. Batman was now a super-cool bad-ass with some awesome baddy-ass-kicking-contraptions. As Jack Nicholson commented “Where does he get those wonderful toys?”.
I was quite interested to take the Batman suit design another step forward. I was more of the line of thinking that if Batman was a real life character he would probably want even greater protection than his rubber-moulded suit could currently provide. If he does not have any Super Powers then his suit would need to provide some more impressive technical wizardry. I was inclined to think that his suit would actually be more like Iron Man’s – hard, super alloy, mech suit with more tricks than a clown’s pocket.
I started some research on Batman, Iron Man and Tron as there were several cool design features of all of these suits. I thought that the suit would contain various features from each of these design aproaches and started concept sketching with this in mind. I usually come to my conceptual approach quite quickly and I don’t need dozens and dozens of development sketches. Especially if it is a personal project – I know what I want and I set about it relatively quickly. Once I had something in mind I completed a more detailed render in Photoshop.
Initial concept sketches
Final ZBrush sculpt
The next step was to start ZBrushing. I used a base model from the ZBrush library and rather than create a “shell” around this mesh I moulded the clay is if it were the suit itself. Seeing as my concept had no need to show the man underneath the suit, the model could be the man – if that makes sense. Whilst I was sculpting I had some happy accidents and saw some things that I couldn’t have come across with a pencil and I just let them happen and let them evolve. The final sculpt looks different to my concept sketches but I was fine with that. My intention was never to create something that was tight to my initial concepts. They were useful as a starting point but I was quite happy to accept any changes that happened along the way, especially if I thought they were improvements. That is the beauty of your personal work – a client would probably never accept that kind of approach. They would expect the final model to be very close to the original concept sketches.
The sculpting process happened relatively quickly but cutting the model in to sections to create the panel loops took some time. I discovered that making the suit “work” was quite complex and I also discovered that the suits created for the Iron Man movies would never work in real life even if you take out all of the CG transition effects of the suit “building”. If the Iron Man suit was just a mechanised suit it still wouldn’t work. The joints are not quite correct. The joint intersection of the suit could never overlap like they do in the movie as in real life there would be metal grinding against metal and the motion and mobility of the suit in real life would be much more restrictive. This is the problem I discovered when I created the suit. As a suit standing in a regular N-Pose, the suit looked fantastic but when I moved the arm, rotated the hips or other body parts I found there were great big holes left where the armour had previously been. I learned that this is the same problems they would have had when the created the Iron Man in the movies but I also discovered that they had creatively cheated in parts to hide the reality of how a suit like that would really work. So I decided to take the creative high ground and design the suit so that it looks good rather than – “would this suit REALLY work?” Ultimately, this was a creative project, a design project, a piece of art for aesthetic purposes. This was not an engineering project where the suit would ACTUALLY be realised so those kind of details were not really that important.
Once I had clarity in my own mind about this approach it was easier to finish the design rather than keep on redesigning parts because when the armour was moved to a certain position, metal overlaps metal and it wouldn’t really behave like that in real life. If anyone has tried to design a close-formed mech suit – you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
With the suit designed I wanted to get a render out as I was excited to see what it all looked like. Since the final output was not intended for a game engine I could afford to take the high-poly model out of ZBrush and into Max as it was not necessary to be retopologised. Also, as the suit was going to be rendered with a metallic material I didn’t need UV’s – I could use simple box or spherical UV’s in Max without needing to use detailed UVWs. The rest was just a case of process: Simple UVs, 3 point light system, HDR lighting, texture the model, tweak a few render settings, do some tests, get the camera angle correct and then output it at high res with several other render elements ready for compositing.
The final composite was enjoyable. I just wanted something simple and effective and in-keeping with Batman’s character. I decided upon a night scene with the moon and some fog as the background. The suit essentially had 2 passes; one was a nice metallic paint for the suit and the other was a chrome effect. I layered one on top of the other and masked out the chrome and then erased away parts of the mask with grunge brush to give the effect of paint chips and rust. I wanted the suit to look a little battle worn – but not too much. I didn’t want to show Batman in a shiny all-new, sparkly suit. Batman likes a fight so his suit should depict that.
Ultimately I really wanted to show the Batman in action and I think at a later date I will do something like that but the project had already taken around 4 months on and off – doing what I could on weekends and in my spare time. I was getting to the point where I had had enough and was getting a bit tired of the project and a bit uninspired so I decided to wrap the project up with another render. I decided to show the suit in storage in the Bat Cave and set about creating that environment. I initially thought that this would be quite quick but it took a week’s worth of work spending around 8-10 hours per day to complete. I did the art direction on the fly so I didn’t bother with any concept sketches - I did however do a bit of research on some environments on the kind of thing I thought it would look like. My main thoughts were; dark, industrial, technical innovation and modern/futuristic. I went through a lot of test renders before I got the lighting set up correct and some of the UVs on the models were tedious but in the end I think it was worth it. The final render was quite effective and the post production was more about pixel pushing and adding in the details. One thing I wasn’t sure about was whether to use a Lens Blur in conjunction with the ZDepth pass. Although it looked more realistic I lost a lot of the detail in the background - detail that I had worked hard to create.
The next step of this project will be to create something more action based with a dynamic pose. I want a real movie poster shot – a real WOW! shot. I’ve left this for a while until I get some mojo for it again and then I’ll revisit it. Once I had created the suit the inevitable frustrations set in where all I could see was the mistakes I had made and improvements that were needed. I did even think at one point that I was going to re-design it AGAIN! Let’s see what happens when I come back to it. I expect there will be a few changes but let’s see.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and thanks for reading.