Costume Designer Michael Wilkinson details his work for Zack Snyder’s Justice League, from Superman’s black suit, to Atlantean armor, and more.
Now that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has shown audiences more than four full hours of story, there is no question that the workd put into the movie can be appreciated as originally intended (and then some). In the process, revealing more of the Amazons, Atlanteans, and Apokolips than fans even knew to expect.
For costume designer Michael Wilkinson, Justice League represented yet another evolution and refinement of Zack Snyder’s movie universe. Having established Superman’s designs with his native Krypton in Man of Steel, and introduced a new Batman and Wonder Woman with the Dawn of Justice sequel, the job for Justice League grew even larger. The continuing evolution of the Superman suit, the addition of a costume intended for recoloring to black, Aquaman embracing the armor of Atlantis, and two suits of Flash armor were all called for. And finally, the world can see just what that time and energy produced in Zack Snyder’s full cut of the film.
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Screen Rant spoke with Michael Wilkinson about his work on the film, and which aspects of his work (now able to be seen in the extended Snyder Cut) he’s most eager to see fans enjoy.
Screen Rant: The black Superman suit was a secret spilled by Zack Snyder early on, and modern movie fans can probably understand that a suit can be color-corrected after filming. But an ‘all-black bodysuit’ seems like a unique challenge from a costume design perspective. What had to change?
Michael Wilkinson: For Justice League I found a new fabric for the mesh oversuit of the regular Superman suit that made the undersuit really gleam in a beautiful way. I was excited about the idea of the black Superman suit because I knew it would look incredible if we really pushed some elements that we had already created with the regular suit – we made the undersuit even more metallic than previously, and it gleamed dramatically through the mesh. The dimensional chainmail print on the mesh done using silvery graphite metallic paints. All of these tweaks ensured that a monochromatic Supersuit was anything but boring!
SR: The tactical Batman suit stands out instantly, and fans are sure to debate the movie, comic book, and Arkham video game influences. But with Batman’s massive shift in character and outlook from Batman v Superman, how was that incorporated into Bruce Wayne’s wardrobe outside of the Batcave as well?
MW: Bruce Wayne’s personal wardrobe is a bit more streamlined in Justice League compared to BvS – it’s less flashy, less “billionaire playboy”, a bit more understated, since Bruce is facing incredible strain in his life. Everything is still of the highest quality and speaks of immense luxury – it’s a though his bespoke suits and accessories have evolved into practical everyday “uniform” for Bruce.
SR: Fans saw Arthur and Mera’s costumes in the theatrical cut, but with the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, audiences get a much better look at the Atlantean wardrobe you created. From the ancient king in the history lesson, to Vulko and guards both in and out of the water. With so much more to look at, can you speak to the design language shared and contrasted across the Atlantean cast?
MW: I’m so glad that audiences are seeing more of the Atlantean world, because my team and I put so much heart and soul into it creating the look of this world. We thought a lot about their culture and history, and created a graphic language of shapes, motifs, textures and finishes that reflected this. We experimented with beautiful new translucent materials, sculpted and molded many new costumes elements and worked with a talented crew of art finishers that created a stunning range of aquatics colors and painted effects.
SR: Speaking of the history lesson, the full version of Zack Snyder’s Justice League means audiences can appreciate the Herculean task your department must have faced with the history lesson/ancient battle. Warriors from Europe, Asia, Atlantis, even more ancient Amazons, and even Greek Gods. How do you even approach a task that massive, and how much work went into that sequence alone?
MW: When we read the sequence in the script, we laughed that it was a film in itself! But as a designer, I love that sort of thing – any chance to expand the universe and show back stories that shed light on our heroes is golden to me! So I rolled up my sleeves, did a lot of research, and had long meetings with Zack about the approach we wanted to take. We wanted it to feel mythical, to inspire that sense of awe that you get when you read the great epics and ancient sagas, so we went iconic with our design language. The different groups had to be defined from each other which was tricky because the golden sepia light washes out a lot of the color, so it became about silhouette and textures.
SR: Batman’s Knightmare costume was established in Batman v Superman, but with the additional scene Zack added, what was required to translate existing costumes into that Mad-Max-esque future? And what was it like putting that together on this timeline, during a pandemic?
MW: I don’t want to create spoilers for the fans who haven’t seen this sequence, but essentially we aged and embellished existing versions of each character’s costume – adding textures and various layering pieces to achieve a look that was right for this dystopian vision.
SR: Jared Leto’s Joker returns, but this is not the look or wardrobe fans are used to seeing. What can you tell us about that process, and the design ideas that went into his new, instantly-iconic depiction? Do you have your own thoughts on why Joker looks so different in this future?
MW: The idea was for Joker to wear a Straight Jacket and Gotham PD Swat vest – I think the incongruity of the image is both iconic and thought provoking – the Joker, in a Gotham swat vest?! What the hell? And we all know that a mere straight jacket is no real constraint for the Joker’s insanity….!
SR: The Flash’s Knightmare armor was technically glimpsed back in Batman v Superman, but intentionally kept under wraps. Now that audiences know the story, and get a chance to see Ezra in the suit clearly, what can you share about designing that costume?
MW: The suit was created digitally – the idea was an outer shell encasing the Flash’s regular suit and giving him even more protection from his inconceivably fast travel through space and time. His exploration of dimensions and conditions unknown to us seemed to warrant a nano-tech approach to his suit.
SR: There is an entire universe of design and backstory teased in the few glimpses of Apokolips, and the intricate details of Darkseid and Desaad’s looks in the movie. What can you tell us about the direction, influences, and story being told through those designs?
MW: The costume department generated all of the concept art for the digital characters – full turnarounds, drawn in 3D drawing applications. I knew I wanted to create textures and silhouettes that were unlike anything that audiences had seen before, since the culture of Darkseid and Desaad are so advanced and so alien to us. I researched new innovative design languages, and realized that I needed to explore new ways of drawing and expressing my ideas. I was fortunate enough to work with the amazing concert artist Jerad Merantz who poured so much talent and technical innovation into the drawings of these characters.
SR: Now that fans get to see every bit of the work you put into Justice League, is there a design that stands out as the most challenging, or one that is your personal favorite?
MW: I’m particularly proud of the look that I designed for the Amazons – I love the mixture of wildness and majesty that they exude.
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