The Making of “The Amazing Spider-Man” Suit
By Alexandra Lippin, Sept. 27, 2012
After Executive Producer Michael Grillo worked with Costume Designer Kym Barrett on the 2011-released Sony Pictures superhero flick “The Green Hornet,” he was assured she was a perfect fit for “The Amazing Spider-Man.” Grillo coordinated a meeting between Barrett and Director Marc Webb, who had a hyper-technical vision for the film that the designer took to heart.
It was crucial that the Spider-Man suit meet a two-pronged, fairly conflicting studio criterion in that “it was different, but not too different, same but not the same,” recalls Barrett. She was asked to come up with something innovative but also honor the historic imagery of a character popular among comic book fans since his Marvel debut in the early 1960s. The concept stemmed from the idea that Peter Parker could have designed his superhero alias suit by himself, on a computer. Ultimately, the nostalgic look of the original comic book was revitalized with a modern, high-tech vision.
Since the film was shot in 3D, the suit needed an aerodynamic look with a saturated, fluid quality. Barrett tested out a number of fabrics that would not only allow for a lot of movement, but also maintain shape and breathe. The suit needed to be modern and sophisticated but still allow for the actor’s natural movements―including running, jumping, stretching and climbing―with minimal creasing and bagging. It was also important to clearly define the lines and contours of Spider-Man’s body just right, so that his physique would be decipherable from a variety of camera angles.
In order to create the most precise lines and highlight definition, Barrett placed a body stocking over star Andrew Garfield’s body and followed his muscles and contours with a pen to keep the suit as organically fit as possible. She also worked with costume illustrators and concept artists to perfect the lines and use shadow and contour to create the illusion that the suit was very thick, when it was actually quite thin. Aside from emitting a thick, organic look, the prototype suit had to accommodate a lengthy shooting schedule and water exposure, as well as spec adjustments to fit four Spider-Man stuntmen. Additionally, Barrett had to conceal all of the zippers and fasteners that allowed Garfield and his stuntmen to get in and out of the suit quickly—no easy task, since the fabric was so thin and stretched to the limits. The suit had to look magical with no “real world” trappings.
When moving from these structural bases to more decorative details, Barrett, (Costume Designer behind Cirque du Soleil’s amphibian-centric “Totem” show), called on the talents of her former Cirque team in Montreal as well as Karen Winn at By Design in Van Nuys. The design on the suit was done in several layers, starting with an under-print in various designs and patterns of different thicknesses, applied to some of the pattern pieces by the Cirque team. Karen Winn at By Design printed shadows onto specific pattern pieces, while textile artist Rebecca Roberts and her team added finishing touches and highlights. Each section of the suit was carefully printed to perfectly align with the seams and was then overlaid with a process using rubberized ink, which added greater depth for the 3D effect.
“I think the [resulting] texture of the suit made it so believable, it gave it depth and interest,” says Costume Supervisor Lynda Foote. “The light reflected differently depending on where we were shooting while the flat seaming and hidden zippers that [Barrett] used made it look like liquid poured over [Garfield’s] body. The 3D helped us to feel like we could look into the suit and see forever.”
According to Foote, “there were over 30 pattern pieces for each suit, all with different requirements that had to be coordinated between Cirque du Soleil in Montreal, By Design in Van Nuys, our workshop in Culver City, and CB Western Works in Tehachapi, who manufactured the shoes.” In regards to Spider-Man’s mask, the under-shape of the head was constructed by Jose Fernandez at Ironhead and the lenses created by Richard Walker of Blinde Optics.
In total, the team constructed 58 suits for use among Garfield and his four stuntmen. All were made to different specs and construction on each had to be coordinated at each stage so that all of the right pieces were finished on time and in the right place for assembly by the Cirque team.
“At any given time, roughly 2,000 pieces were floating between all of these places,” says Foote. “Fed Ex made a lot of money!”
The biggest challenge in creating Spider-Man’s gloves was the coordination of the creative team involved in their design and the actual physical elements that were needed to construct them. The creative team consisted of personnel including Costume Designer, Assistant Costume Designer, Key Costumer, Supervisor, shoppers and production assistants, Illustrators, patternmaker and cutter, stitcher, Specialty Costume Expert (for the final foiling of the gloves), screen printers (who created the web design which was printed onto the gloves, and entire suit), a team of dyers and agers, prop department (for the “Web Shooters” attached to each glove), Cirque team, Garfield and his four stuntmen.
When tasked with creating the gloves for the Spider-Man suit, Specialty Costume Designer Stacia Lang first reviewed the sketch and discussed materials, fastenings and design with Barrett. At the top of their list was scheduling a time to meet with Garfield and his stuntmen to trace and take detailed measurements of their hands, as well as discuss their needs and the action scenes that would be taking place. Once the tracings and measurements were completed, Lang selected a fabric to make mock-ups.
The next step was to start mapping out the basic pattern and work with stitcher Van Hua to develop stitching techniques best suited to Barrett’s design. Lang gathered zippers, thread, foam and leather in order to begin the intricate design on the palm of the glove. To cater to the 3D film, which tends to affect color, the leather needed to be looked at via a screen test before being finalized.
Once sample yardage came in from the Cirque team and the screen printer, Barrett began to select the texture, thickness and shininess of the background while still working on the web design. The stitcher then mocked up a pair of basic gloves so that Lang and the illustrator could get started sketching the design in marker, directly on the three-dimensional glove. Although Lang had measured Garfield and the stuntmen’s hands in advance, the lines were subject to change drastically when going from a flat two-dimensional drawing to a real hand in-the-round, (and some lines were discarded entirely).
Early on in the process, Lang began to work closely with the Props Master so that he could start developing “Web Shooters” for the wrists, which would be applied directly to the gloves. The two decided to screw a flat brass plate into the back of each shooter and sandwich the glove in between, thereby locking it into place. Lang made sure that she had a nice rigid surface on the inside of the wrist, to accommodate the holes and prevent the gloves from stretching out with the weight of the shooters.
While the Spider-Man gloves were being tested and developed, Lang began working on practice gloves with which the stuntmen could begin to train. Each stuntman had his own specific needs, as each had been recruited for his respective physical expertise (climbing versus running and jumping or flipping). In order to make the front of the fingers as flat as possible and create a sleek look, the stitcher implemented specific flat lapping techniques, which Barrett ultimately approved. After this process was completed, Lang had five separate glove pattern sets as well as five separate practice glove pattern sets.
The gloves posed a series of coordination challenges. In development, certain design features or style lines needed to be modified and with each change, the pattern then needed to be adjusted. When the pattern changed, so did the screen-printing layout. This created a fragile house of cards: as the screen-printing ink or the base fabric weight changed, it had a direct impact on the stretch of the gloves and the overall fit. As a result, the pattern needed to be altered again, to allow for stretch (or lack thereof).
It was imperative that Lang marry the glove to the suit, and although she worked closely with Barrett and the Cirque team throughout the process, there were final adjustments that needed to be made to each individual pattern. Once the adjustments were made, the completed glove patterns were sent to the Cirque team, where they were combined with all of the suit patterns.
The boots, which were created and assembled by Clint Bryant, presented another challenge: they had to provide dependable athletic support to Garfield and the stuntmen as they completed a series of physical feats. After consulting with a podiatrist to find an appropriate, ergonomic shoe, Barrett and Bryant ultimately selected a track-and-field shoe with built-in extra support. Once they unscrewed the spikes, Barrett knew that the organic pattern on the sole would work well with the overall aesthetic of the suit. Unable to use laces or Velcro to keep the boots snug around Spider-Man’s feet and ankles, Bryant removed the soles from the track-and-field shoes and applied them to a custom-made boot (which he had sewn directly into the suit). This construction helped in unifying the head-to-toe tension of the entire suit, which was important in accommodating Garfield and his stuntmen’s movements.
The lenses were designed and created by Richard Walker of Blinde Optics. It was important that the lenses provided a good range of vision and weren’t oddly over or undersized. Barrett selected blue lenses with a gold mirror honeycomb design, which were neither transparent nor reflective. The lenses, which were manufactured in Japan, were placed into a frame that attached to the suit via magnets and could be popped out if need be.
A specialty costumer was brought in to work on foiling the web design on the suit, gloves, and boots, a technique that is used to add illumination and shine to the raised web design. This was done to every suit, and re-administered for any touch ups as shooting rolled on.
Putting on the Suit:
Getting into Spider-Man’s suit was an arduous process: it had to go on feet first, then pulled up, arms in, gloves zippered up, over the head and shoulders, and down the back. It normally took two costumers to get the suit on Garfield and his stuntmen. By the end of shooting, the set costumers had it down and could do it by themselves as needed.
An “Amazing” Team Effort:
“This film was super organized thanks to [Assistant Costume Designer] Holly Davis, Illustrator Felipe Sanchez, Supervisor Lynda Foote and my crew of around 40. It sounds like a lot but for a film of this size it was in-keeping with the cost-effective, leaner budget of the film,” says Barrett.
“Overall it was a great experience.”