November 1, 2013
When Costume Designer Christine Bieselin Clark began planning the wardrobe for Summit Entertainment’s sci-fi military adventure “Ender’s Game,” she prepared to do battle with a force far stronger than budget battles and time constraints.
“We strategized to get around the enemy—puberty,” said Bieselin Clark, recalling the unique demands of working with a largely adolescent cast, which included the young Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld and Abigail Breslin, and also Harrison Ford, Ben Kinglsey and Viola Davis.
The film, based on the 1985 novel by Orson Scott Card and directed by Gavin Hood, centers on training the most talented children to defend Earth against a hostile alien people. Shy and scrawny Ender Wiggin (Butterfield) joins Battle School, where he emerges as the military’s next hope to save the human race.
Butterfield grew 3 ½ inches during four months of filming.
“We were checking on these guys every two weeks—having them come in for measurement checks, like they were going to the doctor. So we built a plan for what I knew was the inevitable—that they would grow,” she said.
The story’s most important costumes are the silver Flash Suits–jackets and pants reinforced with motocross-like body armor that key characters wear in Battle School’s simulated zero gravity. As the actors grew, the jacket could ride up while the high-waist pants still offered coverage. While building the 78 suits, the designer included four-inch seam allowances in the crotch, sleeves and hems, and gave the gloves extra-long gauntlets to hide ever-shorter sleeves.
The onetime co-costume designer of “TRON: Legacy,” Bieselin Clark also called upon her experience in the theater and used stretchy dance fabrics and gussets to allow movement. She drafted Quantum Creation FX in Burbank to sculpt the body armor and build the helmets, using digital scanning technology. To affect a futuristic look, By Design Screen Printing in Van Nuys created textures with 3D inks, while Biselin Clark created other-wordly fabrics by fusing layers over leather, neoprene or spandex, which were cut and sewn.
“Each one was like a science experiment,” she said.
The Flash Suits also figure as a plot point: Worn in battle simulation exercises, the suit can keep score by tallying the type and location of hits. The fabric had to seem able to register and conduct energy from each laser strike, which can immobilize the wearer. Telling that technological story required Bieselin Clark to coordinate with multiple departments—props to attach guns and visual effects to allow post-production flash effects.
The book and script described the Flash Suits very distinctly, allowing her less creative latitude. “It was probably the most specific situation I’d been in as a designer—where you really must give an accurate interpretation or you have failed,” she said.
“You have to imagine how generations of people, who have so much reverence for the story, have envisioned it, and then make it even better than they ever thought,” she said. “That’s why you don’t sleep as a designer.”