Men fall from the sky and gods hurl thunderbolts…
That’s how it starts.
With Wonder Woman at all times are her tiara, her Amazonian bracelets, and her lasso of truth, sword and shield. Designed and manufactured under the careful eye of property master Doug Harlocker, the sword, like Superman’s chainmail, surreptitiously incorporates a portion of the Joseph Campbell quote admired by director Zack Snyder—this time, etched in Venetian text into the grooves of the blade. An eagle, which is an integral motif in the character’s lore, decorates the uppermost part of the sword, and also sits, faded and almost ghostly, upon the front of her well-worn shield.
But it’s Batman, the only human of the trio, who is the most dependent upon his weaponry. Outfitted with multiple grappling guns, grenade launchers, Batarangs, a Batbrand, and sniper rifles that shoot both darts and GPS tracking devices, he has an arsenal to envy.
He also flies the sleek and lightweight Batwing that hangs like a gargoyle in the Batcave and soars effortlessly over Gotham and its surrounds. Historically, however, it has always been the car he drives that garners the most attention: the Batmobile.
Like the Batman suit, the Batmobile reflects the hero’s brutal fighting style. Designed by production designer Patrick Tatopoulos, art director Kevin Ishioka and concept artist Ed Natividad and vehicle set designer Joe Hiura, then built by Dennis McCarthy of Vehicle FX in Sun Valley, California, the 8800-pound beast took over a year to develop, test and tweak before it was ready for its close-up.
“The Batmobile was my first design for the film and became the tool I used to define the Batman aesthetic,” Tatopoulos states.
“It is phenomenal,” says Deborah Snyder. “This thing is so bad-ass and it runs like you would not believe. It sounds incredible. The Batmobiles done in the past were super cool, so how do you top it? But it really is a work of art. It’s militaristic, it looks battle-beaten. It’s just a magnificent vehicle in so many ways.”
But it was a bit too valuable to be crashed into walls or flipped over. For the heavier work, the team built two “proxy” cars: stripped-down Dodge Ram Duallys that the special effects team then rigged up with tubular chassis to protect the stunt drivers, and metal plates to approximate the size of the Batmobile. In post, visual effects supervisor DJ DesJardin’s team then rendered the Batmobile in.
For scenes where the real Batmobile was in use, stunt driver Mike Justus was the man behind the wheel. “All I was allowed to do was pull up and stop,” Ben Affleck laughs. “I wanted to do all the crashing and shooting, but that car cost too much.”
Even Jeremy Irons was blown away by the vehicle. “The first time I saw the Batmobile, I was awestruck, and that was on the outside set,” he recalls. “But when it was sitting in my workshop in the Batcave, well…that was very cool.” The actor was thrilled to have been able to spend a little time at the wheel of the iconic car. “I wanted to try a few donuts in the Batmobile and see if I could get the front wheels off the ground, but I was conscious that I should hand it back in reasonable condition. So I restrained myself—but nevertheless I had a blast!”
To aid the visual effects team in post, the Batmobile was scanned by Scanline in order to provide the required reference points. The actors, too, were scanned, this time by Light Stage, in the company’s brand new mobile unit. Built by Light Stage and Gentle Giant Studios, the pioneering technology creates a hologram of the subject and solves the problem of having to send actors to company headquarters to be scanned, saving valuable time. The smaller mobile unit can be sent anywhere a film is shooting, set up in a day, and used between an actor’s scenes; some scans took as little as 20 minutes.
“There’s so much that you can do now with visual effects,” says Deborah Snyder, “but I think the trick is to marry the visual effects with something that’s real. Our films have always been very reality-based. Building these sets and props, it gives the film a reality that CG doesn’t have on its own. So when our characters do fantastical things in our real world, they’re even more fantastical because they appear that much more real.”
Known for preferring the real over the imaginary, Zack Snyder feels there is a place for each on a movie like “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” stating, “I’m a combo guy. I use computers to solve problems and I’m not afraid of CGI, it’s a great tool. I don’t draw a line, it’s all about the shot. DJ and I have worked together a long time; we trust each other to do what’s best to make every scene as impactful as possible for the audience.”