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Man of Steel – If the Suit Fits

LOIS
What’s the ‘S’ stand for?

CLARK/KAL-EL
It’s not an ‘S.’ In my world, it means ‘hope.’

LOIS
Well here, it’s an ‘S.’

MAN OF STEELThe S-shield, perhaps the most instantly recognized family crest in history, has long represented the strength and courage of the Super Hero who proudly bears it on his chest. Originally standing for Superman, the “S” has since become the heraldic symbol of the house of El, and stands for “hope.” Similarly, Krypton’s council members bear their own glyphs, as does Zod and other members of the Kryptonian elite. The glyphs all have origins in Kryptonian history and are not based on any Earthly symbology.

For costume designers James Acheson and Michael Wilkinson, modernizing the glyph and suit were two of the most exciting challenges they faced. They approached the task with both respect and fearlessness, despite how widely identifiable they are. And, of equal importance in serving the film, they were fully integrated into the aesthetic and heritage of the rest of the Kryptonian universe Snyder and his production team had created.

Detailing the evolution of the suit, Wilkinson states, “Rather than the traditional explanation that the suit was made from the cloth his parents wrapped him in when he was sent off from Krypton, we establish it as a foundation, the under garment all Kryptonians wear as a protective layer. On Krypton, therefore, when we see Jor-El or the council members or the soldiers, they all have the same type of suit under various layers of robes and armor, and each bearing the glyph of his or her own family line.”

With the origin of the suit established, it was left to the designers to incorporate what the world knows as the “Superman suit” into the backstory they had devised. Initial conceptualizing began with Acheson and his team of illustrators drawing dozens of versions of the suit, with the red shorts getting smaller and smaller until one day they were just no longer there. The process was completed with Wilkinson’s brilliant designs illustrated by Keith Christensen and Warren Manser. After several months of development and numerous prototypes, they felt they had found a suit that took the essential elements and modernized them, taking advantage of all that today’s technology has to offer: 3D digital body scans, computer design, and the latest in fabrics.

Taking the suit, and those of the other Kryptonians, from design to reality was a bit more complicated. For example, based on the body scans they took of Cavill, Wilkinson’s team made a full-size replica and added body sculpting, giving them the makings of the under-suit. This was comprised of foam latex with a brilliant chrome finish applied to the stretchy bodysuit. The complex over-suit was then made from a special mesh material, to which was applied a custom print technique to simulate a chain mail design which, when worn over the under suit, effected a metallic look that photographed beautifully. The computer-generated “S” glyph was produced via a 3D drawing program and 3D printer.

Despite the high tech design and production process involved, Snyder assures, “He has a red cape, he has an ‘S’ on his chest, he has a blue suit and red boots. He’s Superman.”

In fact, it is established early on that Krypton is a cape-wearing society, though the remainder of Krypton’s vestments are not so colorful: Jor-El wears a very dark gray-blue, and Zod wears black, subtle hints at the darkness their home has plunged into at the hands of its people. The planet’s grand council, Wilkinson says, is “weighed down by history, holding on to cultural restraints that prevent looking at new solutions to problems.”

So, in their heavy robes we see, literally, the weight of their world and the grandeur that once was, but no longer exists. “We created our own fabrics to convey this sense of alien textures—we etched into velvets, embroidered and screen-printed over materials to achieve raised textures and, hopefully, a sense of a grand culture that was once very sophisticated but has long since gone into decline,” he adds.

On Earth, Clark’s need to disappear into the background is reflected in his clothing. “He also wears many layers,” Wilkinson says. “He has his hood down low. He has a beard. He blends in with the rest of the world. There are glimpses of something greater, but it is not until he puts on the Superman suit that we see the beginning of his transformation. That’s a whole different silhouette and it really affects how he moves, and you can see that, indeed, he is not like any other guy.”

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