Narrator: When Batman appeared on TV screens in the 1960s,
Narrator: his costume looked pretty similar to the comic book. But in 2022's version, the leotard became 3D-printed, black body armor, complete with a functional arm gadget and insignia.
Batman has come a long way, from spandex and nylon to practical flying wing suits. And over the years, the mix of practical effects and CGI has created costumes that feel more real and believable to the audience.
In comic books, heroes often wear tight-fitting clothing to show off their superhuman muscles and strength. But when superheroes began showing up on the big screen in the 1940s, those were tough shoes, or suits, for actors to fill in real life. Those body types weren't realistic and neither were the materials.
At the time, the most common fabrics for costumes were wool, felt, and nylon, nothing skintight like the comic books required, so the outfits were loose and ill-fitting, up until the invention of Lycra, or spandex.
1978's "Superman" showcased what would become one of the most popular superhero outfits, designed by Oscar-winning costume designer Yvonne Blake.
Narrator: She kept the trademark red underwear from the comic books. Underneath, Christopher Reeve wore plastic protection, something normally worn by boxers. But spandex can actually flatten out muscles, removing definition, so Reeves had to pack on over 30 pounds of muscle to appear stronger in the costume.
That all changed in the '80s when robots took over our screens. C-3PO's design in "Star Wars," combined with the physique of Marvel comic superheroes, soon paved the way for this armored superhero costume.
RoboCop's 1987 armored suit weighed 80 pounds. To make something so bulky actually wearable, the designers started with a flexible under suit and covered it with a harness, to which they attached a fiberglass exoskeleton.
The interior and the black sections were a mix of high-impact plastics and foam rubber, which made the suit so hot, actor Peter Weller sweated out three pounds a day.
The designers eventually installed an AC unit inside the outfit. This was also one of the first times that hero suits were somewhat functional. The team had to build seven different versions to show damage from different fight scenes, including one made of special fireproof fiberglass worn by a stuntman.
Similar hard exteriors were also used to bulk up comic superheroes. Tim Burton upgraded Batman to armor in 1989, swapping the spandex and trunks with sculpted rubber muscles.
David Crossman: It was a brilliant suit. I remember seeing that suit on location. It was a new idea and a new technique.
Narrator: The new idea: using black foam rubber latex to make Batman's signature protective cowl. Formed as one piece for a seamless look, the cowl was connected to the cape, upper bust, and neck.
This meant that actor Michael Keaton couldn't actually turn his neck in the costume. Instead, to turn his head, he had to swivel his entire upper body.
The complete outfit weighed just under 90 pounds, with the cape alone weighing 40 pounds. And the extra weight, in addition to the stiff cowl, made fight scenes stiff and awkward.
One superhero who needed his full range of movement? Spider-Man. His live-action debut in 1977's "Amazing Spider-Man" series was a basic head-to-toe spandex suit.
But 2002's "Spider-Man" would start a new tradition of combining both practical and digital versions of the costume.
Designers spent four months testing different versions of the costume to get the right fit and shape for Tobey Maguire, with the heightened illusion of muscles through rubber web lining and shading.
At the time, VFX designers struggled to animate faces, but since Spider-Man wore a mask, he was a perfect candidate for incorporating a CG costume.
For scenes that were just too dangerous for stunt actors to shoot in costume, they would be recreated digitally.
This final scene was completely CG, but it was the most time-consuming shot, taking 18 months to create.
CG shots still had room for improvement and were not yet as convincing as the real thing, so when director Christopher Nolan took on "Batman Begins," he opted to shoot things in camera as much as possible and only use CGI to enhance scenes.
"Batman Begins" found ways to update Tim Burton's bat suit with greater detail practically. The "Dark Knight" trilogy leaned toward designing an indestructible suit of armor.
Designers drew inspiration from military technology and materials to make it appear fireproof and bulletproof. The team also redesigned the armor in the sequel, molding out more than 100 smaller plates in clay before casting them in urethane. These plates were then placed onto a mesh under layer, which created even more flexibility.
The neck was also now adjusted for greater movement. The head section of the cowl was finally separated from the neck so it could twist more. The neck and jaw sections were scaled down and designed as smaller panels connected to the armor panels.
These practical advancements paved the way for even more integration between CG and practical suits. Like in 2008's "Iron-Man," which used a practical costume for his first clunky cave suit.
The 90-pound version was made with epoxy armor shells, urethane, leather, and aluminum.
But a rising new technology would make it easier to build lighter and more precise armor.
3D printing changed how costumes were constructed. Complicated pieces were made quicker, cheaper, and more precise. Like this blue mesh that was printed to give depth to Superman's more modern chrome muscle suit.
The Star-Lord helmet in "Guardians of the Galaxy" could be accurately fitted with a 3D scan as well as include features inside such as hidden fans for better ventilation and red lenses that light up without affecting vision.
Instead of spending hours molding a suit, designers could quickly scan an actor and create a suit with perfect measurements.
2017's "Wonder Woman" wanted to stay true to her modern-day costume, which premiered a year prior in "Batman v Superman." Dozens of materials were tested to make the armor lighter and more flexible before adding a special metal plating finish.
Special effects team FB FX also developed a new technique that allowed actual metal plating to be used without affecting the suit's flexibility. But it wasn't just practical costumes getting an update at this time. CG costumes were looking much more realistic thanks to motion-capture technology.
Perfecting this led to the incredible realism of the digital time suits in "Avengers: Endgame." This scene was actually filmed right after the prequel, so the final suits weren't even designed yet.
But the technology really shined for characters like Iron Man and Spider-Man. Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Holland wore these suits on set to track their movements, and FX artists later replaced them with digital versions.
For 2021's "No Way Home," Tom wore what's known as a fractal suit, an upgrade that fine-tuned and tracked the movement even more than regular mo-cap tracking suits.
With all of these advancements, costume designers could now combine CGI, 3D printing, and practical methods to bring an even more realistic Batman to the screen in 2022.
Robert's bat suit kept the armored look from "Dark Knight," and it was made of 3D-printed pieces of armor. The head and neck of the cowl were separate.
To create the seamless effect, the neck piece was made up of vertebrae-like pieces that eventually tucked under the chest armor and the top of the cape.
David: What's nice about our batsuit is that Robert has a lot of head freedom. We were always trying to tweak the tension on it.
Glyn Dillon: But there's all this clever kind of work underneath with the elastic bands that hold them to parts of the chest, so that when they move, they all come back into the right position.
Narrator: For the muscle suit, the focus was on making it as functional as possible.
Glyn: Every part of the suit was practical. The gauntlets, the gun, all the armor and everything, and even down to the insignia, the idea that it would be a knife.
Narrator: And this practicality paid off in larger stunt scenes, like when Batman leaps off the building.
David: That's actually a real winged suit he's wearing.
Glyn: We had ones that you could actually fly in.
Narrator: The team worked with parachute gliders to develop this version of the suit.
Glyn: It's a little bit of visual effects, trickery to help it along the way, but all of the process, we did it, and there were real steps as to how he could turn his cape into the winged suit.
Narrator: Over the decades, each of these advancements has led to more and more believable superhero costumes and changed how they were brought to the screen, making them not just captivating to comic book fans, but to global mainstream audiences.