The age old question when Hollywood adapts a superhero is how much should you / do you need to change the costume? For some, the costume works OK as is, others don’t, even if fans don’t like it, some change is inevitable. The same thought process goes through my head each time. So how far does one go in order to give a more realistic interpretation? It’s a delicate balance, too close to the comic design and you risk the character looking silly, too far and the character is no longer recognizable. My philosophy is that the comic book designs should be used as the building blocks for a 3D world interpretation not the end result, what it comes down to is keeping the main elements of what makes the outfit recognizable, but shifting to give it depth and layers to make it feel less like a costume and more like something someone would actually wear.
For this example I’m going to focus on one of the worlds most famous comic icons Superman, in all seriousness the characters outfit not only is as boring as hell but it doesn’t translate well on screen. Time to change that!
Part 1 – Brainstorming
There’s been two main origin to the Superman suit, one that says old lady Kent made it, the other saying that the suit came from Krypton with him, I’m going to use the latter to develop back story. In the 70 plus years of the characters existence there’s been very little variation in design. This is both a blessing and a curse, a blessing in that it gives me a lot of freedom to play with, a curse in that it gives me too much freedom to play with, it’s an area I have to tread carefully in otherwise it no longer becomes Superman.
Using a still image from Superman Returns, I take note of what the important elements are that make him Superman: Blue suit, Red Cape and boots, ‘S’ logo and Gold Belt. I’m really not a fan of the Red Undies (they’ve always looked ridiculous to me) but want to at least pay homage to them in some way, although I’m not sure yet. I want to make this look a little more like some ceremonial outfit, or perhaps even an outfit of position within the family, almost royalty like, something like that. On top of that I want to hint at Kryptonian culture through the design.
Part 2 – Colour Change
The first thing I do is remove the Red Briefs to give me a clean slate, next I start altering the blue suit to be a little more desaturated, this will probably change later but I like to start with fairly neutral colours. I also want to add a few tones of blue to add some interest to the suit. I’ve decided to use the ‘S’ logo as the basis for design in the multiple blue tones and begin creating various patterns around the body.
Part 3 – New Branding
Time for the logo to go, I’m not a fan of that beveled logo, it looks too plastic toy like. I’m thinking perhaps as it’s an alien suit, a more alien like material is probably called for. I decided on a sort of metallic fabric. I’ve left the ‘S’ part off for now as I’m thinking of giving that design a bit of a face lift too.
Part 4 – More Contrast
There’s not enough contrast in this design, the multiple blue tones aren’t sticking out as much as I want. Time to fire up the Level controls, in doing so I create a rather striking Deep Blue, borderline Navy. On top of that I remove the boots as they no longer suit the design I’m going for.
Part 5 – Cape
The positioning of the Cape now looks weird, so I cut it out and replace it with one that looks a little less animated. I also decide that the suit itself could use a little more red to it, so along with the multiple blue tones I had a red patch that runs from the back and slices its way to the front were it will meet the Belt (which I’ve yet to figure out).
Part 6 – Footwear
I finally stumble across a Superman image featuring slightly different boots than normal, it has a pointed design which I quite like. Not quite sure yet how to finish it but I lay down the basic shape as a foundation.
Part 7 – Pull Up Those Pants!
Traditionally Superman’s belt has been a bright yellow action figure like type of thing, it’s time to add some real gold into the mix, and not only that, add some texture in with it, I want a slightly rustic feel. I also decided to try a few things by fracturing the belt around the suit, I settle on this fractured look, this moment of messing around leads me to solve the Red Undies situation.
Part 8 – No More Undies
It took me a while (a long while), but that inadvertent messing around with the belt has lead me to finally figure out how to incorporate the Red Undies with out them ever being there. The answer is so simple I feel like an idiot having spent so long trying a thousand different ideas: add the undies design into the suit as a pattern, duh! Using the belt design, I fracture the red pattern to again form similar patterns to the ‘S’ logo which in theory wrap around and join the other red patch on the back of the suit.
Part 9- Up, Up and Away!
For the final touches I update the ‘S’ part of the logo slightly, making it a little more sleek, add another strip of blue to the front of the suit, add a few various metallic patterns throughout, fix the details on the boots and finish by adding some seams along the patterns and muscle structure and fixing any lighting and colour issues. The goal was to remain true to the comic design but give him a fresh twist, purists will scoff at the thought of this design, but I’m betting if you were to ask any person on the street who this character is, they’ll be able to tell you in an instant.