Friday, October 9, 2015

The Joker costumes from The Dark Knight were designed by Lindy Hemming. Co-writers David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan argued that the Joker has had so many different looks over the decades that portraying him was like portraying any Shakespearean character: "Do what you want." Thus, they weren't beholden to any particular comic book, animated, or film look.

Goyer and Nolan first decided that they wanted their Joker to be terrifying. More than anything, he had to be scary -- so this ruled out a lot of costume looks. For inspiration, they looked at the Dr. Mabeuse character in Metropolis and re-read the 1940s Joker appearances in the comic books. They these stories also convinced them that their Joker had to be much, much more anarchic.

Heath Ledger came aboard The Dark Knight very, very early in the process -- even before there was a script. Ledger's concept was that the Joker should be more like Alex in A Clockwork Orange. His interpretatiion startled Nolan, for it meshed well with his own ideas. Although other actors were considered for the role, none of them had a clear concept of how to play the Joker.

Lindy Hemming was the film's costume designer. Christopher Nolan likes to bring his costume, makeup, production design, and other craft people aboard his films even before a script is written. That way, the film has a seamless uniformity of look that other films might not.

Hemming began her research by looking at old Batman comic books for inspiration. She approached the costuming with the idea that the Joker was a psychopath. And psychopaths don't take care of themselves very well. So the costumes were designed with the idea that the Joker sweats lot, doesn't wash often, and even picks up leftover clothes wherever he finds them. "He always looks like he's slept in a hedge," Hemming said. Because Christopher Nolan's vision of the Batman universe was one of extreme realism, Hemming looked at thousands of images of real-life people who dressed in extreme ways -- Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, Pete Doherty, Iggy Pop, Alexander McQueen. She concluded that the Joker should also have a certain theatricality to him.

Hemming ultimately designed a look that was foppish with a little bit of grunge thrown in. She chose to stay with the Joker's traditional color palette, but lightened the color of the jacket to make it look more like Carnaby Street Mod. His shirt was a unique fabric based on a design Hemming found at an antique store, and was printed specially for the film. Vests and pants came in a wide range of shades of purple.

While designing the Joker's look, Hemming purposefully refused to allow any green to be added to the costume. This was so that the purple costumes would have a uniformity of look, as if the Joker found a suit of clothes (not a patchwork of coats, pants, waistcoats). Only at the end of the costume design process was green permitted to be used. That forced the designers to use a green that "fit" with the purple clothing, making it patterned and muted and shaded with black.

The Joker's shoes are an Italian design. They were chosen because they had an upward swoop at the toe, which was reminiscent of clown shoes. Ledger wanted a thin tie, so Hemming approached the London firm of Turnbull & Asser (best known for dressing British royalty). Turnbull & Asser didn't have the right fabric, so they collaborated with Hemming to design one unique to the film.

Conor O'Sullivan, prosthetics supervisor, was attracted to the idea that the Joker might have come from the punk and skinhead world. He immediately decided on scars, rather than a rictus grin, for the Joker's facial appearance. A delivery man who came to his home had a "Chelsea smile" (someone had slit his cheeks open with a knife), and O'Sullivan photographed this man and used the scars as the basis for the Joker's look.

The scar prosthetic wasn't latex, but silicone. It covered the whole of Ledger's lower lip as well. The prosthetics department spent about $50,000 and two years trying to come up with the right silicone mixture. Once they did, they cut prosthetic application time to 25 minutes (from 3 to 4 hours for latex), with make-up taking another 20 to 30 minutes.

Make-up artist John Caglione, Jr. referred to a Francis Bacon painting for the make-up design. To get the iconic cracked and runny look, Ledger scrunched up, raised his forehead, and squinted his eyes. White pancake makeup was then painted over his face. When he relaxed his face, this created texture and gave expression to the makeup. Ledgeer then closed his eyes very tightly, and the black make-up was painted over the white around them. After the black was on, Ledger's eyes were sprayed with water. He'd squeeze his eyes shut over and over, and shake his head, and the runniness would occur.

The costumes were designed so that if Ledger's makeup ran down onto them, it was just fine. Hemming thought that Joker had always worn these type of clothes, long before he went insane or began to do evil. "You can assume that he might've been dressed like that for years. He may have always been wearing those clothes. Instead of putting them on like the Joker has done before, you find him wearing these. He's already scarred in the film, so the makeup comes from what he does to enhance that rather than to look like a clown." Thus, the Joker would not care if his make-up dripped or ran onto his clothes. This helped free the make-up department from using make-up that didn't run or smudge.

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