Concept To Screen – Batman (1989)

In this new weekly feature, we delve into the studio archives and uncover the first concept designs from your favorite feature films. We’ll take a look at the costumes and the sets. All before they were put in front of the camera lens.

We thought we’d take a look at what most regard as the best Batman film to date. 1989’s Batman directed by the mysterious Tim Burton.

Here’s a quote from the man himself that sets the tone of the film.

“I was never a giant comic book fan, but I’ve always loved the image of Batman and the Joker. The reason I’ve never been a comic book fan — and I think it started when I was a child — is because I could never tell which box I was supposed to read. I don’t know if it was dyslexia or whatever, but that’s why I loved The Killing Joke, because for the first time I could tell which one to read. It’s my favorite. It’s the first comic I’ve ever loved. And the success of those graphic novels made our ideas more acceptable.”
—Tim Burton

With Tim Burton already signed on to direct, the next thing was to set the tone and look for the film. Burton hired conceptual artist Anton Furst after seeing his designs in The Company of Wolves. Furst wanted to make Gotham like a gangland, a place where criminals run rampant.

Anton Furst said at the time

“I wanted to make Gotham City the ugliest and bleakest metropolis imaginable. We imagined what New York City might have become without a planning commission. A city run by crime, with a riot of architectural styles. An essay in ugliness. As if hell erupted through the pavement and kept on going”

The most iconic part of Batman is the suit, comic books at the time were going with the classic grey tights and blue cape and underwear. Tim Burton never liked this concept, feeling that the design wasn’t intimidating enough. He always thought the suit should be all black, allowing Batman to hide in the shadows thus giving him a much darker tone. This concept was met with positive feedback by Batman co-creator Bob Kane.

Costume designer Bob Ringwood was having difficulty creating a suit for Michael Keaton. He had this to say.

“The image of Batman in the comics is this huge, big six-foot-four hunk with a dimpled chin. Michael Keaton is a guy with average build. The problem was to make somebody who was average-sized and ordinary-looking into this bigger-than-life creature.”

Ringwood studied over 200 comic book issues for inspiration including Frank Millers The Dark Knight Returns and Burton’s favourite The Killing Joke. Numerous different versions of the costume were created resulting in a total cost of $250,000 for the costume alone.

Tim Burton on the finished costume

“Michael is a bit claustrophobic, which made it worse for him. The costume put him in a dark, Batman-like mood though, so he was able to use it to his advantage”

When it came to designing the Batmobile, Anton Furst was heavily inspired by the comic books. He wanted to avoid the style of the 1966 Live Action Batmobile and go for a sleeker, black jet like sports car.

Furst explained

“We looked at jet aircraft components, we looked at war machines, we looked at all sorts of things. In the end, we went into pure expressionism, taking the Salt Flat Racers of the 30s and the Sting Ray macho machines of the 50s. The car was built upon a Chevrolet Impala when previous development with a Jaguar and Ford Mustang failed.

Production designer Anton Furst designed the iconic poster, which he called “evocative but ubiquitous. It only featuring the Bat-Symbol but it wasn’t the original design. Earlier designs had character poses and titles reminicant of Robocop. Tim Burton had final say and believed that Furst’s design was the strongest and the perfect way to market the film.

For his work on the film Anton Furst won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction. Batman opened on June 23, 1989 and went on to receive stellar reviews and is still regarded as one of the best Superhero films to date. It grossed $411.35 million worldwide, shattering box office records and was DC’s highest grossing film up until The Dark Knight.

Well, that’s it for this week. If you have a suggestion for an upcoming Concept to Screen, let us know in the comments below!