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The Dark Knight’s Rides

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The Dark Knight Rises is finally here and the film’s vehicles are set to steal the show. Olly Richards investigates...

Without his vehicles, Batman would be that creepy guy on the train freaking everyone out with his codpiece. For the entirety of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, special effects supervisor Chris Corbould has been responsible for turning the director’s vision of gadget-packed rides into working machines. He tells ShortList how he did it.

The Batpod

It’s a bike, but not as you know it, mainly because it ejects from the Tumbler. Ideal for continuing the pursuit once Batman’s main vehicle has come a cropper.

“Chris refuses to call it a motorbike. It was always the Batpod. I thought Chris was off his rocker when he showed it to me. As soon as I looked at it, having ridden a motorbike, I could see problems. On a standard motorbike you’re turning on about a square-inch of rubber, but on this you had 20in wide tyres. How the hell are you going to steer that properly?

“But you just take the challenge and run with it. Chris is never pedantic or unreasonable. He throws the gauntlet down and then if it’s in your character, you rise to the occasion and want to prove it can be done. He’s a great inspirer. I’ve never had to say no to anything. If you look closely, you can see we chamfered the edges of the tyres as much as we could to make it easier to turn. It’s still very hard to ride – only two people have ridden it.

“The big concern on the Batpod was Batman’s cape. I was worried about it getting caught up in the back wheel. I asked Chris if we could try something where the cape would suck up into a backpack. There were a few drawings done, but then we tried Jean-Pierre [Goy], the stunt rider, on the prototype and put his cape on with very easily snappable ties, so that if anything did go wrong he wouldn’t get hurt. Then he got on the bike and the wind got under the cape and it never for a second looked like it was going to get caught. So the thing I was most worried about became a key part of making that bike look iconic, with the cape flying behind Batman.

“Because Catwoman uses the Batpod in the new film, we had to have a female stunt rider use it. To control it in the same way as Jean-Pierre would, she would have looked nothing like Anne Hathaway as Catwoman; the muscles required would be so big that the difference would have been very obvious. So we ended up remaking a fair part of it in aluminium so it was a lot lighter and easier to control for Jolene Van Vugt, the stunt rider.”

The Bat

New to the Nolan trilogy, the fleet’s first flying vehicle is influenced by the Harrier jumpjet, and Apache and Osprey helicopters.

“When [the subject of] the Bat was raised I was a little disappointed. As soon as you get into something flying you start going into the CG world. On any normal film, 98 per cent of the Bat would have been done with computers, but Chris has a totally different mentality. He saw I wasn’t over the moon and said, ‘Look, we’re going to do a lot of this practically.’

He wasn’t wrong. By the time we’d finished the film, we’d suspended it from helicopters and flown it over LA, hung it on high wires and sent it up streets, we had it mounted on a special vehicle and drove it down LA streets at 50mph. We used every trick in the book.

“Chris called the Bat a mix of a jumpjet and a helicopter. It’s not designed to be something that could actually fly, but I think it’s within the realms of possibility. You just go along with what Chris wants and make it work. It was never going to fly under its own steam, so we had to make something that looked like it could. It’s a beast. Nearly 30ft long by 17ft wide and 12ft high. Weight was a big consideration and we made a lot of it out of aluminium and lightweight carbon composites. It still weighed more than 1.5 tonnes. We made two of them. The footage we ended up with was extraordinary because it’s the actual physical thing up in the air among the city, and it’s real. After initial disappointment about having to do a flying thing, we all got a huge buzz from what we achieved.”

The Tumbler

First seen in Batman Begins, the four-wheeled quasi-tank is back with a bang. “Production designer Nathan Crowley and Chris collaborate on the vehicle concepts and put together a small plastic model of what they want. For the Tumbler it was about 10in long, all bits of plastic kits stuck together and sprayed black. The Tumbler was bizarre-looking, not what I ever imagined a Batmobile to look like, but neither Chris nor Nathan are petrolheads, so that’s why they gravitated towards these unorthodox designs. If they knew anything about mechanics they probably wouldn’t design them this way. It’s my job to make it work.

“Between that little plastic model and the end result, there’s little difference. It far surpassed what Chris hoped we could achieve. Sequences were expanded once Chris saw what it could do. It could get up to 100mph. Once Chris saw how it could jump, he wrote in a 65ft leap over a central reservation.

“We made four Tumblers so we could handle the extreme schedule. All four are in The Dark Knight Rises. In the first film we had the luxury of four cars pretending to be one. In the third film, Chris got all the toys out of the box – so not only do we have the four Tumblers, but they’ve been turned into four different cars, all with different armaments, so it’s even more important that they perform well because we didn’t have any back-up for them. Tumblers are in this film an awful lot. They’re a main part of it on many occasions. Have they been taken over by Bane? Well, partly, but I’m not allowed to talk about that.”

The Dark Knight Rises is at cinemas nationwide from 20 July

The Evolution of the Batmobile

Prepare to view your hatchback with shame – or perhaps consider adding a few extra ‘features’ to it

Batman The Movie (1966): Based on a 1955 Lincoln Futura concept, the first screen Batmobile looked like it wouldn’t survive the rigours of a country drive. It was gadget-packed enough to feature a Bat Ram and a carphone.

Batman/Batman Returns (1989/1992): Tim Burton’s take was based on an Art Deco aesthetic, in line with Gotham City. Aside from gadgets, it also had a streamlined ‘Batmissile’ mode that would give Freud a field day.

Batman Forever (1995): As you’d expect of Joel Schumacher’s gaudy version of Batman, this car looked like a kinky carnival float. The only gadgets were grappling hooks.

Batman & Robin (1997): Like a Lovecraftian disco version of the ’95 edition. It was equipped with bombs and an ejector-seat, but oddly, given the title of the film, it didn’t have a seat for Robin.

Batman Begins (2005): Christopher Nolan’s doesn’t even go by the name Batmobile. The Tumbler boasts a rocket launcher, cannons, jet engine and stealth mode. When totalled it becomes a ‘Batpod’ two-wheeler.

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