SDCC: Making Ender's Game Flight Suits (Part 1)

So... flight suits.

Kelly and I have been talking about making flight suits for a while now, probably since around the time she went on the set visit - and then had to keep mum about their specifics! It was a long way out to expect a trailer or still shots, though, so while we could plan, per se, we couldn't do a whole lot until I actually got to see the Battle School's various outfits and break down the components that I could see.

With the release of the stills a few months ago, I started breaking down the lines and seams that I could see, and guessed at what I couldn't. I picked apart the images and even though they're what the internet would call "hi-res," they were definitely far from what I needed.

Not to mention, with all the colour correction, I knew matching fabrics would be really difficult. We decided to wait for the trailer release, because then we'd (hopefully) be able to get a lot of shots. We got a bunch, but there are still some gray areas that I'm just going to have to guess on, anyway (like the back of the suits?).

I'm a costume designer, so this post is about constructing the costumes from scratch. That is, making patterns, modifying the patterns, remaking the patterns, and running through a bunch of test suits to make sure the costume looks good. If you're looking to make your own flight suit, there are probably easier ways to do it, such as modifying a mechanic jumpsuit (combing through the Dickies store site probably has some good stuff) and sparing yourself having to make patterns.

That being said, maybe reading this will help you make your own even if you're not making patterns from scratch. Either way, it's sure to be an entertaining process....

I started by breaking down what would actually be needed.

  • a bodysuit with what looks like two separate fabrics
  • black military boots
  • nametag
  • 2 army patches per person
  • coloured shirt to match the army chosen

Of the list, I knew the most complicated would be the badges and nametags, so naturally, I left them be (that'll be another post). The boots and the shirt can be purchased, so I didn't much worry about those. This left the bodysuit.

Jumpsuits are kind of a pain both to make, but also to wear. They're not comfortable and while people like mechanics can get away with them somehow, they really restrict movement unless there's a generous amount of stretch in the fabric, or else they're big and baggy. Considering I live in Seattle, WA, I knew that my chances of finding the perfect fabric would be really slim, so I had to make do with what was readily accessible to me.

I found this fabric in a warehouse in the industrial district, and while it has no stretch, it's a really nice colour. Originally, we had plans on using two separate fabrics, hence the gray.

But, okay: I'm pretty sure the suits in the movie had some kind of stretch to them because of how tightly they fit the kids. Either that, or the kids had pretty restricted movements and were probably uncomfortable. Both are possible, since it's a movie and ultimately, it needs to look good on film more than anything else.

Ultimately for us, however, the suits need to not only look good, but feel good. A whole day at San Diego Comic-con is exhausting enough without discomfort. And while some costumes are worn with the idea that you're going to be uncomfortable, I don't think that wearing jumpsuits should fall into that category unless absolutely necessary.

So I drafted a bunch of patterns, starting with mine because I'm the median sizing between myself, Kelly, and my boyfriend Colin. I also did this because it's a lot easier to adjust patterns for yourself than someone who a) lives across the country (Kelly) and b) has the attention span of a seven year old when it comes to fittings (I'll let you guess who that is).

The patterns are basically a bodice pattern connected to a pant leg pattern, with a TON of ease added to account for sitting (which stretches the fabric at your back and pulls your thighs). The very first pattern I made was just that - a big long body suit with no extra seam lines (I'd draw where I wanted those to go when I sewed a test).

Here's a closer pic so you can see I had to modify it a lot to get the proper shape - the key is baggy enough for movement, but not too baggy it looks like it's hanging off you.

Then I made a pattern from the drafts, and cut it out of muslin fabric because it's insanely cheap. I didn't include the legs, as you can see (this is actually the second version, you can see the seam along the chest that was drawn on first), because I knew I'd most likely need to make another test muslin of the suit because of the body, so I didn't want to waste fabric.

I marked with a sharpie where I thought everything should fall - the pocket t the chest, the two at the hips, and the seams along their arms. I also marked the spots that needed to be bigger or smaller, or things that needed to move around.

And then I made another muslin, this time with legs the proper length. I also patterned a sleeve (that'll be another post). It fit a lot better, so I adjusted it for Kelly's, which I promptly mailed off.

It was too tight in some parts - you can see a bit of the tension across her back in the second pic - so I had her sharpie out what to fix and also, where to place the pockets for her. She mailed it back, and after some reworking, I sent her an updated muslin:

Looks much better, right? Also helps that it has a zipper in; without the zipper, it probably wouldn't look as accurate, even though it's the same pattern.

Meanwhile, I had been experimenting with what to do about the fabric along their shoulders. The initial still of them at the lunchroom made them very distinctly different fabrics.

The top was a darker blue closer to gray than anything else, and it had a shine to it like it'd been waxed. The rest of the suit was more of a true slate blue, and it lacked the sheen.

Except, when the trailer came out, each scene with them in those suits looks entirely different.

Have an example:

Like, really? In one of those it looks like the fabric is exactly the same colour!

So I thought for awhile and decided to experiment with a waxing block, which you can get here on Amazon for a dumb amount of money. Waxing fabric tends to make it more shiny and also a bit darker.

What you do is rub the wax block on the fabric like it's a soap bar on your skin, so it looks like this:

It's white and flaky, and super shiny. Then, you hit it with a hairdryer. I blasted it with a heating gun because, well, I have one, but also because it removes the last step, which is putting it in a pillowcase and throwing it in the dryer to make it even.

Here's a visual to see the differences. Top is plain fabric, middle is with it coated, and the bottom is melted. You'll have to excuse my phone photography, which doesn't completely show the difference well. The bottom is a bit more darker than shown.

It's a really simple process and it smells kind of nice, too. You can see the differences in the fabric especially when you're in the middle of melting it:

I mailed off swatches to Kelly for her opinion, but I think it's currently our best option for the top of the jumpsuit.

Next... making my final suit, pockets and all, plus the sleeve fiasco, Kelly's suit and what the heck are we using to make those badges?
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