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Set Visit #3 - Costume Designer Christine Bieselin Clark

If you were to ask the young cast members what their favorite costume was in Ender's Game, a lot of them would most likely say the pajamas.

"Those kids!" laughed Clark. "Let's just say when you put a bunch of kids in flash suits for weeks on end, then you're like, 'Now you get to go to the dorms, everyone get in bed. Put your pajamas on.' Of course they thought they were the best things ever. They were like, 'We don't have to wear our flash suits anymore, yes!'"

It makes you really feel for them.

Flash Suits

During our visit to the set in May of last year, Ender's Game costume designer Christine Bieselin Clark invited us into her office. After dodging some interns pushing carts of flight suits, we ascended some stairs and entered a room that was wall-to-wall headshots, army badges, and flash suits propped up in random corners. Little notes accompanied many of the pictures: "Kyle Clements, young Mazer Rackham" or "Payton Bourgeois, Eros, Sim Group A."

It's not hard to imagine the first thing we discussed.

The flash suits were created, as last year's production blog put it, "entirely out of thin air." The fabric was also original, designed by the film's production team to create something functional yet futuristic. The team worked hard to imagine a suit that would look sleek and attractive yet would still allow the young actors to move fluidly in a simulated null-G environment.

And then they had to tackle another problem: Asa Butterfield's growth spurt. How did they deal with the issue of scores of teenagers growing out of their flash suits?

"The suit is designed in two pieces and the design of the pants extends up underneath the jacket. So if you start growing and your jacket starts creeping up there is still something going on there. And the way the boots overlay the pant leg and the gloves the arm, it was all designed that so if we had those fluctuations we could make concessions for them quickly instead of, 'Oh my God, we have to make Asa a new flash suit. For tomorrow.' That would have been awful."

They ended up constructing around 78 flash suit helmets for the film, all custom-fit to the principle actors and complete with built-in fans to to keep the kids from overheating. Since the fans created noise that sometimes disrupted filming, they could be turned off and on as needed by a remote-control device the production team carried around. "It was like a key ring with a bunch of car clickers on it," Clark smiled. "We'd walk around, and everyone had a little label on there so we knew who we were able to turn on and off."

© Summit Entertainment
The helmets were designed in 3 parts: the  base, the visor, and the mandible. All fitting together magnetically, they were designed to be taken apart and worn with or without the visor as the reflections would sometimes interfere with CGI and camera work. On the back of the helmets you can spot the individual army's insignia -- which will look multidimensional on the big screen but is really just a sticker.

"They are decals actually," revealed Clark. "We painted the whole helmet and then we did this clear decal, but again, because you don't want it to seem flat or boring, we did 12 ink passes on the emblem so that it stood up slightly." However, we won't be seeing all 8 army insignia on flash suits in the film; only 4 versions of army flash suits were actually created to be used in Battle Room scenes.

"They all were exactly the same look, we just created different armor and helmets to represent the teams. You didn't want that feeling of something being so cute, you know, when you get a lot of colors going like that and they're all kind of poppy, it seems so adorable, which isn't really the tone of this film that we're going for," she laughed.

When it came to actually choosing the colors for the different armies, Clark and the production team used the concept of "dusty jewels" -- deep, vibrant tones muted slightly by a layer of grey, or "dust." The identifying colors were added sparingly to the helmets and suits to help distinguish the individual armies in the Battle Room without distracting the audience with color.

Military Uniforms

To create a timeless and decidedly un-American uniform for the International Fleet, Clark looked to military uniforms throughout history from countries all over the world. They wanted simple, clean style lines and mixed together pieces from different time periods to create something future-forward.

"If you think about fashion, fashion is repetitive: there are style lines that you see now that you can point to the 60s or the 80s and say, 'Oh, that's from that time period, but it's present-tense.' So to create something for the future, even the military, we borrowed significant style lines from all different time periods to create something that your mind would say, 'Oh, that's the future, but it's identifiable in some way.'"

But even though it's the future, they didn't want the suits to be flashy.

"Gavin's idea from the beginning was that the costumes really shouldn't jump out at you - they have to kind of be the backdrop for the faces and the performances, so there's a lot of subtlety in the things that we did."

© Ender News
Some of you eagle-eyed fans might have noticed a while back that each of the flight suits and BDUs (Battle Dress Uniforms) carry a name tag with the character's last name in braille. What you might not have known is that the braille is not embossed -- it's debossed, or inverted.

"We created a dot matrix code, and we used that as a point of reference, so it was really..." Clark paused. "We wanted to have something that, again, doesn't apply to something now but is still grounded in some kind of reality. So we wanted to use a dot pattern instead of a bar code, so it was scannable, but not the way that we would scan things now."

Females in Battle School

It's already very noticeable that the Battle School of the film admits far more girls than were admitted in the book. Since a lot of the movie is set at a military academy, did Clark have to make effort to make sure they didn't sexualize the female characters?

"Absolutely," Clark agreed instantly.  "Especially with Valentine, because you want that relationship to be a very pure emotional relationship, but if Valentine starts seeming sexy in some way, you just mess the whole thing up. You want people to watch the characters and see the innocence of these kids for who they were in that moment so that their humanity is present. So you identify with them as young people instead of sexualized people. You want her to be adorable, loving and charming instead of like 'Ooh, doesn't Valentine look hot?' And I mean they're attractive and I'm sure that there will be plenty of fans who are like 'Petra looked hot!' but not because we overtly did that to her."

We hung out a little while after the interview, chatting about stuff on her walls and how the army badges would be excellent for merchandizing. Everyone agreed that temporary tattoos would be a big hit and Clark joked about contacting "the Happy Meal people" as we were walking out the door for our tour of the props.

But wait! What about the Formics?

"I am not costuming an alien in this movie. That is my final answer."

Producer Bob Orci looked up from his phone. "What?"

"I have not put a costume on an alien."

"No, no, cause we wanted the aliens sexualized.

"The plunging neckline! We’re working on that."

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Don't forget to also check out today's report on the 20 Exciting Props From the Ender's Game Movie!

Coming Monday: Press conference interview with the cast!
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