Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the Movie urban legends featured so far.
MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Superman Returns used CGI to reduce the size of Brandon Routh’s crotch while he was wearing his Superman costume.
When people think of special effects in films, they often think of outlandish action sequences or fantastic creatures interacting with human actors. However, there are often much smaller special effects that go unnoticed in films unless you are specifically looking for them and the key to those effects is for you not to notice that they are there. A famous example (which I covered in an old Movie Legends Revealed here) is the sequence in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator where Scott used computer-generated imagery (CGI) to insert old footage of an actor who had passed away during the filming of the movie into a new scene in the film (so Scott could properly write the character out of the movie). Even old school films would use what effects they had access to in interesting ways, like the scene in the classic western film Shane, where director George Stevens played footage backwards because the villain of the film, Jack Palance, couldn’t properly mount a horse (so he just played the footage of Palance dismounting the horse in reverse). A long-running urban legend has it that director Bryan Singer also used special effects in an unusual way during the editing of his 2006 film, Superman Returns. The film starred Brandon Routh as Superman and the legend states that the crotch area of his costume was so distracting that Singer had to use CGI to “tone down” the size of Routh’s crotch.
Is that true?
It does not appear to be true, no.
Superman’s crotch has long been an issue for filmmakers, since he wears such a form-fitting costume. In the original Christopher Reeve Superman film, costume designer Yvonne Blake was stuck between the studio (who wanted her to come up with a codpiece that would flatten the crotch area as much as possible) and the producers of the film, Alexander Salkind and Ilya Salkind, who insisted that Superman should be depicted with a superhuman physique everywhere in his body. Ilya Salkind, in particular, noted, “Either he has a big one, or he has nothing!” Blake ended up coming up with a metal codpiece that split the difference but would also lead to some amusing situations during the filming of the movie as Reeve’s co-star Margot Kidder (who played Lois Lane) would often flick the metal codpiece with her finger to amuse the crew.
When Routh took over the role, the same concerns remained. The costume designer for the film, Louise Mingenbach, spoke about the problem at the time with Newsweek:
Good thing, because his bubble’s about to become public property. Once the skin-tight Superman suit was designed–mapped by computer to match Routh’s physique–the actor couldn’t gain or lose a pound until shooting was over. There was lots of early Internet buzz about the suit’s being too dark, or the “S” ‘s being too small, but the biggest issue for the studio, according to costume designer Louise Mingenbach, was about Superman’s trunks. Or, more specifically, what’s in them. “There was more discussion about Superman’s ‘package’ than anything else on the suit,” she says, laughing. “Was it too big? Was it not big enough? Was it too pointy? Too round? It was somebody’s job for about a month just working on codpiece shapes. It was crazy.” And the final verdict? “Not big,” she says, and laughs again. “Ten-year-olds will be seeing this movie.”
So it was the codpiece that they used that kept things the way that they looked like on screen, not any digital effects.
Singer, though, was still asked about the rumors as well after the film opened and he told the The Globe and Mail:
“I can confidently tell you that is not the case,” he said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles last week, shortly before heading into the movie’s U.S. premiere. “If we spent the money to digitally alter every shot of Brendan’s, uh Superman’s [long pause]crotch . . . that would be money not well spent.
“The reality is . . . that in designing the suit, the initial design, which did not change once we started shooting, there were lots of conversations about the package. Because on one level you want the character to have a sense of modesty, on another level he’s Superman. But that was it.”
The legend is…
Thanks to New York Magazine for the Kidder quote, thanks to Aparita Bhandari for the Singer quote and thanks to Sean Smith for the Mingenbach quote.
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