During WonderCon I sat down with some of the people involved with making the heroes that will soon come to be known as The Defenders for a panel called “Streaming Success: Behind-The-Scenes Of Your Favorite Binge-Worthy Shows”. The area these heroes protect may be small, but the characters already loom large. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage may not have been household names before this year, but with the help of Netflix, Marvel is putting some of these less well known characters into the spotlight.
Costuming a Hero
The first step in creating any on screen superhero is the costume. The moment they put that outfit on for the first time is when they are truly born. Stephanie Maslansky is the costume designer for the all the Netflix Marvel shows so far- including the highly anticipated Luke Cage. In speaking about designing costumes for the series she says the history of the characters in the comics is very important.
We pay homage to our fans and we pay homage to the origins of the characters in a very strong way because we want the characters to resonate.We want the characters, even though they look modern, we want them to feel like they can see how they evolved and see where they traveled from.
That is part of the beauty of these Netflix shows. The characters fit seamlessly into 2016 New York City, even if our version of New York City isn’t as quite as grim and gritty as it appears on screen. Matt Murdock’s suits would fit in anywhere from a law office to a hipster bar in Brooklyn with that skinny tie of his and Jessica’s jacket and boots combo isn’t far off from what many of us wear in our day to day lives.
In speaking about Jessica in particular, Maslansky says that her mind set and PTSD went into the thinking behind her costume.
Jessica Jones doesn’t really wear a superhero costume. But the fact is, she gathers psychological strength and psychological protection from the clothes she does wear. The leather jacket, the jeans, the leather boots, they help her to feel invulnerable…the costume helps her feel her strength.
The costume also isn’t far off from Jessica’s appearance in the Alias comics by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Michael Gaydos.
The same may not be able to be said for Luke Cage. Maslansky hints that although Mike Colter may not rock Luke’s signature tiara and belt full time, we may get a reference to the character’s comic book past.
The 1970’s, especially for his character, was so exaggerated, we really had to modernize him and bring him into another world. At the same time, we pay homage to the iconic character that he was back then if you look at the comics…there is a moment when we pay homage to that.
Composing a Theme
So what else goes into make a successful streaming superhero series? How about the music? Sean Callery is the composer for Jessica Jones and has worked on several other shows including Homeland and 24. He created the beautiful, haunting opening theme as well as the rest of the show’s music.
Callery says that reading the script he really wanted to capture Jessica’s many faceted personality with her theme along with the overall noir spirit of the show.
She’s witty, she’s a bit of a smart alec, she has kind of a rough edge, but also a sense of humor… A little bit of coyness came to me with the initial theme, playful almost like a cat dancing on keys… It’s a little playful, but then it gets bigger and broader and a little more intense because at the end of it she’s got a huge heart and a very intense energy to her soul and I wanted the main title to tell that as well.
For creating Kilgrave’s theme Callery said he focused more on sound design, especially since Kilgrave doesn’t appear in the earlier episodes. His presence is a looming threat in the background, a shadow that hangs over Jessica and the viewer throughout the show.
I’ve never encountered a villain so manipulative before, maybe Hannibal Lecter…As he came (to be) more full fleshed there was kind of a darker theme to him. It just sort of organically grew.
Adding the Action
Once the character has their costume and their theme song, they need their superpowers. That is where David Van Dyke and the VFX artists from Shade VFX come in. They have created the powers for Matt Murdock for both season 1 and 2 of Daredevil as well as for Jessica Jones season 1. There are so many elements you don’t even think about when it comes to visual effects for a show like this. In speaking about the stairwell scene from Daredevil season 2 Van Dyke revealed all that went into making this one (amazing) action sequence.
That shot is a bunch of many, many shots pulled together to make one seamless, amazing, horrific shot which we are very proud of. The stunt guys, the guys that are flying around- those are real guys and that really hurts…so there are a lot of protective things in there like pads on the wall. So I have to rebuild that entire stairwell.
There’s all that chain stuff, he can’t run around with a chain, that’s super dangerous. So he walks around with a (shorter) chain…and that needs to look real. All these things go into that. I’m sitting there thinking chains, cables, rebuilding sets, guys shooting guns, guys with knives that don’t exist, it’s just a handle. I’m thinking about all that stuff.
It sounds like an intense job, but it is one that Shade VFX has handled to an amazing degree. The visual effects on both seasons of Daredevil are some of the best, working seamlessly alongside the stunts. Shade VFX even earned an Emmy nomination last year for their incredible work on season 1. If you want to see exactly what goes into making a scene like the fight between Matt and Nobu from season 1, watch their sizzle reel. It’s seriously impressive.
It takes a village to make a Defender and Marvel and Netflix assembled a team that is more than up for the task.
Daredevil season 1 & 2 and Jessica Jones season 1 can currently be streamed on Netflix. Luke Cage will premiere September 30th.