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Batman Returns - Creating the Penguin

Batman Returns - Creating the Penguin

BATMANS RETURNS - THE PENGUIN

Stan Winston and Tim Burton, having previously collaborated on EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, reteamed to create another iconic character for BATMAN RETURNS, Burton's second exploration of the Batman mythology, after his 1989 film, BATMAN.

In Batman Returns, the Dark Knight — again played by Michael Keaton — fights attempts by the Penguin (Danny DeVito) to take control of Gotham City. Winston’s primary task was to design and build a makeup for the Penguin, creating an appropriately over-the-top Burtonesque look, without entirely obliterating DeVito’s features.

THE DESIGN PROCESS

Key SWS concept artist, Mark "Crash" McCreery rendered Penguin features over sketches of DeVito; then, working from those drawn concepts, 25-year SWS supervisors and co-founders of Legacy Effects, John Rosengrant and Shane Mahan, experimented with a variety of nose shapes, applying them to a shell made from a lifecast of the actor.

Pictured above: SWS concept artist Mark "Crash" McCreery's renderings of Danny DeVito as Penguin.

Pictured above: SWS concept artist Mark "Crash" McCreery's full-body Penguin renderings for BATMAN RETURNS

Pictured above: A profile view of the Penguin by SWS supervisor & co-founder of Legacy Effects, Shane Mahan.

Pictured above: The final Penguin prosthetic sculpture prior to the mold-making process.

Winston sculpted a more complex Penguin look in clay. “The initial concept was just a pointy nose,” Winston said, “but I wasn’t really happy with that. So I got my hands back in the clay, which I love, and started playing with the look myself. Years ago, for The Wiz, I had created crow characters with enormous beak faces, which involved whole forehead and brow appliances. I’d always loved that design; and, although crows had nothing to do with penguins, I felt that I could use a similar concept for the Penguin. That turned out to be the look that was selected.”

DANNY DEVITO BECOMES THE PENGUIN

John Rosengrant and Shane Mahan oversaw the building of the final makeup, which, as with Edward Scissorhands, was applied on set by Ve Neill. The Penguin makeup included a T-shaped nose-lip-and-brow appliance, rotten, crooked teeth, white skin and dark-circled eyes. “I remember the night that Shane, Ve Neill and I first tested the makeup on Danny DeVito,” Rosengrant said. “It was such a blast to watch Danny transform into the Penguin. We could just see it happening, right before our eyes.”

Pictured above: Danny DeVito and Stan Winston keep it light during the Penguin makeup test for BATMAN RETURNS.

Pictured above: John Rosengrant & Shane Mahan paint the Penguin prosthetics on Danny DeVito, overseen by Stan Winston.

Pictured above: Danny DeVito gets into character as Stan Winston adds the final paint detail to the Penguin prosthetic makeup.

Pictured above: Tim Burton and his newest creation, by Danny DeVito and Stan Winston Studio: The Penguin.

AN ANTI-SOCIAL BIRD

To maintain secrecy regarding the Penguin character, DeVito was forbidden to describe the makeup to anyone outside the production, including family members — although, photographs of the actor in his Penguin guise did run in a tabloid publication once production started.  Despite the leak, the makeup had its intended effect on audiences, and even on fellow cast members during the shoot. “No one would talk to Danny on the set because he scared everybody,” Tim Burton said. “I don’t know if that was his usual way of working, but there was a point where he just clicked into it and was completely this character who was totally antisocial, who had been out of the loop a little too long. Danny was 100 percent into the transformation. With the makeup and all, it was a complete creation.”

Pictured above: Danny DeVito models the penguin makeup & grimy long-underwear for the BATMAN RETURNS makeup test.

Pictured above: SWS makeup artist Eileen Kastner Delago touches up Danny DeVito during the Penguin makeup test.

Pictured above: Danny DeVito in full makeup & costume for the BATMAN RETURNS makeup test.

Picture above: Danny DeVito is no more. The Penguin is born, in all his horrible glory.

Pictured above: The Penguin (Danny DeVito) as he appears on-screen in BATMAN RETURNS.

Pictured above: Danny DeVito as the Penguin - Iconic makeup. Iconic performance. Iconic Character.

CREATING MORE THAN MAKEUPS: CREATING CHARACTERS

Stan Winston, Ve Neill and makeup artist Ronnie Specter were nominated for an Oscar for best makeup for Batman Returns; but the most meaningful commendation for their work came from Danny DeVito, years later. “When we were working with Danny on Big Fish [2003],” Shane Mahan said, “he told us that when he’d done the voice-over sessions for Batman Returns, it was much harder for him to find the character without the makeup on. So he actually went to the trouble of having the makeup put on him for the voice-over work, just to help him get into the character. That was a big compliment to us.”

-Jody Duncan

Excerpted from "The Winston Effect: The Art & History of Stan Winston Studio

 

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