How the Hell Does 'Watchmen' Shoot Looking Glass' Mask?
Watchmen is the show people can't stop talking about on Twitter, especially when it comes to the character of Looking Glass. Here's how costume designer Meghan Kasperlik pulls off his shiny mask.
Watchmen is full of costumed heroes and exceptional world building, but the stand-out character in Damon Lindelof's sequel to the classic Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons graphic novel has to be Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson) and the reflective, eye-less shroud he wears. Sunday's most recent episode, "Little Fear of Lightning," provided an in-depth origin story for how Wade Tillman grew up to become Looking Glass. The timing is fitting, as Polygon recently spoke with the series' costume designer, Meghan Kasperlik, to reveal the secrets behind how they created the character's instantly-iconic look.
Watching the show, and how it looks like Wade is wearing something made out of the same liquid metal the T-1000 uses, you'd think Watchmen pulls all this off using CG. Well, they do. Kind of.
Kasperlik uses a variety of methods to give the mask its reflective, mirror-like quality. “We had five different masks,” the designer said, explaining that exactly what Nelson was wearing would change depending on the demands of whatever scene the production was shooting that day. Motion tracking was employed for some of the masks, where Kasperlik would use a special print that would "aid with motion capture and tracking, keeping track of the orientation of Nelson’s face at all times." That way, audiences and see the actor's facial features come through as other characters see only their faces reflected back in the mirror-like skin Wade wears over his.
Other masks used were made out of either green screen or spandex, "while yet another — the only mask that wouldn’t require the reflectiveness to be added via CG later — was made of lamé, a type of fabric that has metallic fiber woven throughout it, meaning only one of the actual masks used during shooting was that distinctive silver."
All of this was in service of character, and modeling the mask to help reinforce and tell the story of its wearer.
“[Looking Glass] uses the mask more as his shield," Kasperlik revealed. "And he uses it to disguise himself, but it’s also kind of this barrier against everyone else. It was important for him, for the integrity of the character, to always have the mask on.”
When CG was employed to enhance the above, CG artists added color to the reflections seen in the mask and, using motion tracking, helped make sure all of Wade's facial features were visible as though they would be if someone were really wearing this mask. It was important, Kasperlik says, for audiences to "see the shapes underneath without giving away [Wade's] eyes and his actual mouth.”
Speaking of eyes, how does actor Tim Blake Nelson see when he is wearing this mirrored mask? CG helped with that, too, when a full CG mask was used. And one of the masks was completely solid, but built with a mesh over the eyes to help the actor see and interact with cast members.
What You Can Learn
In addition to "there's nothing Peak TV can't do" in terms of special effects and pushing the very elastic boundaries of the medium to deliver unique visuals and story, a big takeaway here is how vital it is to service story and character.
On TV, character is king. Take away all the shiny mirror masks, the Dr. Manhattan on Mars stuff, and the reason why people should tune in to your show is the characters. Make it so audiences cannot get this dynamic anywhere else on television save for your show. To ensure that, coordinate with your department heads on your visual and thematic visions and needs and create a collaboration where everyone is rowing the boat together in service of enabling that story. From props to costumes, it is a team effort and Looking Glass' mask -- and his origin story episode -- show how that work can pay off.