Movie Legends Revealed | Did CGI Shrink Man of Steel's Package in 'Superman Returns'?

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 effects that go unnoticed, unless you’re specifically looking for them. A famous example (which I covered in an old Movie Legends Revealed here) is the sequence in Ridley Scott's Gladiator where the director used computer-generated imagery (CGI) to insert old footage of an actor who had passed away during filming into a new scene (so his character could be properly written out of the story). Even old films would use what effects were available in interesting ways; for instance, in the classic Western Shane, director George Stevens played footage backward because Jack Palance couldn't properly mount a horse. A long-running urban legend has it that director Bryan Singer also used special effects in an unusual way during the editing of 2006’s Superman Returns. The legend states that the crotch area of star Brandon Routh’s costume was so distracting that Singer had to use CGI to "tone down" its size. Is that true?

It doesn’t appear to be.

Superman's crotch has long been an issue for filmmakers, as the actors are required to wear form-fitting costumes. In the original Christopher Reeve Superman film, costume designer Yvonne Blake was stuck between the studio (which wanted her to come up with a codpiece that would flatten the crotch area as much as possible) and producers Alexander Salkind and Ilya Salkind, who insisted the Man of Steel should be depicted with a superhuman physique everywhere on 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 filming, as Reeve's co-star Margot Kidder (who played Lois Lane) later explained:

They put poor Christopher [Reeve] in this various assortment of sizes of codpiece under the suit in the red underpants, and some days Christopher would come out and he’d be out to here. Which would make me go ‘ding ding ding ding’ [flicks codpiece], ‘cause they were all made of metal. He’d go, ‘Kidder! Stop it!’ ”

When Routh took over the role, the concerns remained. Superman Returns costume designer Louise Mingenbach, spoke about the problem at the time with Newsweek:

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 they used that kept things the way they looked like on screen, not any digital effects.

Singer, however, was asked about the rumors 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."

So there you have 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.

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

Be sure to check out my Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the worlds of TV, Movies and Music!

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