"Will you be wanting the Bat-Pod, Sir?"
"In the middle of the day, Alfred? Not very subtle."
On the screen, Lucius Fox gets credit for providing Batman with his state-of-the-art crime-fighting accoutrement, from his new and improved Batsuit to his weapons and his different modes of transportation. In real life, however, credit goes to Chris Nolan and his behind-the-scenes design teams, led by production designer Nathan Crowley and costume designer Lindy Hemming, as well as special effects supervisor Chris Corbould and his crew, who turn design into function.
Nolan remarks, "With 'Batman Begins,' we got to show how things like the Batmobile and the Batsuit were developed. At the same time, we didn't fully explore all of the gadgetry, so in continuing the story, what we get to do is show how he becomes even more high-tech, but still in a credible way. What I love about Batman is that he has no super powers except for his extraordinary wealth. Looking at it from that point of view, if you had limitless financial resources, and therefore a lot of power in material ways, how could you apply that to the creation of some amazing gadgets and crime-fighting techniques, all of which are still based on real science and real-world logic?"
Nolan and Crowley had previously redesigned The Caped Crusader's legendary Batmobile for "Batman Begins," creating something of a cross between a Lamborghini and a Humvee. The ultimate muscle car, the Batmobile--nicknamed the Tumbler--combines the power and handling of a sports car with a structure closer to that of an armored tank. Riding on six monster truck tires, the Batmobile has no front axle, allowing it to make tighter turns. Despite weighing in at two and a half tons, it can jump as much as six feet high, and up to a distance of sixty feet, peeling off the instant it touches down. The Batmobile can also do zero to sixty in five seconds.
While the Batmobile remains a formidable presence in "The Dark Knight," the film introduces Batman's newest ride, the Bat-Pod, a high-powered, heavily armed two-wheeled machine. "Of course we were going to have the Batmobile back," states Nolan, "but we wanted to give Batman something new: a fresh means of transportation, something very exotic and very powerful looking. It's a two-wheeled vehicle, but it's definitively not a motorcycle. In essence, the Bat-Pod is to the world of motorcycles what the Tumbler is to the world of cars."
Fast and maneuverable through the streets of Gotham City, the Bat-Pod is also capable of handling all terrains. It has the same monster truck tires as those found on the Batmobile and is self-standing, meaning it does not require a foot stand. Well outfitted for hostile situations, it is equipped with weapons on both sides: 40mm blast cannons, 50-caliber machine guns, and grappling hook launchers.
The original design of the Bat-Pod was the brainchild of Crowley and Nolan. With little more than the basic concept in mind, the two retreated to their favorite design headquarters--aka Nolan's garage--to work out the details. Crowley recalls, "We figured, 'Let's just go for it; let's build it full-size.' So we did. We got some tools and put together a full-size model out of anything we could find that might fit."
Of course, Nolan and Crowley still had no idea if their invention could actually run. That's where the special effects team, headed up by Chris Corbould, came in. Corbould relates, "First of all, I remember when Chris Nolan first showed me his idea for the Batmobile. I had no idea how we were going to make it work even though it ended up being very successful. So when I got his call asking me to come have a look at something he called 'the Bat-Pod,' I thought, 'Uh-oh, what have you dreamt up this time?'"
Corbould flew to L.A., arrived at Nolan's garage, and the first time he looked at Nolan and Crowley's model of the Bat-Pod, "I think he was almost in tears," Crowley laughs. "He looked horrified that he might have to actually mechanize that thing. We kept bringing him cups of tea, and he was just sitting there staring at it, looking like, 'Oh my God, what time is the next flight out?' It was the usual clash of design versus engineering."
As it turns out, Crowley was not far off in his assessment of Corbould's state of mind. "I was flabbergasted," Corbould admits. "I stood there silently, pretending I was mulling it over, but the thought going through my head was that they both had to be off their nut. Where was I going to put a power train? And with those massive wheels, would this thing actually steer? There were so many issues."
Despite his concerns, Corbould returned to London, where he and his crew began brainstorming ways to bring the Bat-Pod to life. After some trial and error, they developed the final working Bat-Pod, which was surprisingly close to the rough model that Nolan and Crowley had originally constructed. Nolan confesses, "It really shouldn't work, but somehow Chris and his team found a way to do it."
"The funny thing is," Corbould says, "I don't think Chris or Nathan had ever ridden a motorcycle in their lives, so they were completely unaware of the mechanics needed to get that thing moving. In a way it was beneficial because they weren't steered towards a more orthodox bike, even subconsciously. The fact that they had no knowledge of the mechanics helped them create this weird, wonderful vehicle."
Actually being able to drive it was another matter entirely. Nolan confirms, "The finished product that Chris and his team came up with was very striking, very effective and worked very well, but it's incredibly difficult to ride and to steer."
In order to maneuver the Bat-Pod, the driver has to lean his upper body forward, almost horizontally, and steer from his elbows, rather than his wrists. In fact, the only person who was able to master the Bat-Pod was professional stunt rider Jean-Pierre Goy. Corbould offers, "I've worked with Jean-Pierre a couple of times, and he is one of the best bike riders in the world, if not the best. Right away, he totally got in the mindset of learning that machine. He said, 'I'm not riding another bike until I finish this sequence,' because he had to concentrate on the Bat-Pod's unique handling qualities. I'd be lying if I said it was easy for even him to ride, but it looked spectacular when he did, so it was worth the effort."