Flashy effects change the superhero game

The suit worn by The Flash (above), played by actor Grant Gustin, is more comfortable than the one worn by actor John Wesley Shipp in the earlier series.
The suit worn by The Flash (above), played by actor Grant Gustin, is more comfortable than the one worn by actor John Wesley Shipp in the earlier series.PHOTO: TURNER INTERNATIONAL
The suit worn by The Flash, played by actor Grant Gustin (above), is more comfortable than the one worn by actor John Wesley Shipp in the earlier series.
The suit worn by The Flash, played by actor Grant Gustin (above), is more comfortable than the one worn by actor John Wesley Shipp in the earlier series.PHOTO: TURNER INTERNATIONAL

Flash actor Grant Gustin believes superhero shows are hot now because of their special effects

With the new Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice movie hitting cinemas, there has been a lot of talk about the best and worst versions of popular superheroes on screen.

But one superhero actor - Grant Gustin from the television series The Flash - points to something that is largely overlooked in these comparisons: Whatever the calibre of the acting or writing, today's stars have a huge advantage with the state-of- the-art special effects and other techniques now at their disposal.

Thus, while there were many reasons why the 1990 to 1991 version of The Flash flopped after only nine months on air, Gustin thinks it was largely because the special effects were not up to scratch back then and could not do the character justice.

"People will ask me why super- heroes are so popular right now, why there is such a saturation of superheroes in the market. I think the easiest answer is just that the special effects are meeting everyone's imagination, like what's in the comic books.

"And you're seeing what you expect to see now, whereas in the early 1990s, they couldn't do that," says the 26-year-old bachelor, who has portrayed the super-fast crime- fighter in The Flash since 2014, when the series debuted in the United States before going on to become a ratings and critical hit.

Season 2 of the show debuted in Singapore yesterday on Warner TV (Sundays at 7.20pm on Singtel TV Channel 306 and Warner TV Encore, and StarHub TV Channel 515 and Warner TV Encore Channel 500).

Speaking to The Straits Times in Vancouver, where the series is filmed, Gustin says there are other reasons his show has a leg up over the earlier series, which starred John Wesley Shipp as the same character, Barry Allen - a crime-scene investigator who is struck by lightning and accidentally doused in chemicals, which then empowers him with superhuman speed.

Gustin got to compare notes with Shipp when the 61-year-old played his father in the first season of The Flash. "We had a lot of opportunity to talk about things and, in general, my takeaway is that I have it way easier than he had it. It was harder to make a show like this back then. His suit, I think, was way less practical than mine."

The version of the Flash's signature red bodysuit made for Gustin is also far more comfortable than the stiff, sweat-inducing one Shipp had to endure.

"His suit was this spongy kind of material. When he would take off his gloves at the end of the day and turn them over, a water bottle full of water would pour out of his gloves.

"He couldn't sit in his suit. I know they had to build him a board so he could lean when he had to rest off-camera. So, in general, I think he had it harder.

"I don't have to deal with anything like that," says the younger actor, adding that costume designers reworked his own suit to make it softer and more comfortable, and that the heavy fabric serves him well during outdoor shoots in frigid Vancouver winters, when he is "probably more comfortable than most people on the crew".

But Gustin still has his work cut out for him.

The show uses green-screen technology to create its computer- generated environments, but the actor still has to do a lot of running in order to simulate the Flash's supersonic sprints. "We do a lot of green-screen shots of me on the treadmill. But it's my favourite part of the show, actually. I have vinyl that we put on the bottom of one boot and I will run at full speed and then slide into frame. That's probably one of the more fun running things that I get to do on the show."

Still, Gustin, who before this had mostly supporting roles, notably as the villainous Sebastian Smythe on the TV comedy Glee (2011 to 2013), took a while getting used to being the lead on a major show.

"In Season 1, I didn't know what I was getting into as far as the marathon of shooting a 23-episode season goes."

And the show takes up "pretty much every second of my life right now", he reveals. "I work generally five days a week all day and spend a lot of my time at home working on the material. So it's like I eat, sleep and breathe this show.

"But I like it that way. I'm happiest when I'm working and I like my job and I like this character.

"It's a character that is a normal guy and this accident happened to him and made him a superhero. He's not a god. He's not an alien. And I think it's a character with a good heart that a lot of young kids aspire to be like, which is cool. Playing Barry has made me a better person because I aspire to be more like him at times, just in the way he sees life and overcomes adversity."

Another reason Gustin has to go home and do his homework is the increasingly complicated plot of the show, which has begun exploring the idea of parallel universes where doppelganger versions of the Flash and other characters exist.

Law & Order actor Jesse L. Martin, who plays Barry's friend and father figure Detective Joe West, admits that he and the rest of the cast struggle to wrap their heads around it sometimes.

"I mean, it took me a minute," says the 47-year-old. "I wasn't even sure what they were talking about when they first mentioned 'Earth-2' and all that. "I was like, 'Wait, is it exactly the same as ours? Is this maybe a different time or what?' It took me forever to figure that out. But now that we have gone in there and we have actually been to Earth-2, now I sort of get it. Sort of."

Gustin, too, concedes that the scripts can be "really confusing", what with "the multiverse and time travel and all these crazy timelines".

"But it's fun and (creators) Andrew Kreisberg and Greg Berlanti, they know what they're doing. So I know that we have a handle on it."

  • The Flash Season 2 is showing on Warner TV (Singtel TV Channel 306 and Warner TV Encore, and StarHub TV Channel 515 and Warner TV Encore Channel 500) on Sundays at 7.20pm.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2016, with the headline 'Flashy effects change the superhero game'. Print Edition | Subscribe