Michigan native put Batman in driver's seat

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Most concept cars are just that: fanciful ideas that rarely make it to the showroom floor.

The vehicles created by Tim Flattery, though, often end up seen by millions — at the center of dramatic car chases, foiling terror plots and catching bad guys.

Flattery, a Michigan native and 1987 graduate of the College for Creative Studies, has worked for years in Hollywood as a concept designer, bringing life to vehicles, costumes and weapons for dozens of films, including "Batman Forever," "Back to the Future Part II" and "Captain America: Winter Soldier."

He designed the Batmobile for "Batman Forever," the Fantasticar used in "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" and the Amphibicopter in "A.I. Artificial Intelligence."

"To work in film, you have to be capable of everything, but I love designing hardware. It's in my blood," he said.

A self-proclaimed car nut, Flattery's a product of his Motor City upbringing. He's owned cars ranging from a Porsche 911 Turbo to a Dodge Magnum SRT8 to a Toyota Prius. Before his first movie gig in the late '80s, he spent six months designing vehicles like the Camaro at General Motors Co.'s Advanced Concepts Center in California.

Flattery said his experiences in Hollywood are shaped by his knowledge of the automotive industry. But designing for the two worlds is quite different.

"When you're designing something for a film, usually it has to be shot within six months," he said. "When you're working on a concept car, it's being developed for a couple of years or longer."

The Batmobile, for instance, was conceived in under four months with a $1.2 million budget. It included a major redesign after director Joel Schumacher wanted something "more animalistic" after previously green-lighting Flattery's early mockups.

"The director can change his mind and you can't tell him 'no,' " Flattery laughed.

Flattery found inspiration in the bone structures of bats and bugs.

"I try not to take cues from existing cars when I design concepts," he said. "I want to make sure the process I'm going through is unique and serves the story I'm designing for. If I take cues from things that already exist, my design gets compared to that."

After the design was finished and the clay models were built, his creation was brought to life with a chassis built from scratch, a Chevy ZZ-3 crate motor. Interestingly, Flattery said about 80 percent of the Batmobile's exterior was made of carbon fiber, a lightweight material automakers like Ford Motor Co. are turning to today.

Flattery's Fantasticar wasn't functional — in the film, it can fly and break apart into three pieces — but it was influenced by Detroit's auto industry. He had to redesign the front grille at the last minute, after Dodge paid money to put its logo out front.

In "Mission to Mars," he had to slap the Kawasaki logo on the side of the Mars rover he designed.

In "The 6th Day" with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Flattery was tasked with creating futuristic trucks. General Motors Co. invited him to its studios to see what designs they had planned for the next five or 10 years so he could be better informed about his creations.

"There's always partnerships," Flattery said. "A lot of it is in product placement."

Flattery is working on a number of projects. His recent ones include an upcoming "Star Trek" film and "Tomorrowland," which will hit theaters this month.

Detroit, he said, is always on his mind, whether it's in the movie cars he creates or in the contacts he makes with other CCS grads working in the entertainment industry.

"Detroit's a place that's ingrained in me and I yearn to come back here as often as I can," he said.


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