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Full Metal Cuirass, And Other War Gear From The Eagle

Full Metal Cuirass
In The Eagle, the upper-body armor worn by Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) is a traditional muscle cuirass, which, according to costume designer Michael O'Connor “was a leather (cuir) breastplate made of leather and iron.” The cuirass, which dates back to the Ancient Greeks, was often molded to fit the subject’s own body and constructed in two pieces (a front and back plate). Marcus also sports a belt (or balteus), a piece of military hardware used to hold one’s sword in place that was often decorated and customized.
The Meaning Of Armor
In addition to serving a strategic and tactical purpose, armor served a symbolic function, identifying rank and displaying the symbols and standards of one’s legion. Often the material itself denoted position and privilege. According to costume designer Michael O'Connor, “Marcus’ cuirass is metal and lutorius’ is leather suggesting a lower rank.” In designing the cuirass, the production team stayed closed to historical record, so, as O’Connor points out, “the Animal symbol on the cuirasses is a mark of the legion. The IX legion was a bull, the VI legion was a goat.”
Suiting Up Roman Horses
In recreating the Roman’s world, every detail had to be researched and considered. The simple act of a cavalry riding out of the fort raised several historical points. As for the equestrian gear, production designer Michael Carlin points out, “Romans did not use stirrups and their saddles were less heavily constructed than contemporary saddles and subsequently there style of riding is also very different.” As such, Carlin’s production team needed to make gear “look roman but maintain the advantages for the rider of contemporary equipment.” Yet even as the production department accommodated modern needs (and bottoms), the designers strove for historical authenticity. On the saddle and bridles, for example, Carlin explains, “The silver and brass details were made by Hungarian craftsmen based on artifacts housed in the British museum.”
Roman Helmets
Roman helmets were one of the most diverse and complex parts of a soldier’s outfit. The original Montefortino helmets (which were a simple round shape with a top knob) developed over time into the imperial forms, as displayed by Marcus. Here “The red is to distinguish his rank,” explains costume designer Michael O'Connor. The production used horsehair for the plumed crest, a material that was probably also used by the original Romans, although they might have also deployed feathers.
Shields And Swords
While creating the artifacts of the Seal People was often a leap of historical imagination, production designers poured through a wealth of information on the Roman military, much of it housed in the British Museum. For the military hardware, Carlin explains, “our shields were an amalgamation of different designs.” The shields bore different emblems to signify a number of meanings. For example, a branch, Carlin explains, “represents victory or success.” The production team kept close to traditional swords in arming their cast: “The infantry Gladius (short sword) was a fairly standard size but differed in quality and decoration depending on the rank and wealth of the bearer. The cavalry (Vallettes) carried a longer sword.”
The Masks Of Gladiators
When Esca (Jamie Bell) pushed into the coliseum to fight, the gladiator dons a stark and frightening double-faced mask. Gladiators often donned such masks to hide their own identity, and the double-faced look, a common motif, was, explains costume designer Michael O'Connor, “inspired by the Roman god Janus known for looking both ways,” both forward and back in time. The mask created for the film was made of metal and “has two faces, one still and one with a slight grimace. It was organically designed with the armourer.”
Traveling Clothes
As Esca (Jamie Bell) and Marcus (Channing Tatum) voyage north in search of the Eagle, they donned more local garb. According to costume designer Michael O'Connor, “the clothes for Marcus and Esca when they travel up country are made of wool and leather/suede. Esca’s cloak is embroidered with imagined Brigantes Celtic symbols.”
Running With Teeth And Bone
In creating the Seal People, a fierce Celtic tribe from the North of Britain, the production team was given creative freedom and historical parameters. The idea was that seals would be both available and totemic for the tribe. Costume designer Michael O'Connor explains, “The boots and coats are made of fake seal skin which was dear skin shaved and dyed and painted to look like seal.” Further intricate jewelry and hair pieces were created. “The head pieces were designed to be worn by warriors, made and decorated with seal bone,” O’Connor points out. “The necklaces are made of teeth and bone.”
The World Of the Seal People
To create the artifacts for the Seal People, the filmmakers had to also divine the culture, religion, economy, etc of these fictional People According to production designer Michael Carlin, “The seal People are hunter gatherers living largely off the sea, without agriculture or metal technology. They are inspired by very early Britons, and other hunter gatherers that lived across the North Atlantic islands, North America and the arctic particularly the mammoth hunters of the Paleolithic era and Inuit people. Fiercely independent we imagine they have deliberately turned their backs on the technological advances of Rome and southern Britons choosing to live as they have always done.” As for their weapons, Carlin highlights the double-sided as being “imagined to be largely ceremonial. It’s an elongated version of the stone axe that the seal people carry but has 2 opposing walrus tusks instead of the standard stone blade. The shaft is decorated with shells and seal teeth bound with sinew and blood. The teeth that dangle from the shaft rattle when the object is shaken in tribal ceremony.” Costume designer Michael O'Connor further explains how Rosemary Sutcliff’s book inspired some aspects: “This is “The Horned One’s’ mask and antlers. It is based on death masks found throughout Britain and Europe. The Seal People worshiped a god, the ‘horned’ one. In the original book it is well described.”
Seal People Rites and Rankings
Unlike the Romans, whose army was divided by rigid rank and class distinctions, the Seal People maintained a simple tribal organization. For production designer Michael Carlin, “prop-wise, the seal people have a very simple hierarchy with very little to differentiate between them with the Seal Chief and Prince being the only exception.” In addition, there were a series of rituals and rites imagined for the Seal warriors. “Young warrior men shaved there head on the night of the spears,” explains costume designer Michael O’Connor, “and then wore headpieces on coming of age. In terms of costumes, “Men wear seal skin and short kilt type skirts and high waterproof boots for fishing in the shallows, the seal chief wears a long seal cape. Women wear more woven hemp type fabric and high-ranking women have grass headdresses.
Seal People Masks
Costume designer Michael O’Connor explains, “The mask is more imagined,” but was based on Celtic chieftains burial masks.
Horned-Eagle Man
The spiritual figure for the Seal People was imagined to take on the identities of many of the local animals. For costume designer Michael O’Connor, “He represents two different elements and animals the Seal people revered; the Stag and the Sea Eagle.” The look, however, proved easier to image than create: “the cloak was made to look like eagle feathers but turkey feathers were the nearest we cold find. We dyed them in different groups of browns and grays. The feathers were all place by hand and two complete capes and three complete masks were made.”

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