BEHIND THE IRON MASK

Industrial Light & Magic Singapore takes Asia Image on a tour of their facilities and discusses their involvement in creating the visual effects for Iron Man 2.

There is an iconic sequence in the first Iron Man film, where Tony Starks puts on the suit for the first time after days of toiling over it in his basement. Each piece is smoothly lowered onto Stark and half a minute later, he’s covered in that shining red armor in what seems like a perfect fit. That’s the beauty of movie magic -in real life that kind of wizardry took special studios months to piece together. Advances in technology have allowed directors such as Favreau to really bring graphic novels to life. Electric whips such as the ones Mickey Rourke’s character Whiplash used would not have been possible if not for the advances in computer graphic interface (CGI). Blending, cross-cutting and intercutting combinations of practical CGI shots for Iron Man 2 fell on special effects studios such as Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and Double Negative. In Iron Man 2, Robert Downey Jr. stars as billionaire industrialist and genius inventor Tony Stark / Iron Man. Now unmasked, Stark is being pressured to surrender his invention to the US military. With his trusty personal assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and friend James Rhodey Rhodes (Don Cheadle), he must decide who his friends and enemies are and battle a new Whiplash who is out for revenge. The film directed by Jon Favreau and written by Justin Theroux also stars Scarlet Johansson, Mickey Rourke and Samuel L. Jackson. “Iron Man is a hugely popular character, it created 35 years ago by Stan Lee so it has a really rich history and various interpretations in the comic book. When you’re bringing a character like this into a movie and trying to bring him to life, there’s a lot of creative questions that aren’t necessarily answered by the comic books. Questions such as how the suit would look like in the 21st century, the design of it, how the materials would look like in real life, how the character moves, his iconic poses, and what the director’s vision is for the character,” said Mohen Leo, ILM Singapore studio supervisor. ILM, a division of Lucasfi lm Ltd, provided the principal visual effects for Marvel Studio’s Iron Man 2. The new Iron Man suit and the Stark Expo are some of ILM’s major contributions to the film. Initialy the art department gets involved and working with the director, starts creating concept art. According to Leo, since Iron Man did not possess any supernatural powers, it was important to Favreau “to give the sense that this suit could really exist, and that it works as a machine”. So right from the start the art department treated the suit as a “real world object”. If there are weapons in the suit it had to be plausible that they could fit inside the suit. In this film all the Iron Man suits get updated. “On the technical side we were able to build upon the materials work we did do make our computer graphics suits more realistic but adding some new lighting tools we’ve been working on since Iron Man 1. We extended those tools to make them more user friendly and to give our artists a much more similar set of lighting tools to what the Director of Photography is able to use on set,” said Ben Snow, ILM VFX supervisor. “The suits looked more realistic on the first render, which gave us the ability to play with the lighting creatively a lot more. This was essential for some of the big flashy stage-based sequences from the start of the fi lm and where the Hammer drones are unveiled,” he added. The visual effects team also had the challenge of matching the armor to the physical suit used in some shots. “What I like to do is strike a balance that mixes the visual effects with practical effects so audiences start to forget where one begins and the other ends,” Favreau said in a US media interview. “Sometimes that means cutting from one shot of Iron Man wearing the real suit to another that’s completely a computergenerated image (CGI). What that does is force the people building the practical suit to make it move freely enough that you would believe it could be CGI, and it makes the CGI people honest because they have something practical to match it to.” As with most sequels, Favreau has upped the ante with Iron Man 2. The action is bigger and required more simulations and destruction work than the first Iron Man. Stark Expo, a largely virtual environment created by ILM based on York World’s fair, was used to stage part of a big action sequence at the end of the movie. “One of the things that is still pretty challenging for us is complex destruction. Whenever you see things being torn apart, shredded, exploding – in the past these were primarily done with practical effects. Now more and more directors want the fl exibility of doing that digitally and having control over it digitally, but that’s a fun thing for us,” Leo said. ILM started pre-production work on Iron Man 2 around April 2009, the same time Favreau started shooting. Full production started late August 2009 through to the end of March this year. In all, ILM produced 530 visual effects shots for the movie, 190 of which were done in the Singapore studio. Between the two ILM facilities, they were able to take advantage of a 24-hour production pipeline inherent in the time zone difference between California and Singapore. “Opening the Singapore studio in 2005 enabled Lucasfilm to take advantage of a 24-hour production pipeline as well as an emerging talent base here in the region,” said Xavier Nicolas, general manager for Lucasfi m Singapore. “We also solidly invest in training our artists within the studio through leveraging the award-winning creativity, expertise and technical prowess of our headquarters in [San Francisco] California. They have over 35 years of visual effects experience, more than any other visual effects facility in the world, and this is an amazing benefi t for our studio here in Singapore.” This decentralised model for production allows the company to draw upon global creative resources. The multicultural Iron Man 2 team in Singapore has over 65 staff. Lucasfi lm chose Singapore because of its advanced infrastructure and location for attracting talent. “[ILM] essentially wrote the book on modern visual effects,” said Leo. “It’s important that we take that knowledge and share it with our young artists here in Singapore so that they are able to make meaningful contributions to the blockbuster movies that ILM works on.” The Singapore team works closely with the San Francisco studio on major projects such as Iron Man 2. “We do work which is on par with the work done in San Franciso,” Leo said. An important aspect of the visual effects process is reviewing the work in progress. To give the proper guidance and feedback, ILM Singapore relies on daily review sessions with its awardwinning VFX supervisors in the US. “Communication is the key,” said producer Stuart McAra. “You cannot produce high-quality work without effective communication skills and constant reviews. But this also has to be coupled with access to cuttin edge technology. The key to our studio’s success is in our effective communication and our ability to take advantage of a world-class production pipeline that ILM has been pioneering for so many years. This is what [sets] us apart from any other facility in the world.” “Constant feedback is absolutely essential to the visual effects process,” said Snow. “You cannot rely on just talking over the telephone to explain how a scene should look. People interpret instructions differently, especially something that is so visual. The review process is integral to how we work with our Singapore studio and having the tools and the technology to be able to talk to them as if they were in the same room with us is a key component of ILM Singapore’s success.” ——————————————————————– ———————————————– INDUSTRIAL LIGHT & MAGIC Founded in 1975 by George Lucas, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) is the leading effects facility in the world, serving the motion picture, commercial production and attraction industries. ILM has created visual effects for nearly 300 feature films, including all six of the Star Wars episodes, Iron Man, Star Trek, The Transformers films, The Day After Tomorrow, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Pirates of the Caribbean, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, The Hulk, Minority Report, Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park series. ILM has played a key role in seven of the top 10 worldwide box office hits of all time. ILM has also helped drive the evolution of visual effects. Beginning with a mastery of the traditional arts of blue-screen photography, matte painting and model construction, ILM pioneered the development of motion control cameras, optical compositing and other advances in effects technology. Since the 1980s, ILM has led the way in the use of computer graphics and digital imaging in feature films, developing breakthrough software techniques such as Morfing, enveloping and film input scanning. Today ILM features the largest and most advanced digital effects system in the entertainment industry. From the earliest creation of wholly computer-generated characters in The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Jurassic Park; to life-life distortions of the human body in Death Becomes Her and The Mask; to the startling breakthroughs in films such as Twister, Star Wars: Episode I ‘The Phantom Menace’ and The Perfect Storm, ILM is constantly expanding the possibilities of digital imagery. ILM’s ability to merge photo-realistic digital images with live action footage is unmatched in the film industry. ILM Singapore is part of Lucasfilm Singapore, which also contains Lucasfilm Animation Singapore and LucasArts Singapore. Lucasfi lm Singapore offi cially opened its doors in October 2005 and is currently home to approximately 370 employees from 40 countries. ———————————————– ———————————————– IRON MAN 2: THE NUMBERS Release date: May 1 (key Asian markets) Production budget: US$200 million Distributor: Paramount Genre: Action / Adventure Runtime: 2 hours 5 minutes TOTAL GROSSES (AS OF MAY 31) US: US$279,176,000 – 50.3% Foreign: US$276,000,000 – 49.7% Worldwide: US$555,176,000



Sponsors & Media

Subscribe our Bi-Weekly Digest

Receive up-to-date news by
signing up to our bi-weekly digest.

SUBSCRIBE
Have a tip or pitch to share?
Send us a glimpse.
We love contributions.
Digest Media