'Iron' crew had desired effects

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Director Jon Favreau issued a mandate to "Iron Man" senior visual effects supervisor John Nelson: Keep it real.

So Nelson, an Oscar winner for "Gladiator," strove for photorealism in Paramount's comic book film, mindful that the characters had to be kept front and center.

When Robert Downey Jr. suits up in his metal exoskeleton, the gleaming body armor is a combination of computer-generated versions, created by lead VFX house Industrial Light + Magic, and practical, built by Stan Winston Studios.

"We would always try to do as much as we could practically, but we replaced most of it with CG because it's mostly an action movie," Nelson said. "We had practical stuff to ground us, and that made it that much better."

The ILM team, which included internal VFX supervisor Ben Snow and animation supervisor Hal Hickel, developed several suit variations, including different sizes and flying abilities.

In some cases, character performances were captured using iMoCap, ILM's proprietary motion capture system first used for the CG Davy Jones character in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films. For "Iron Man," Downey or stunt people were used depending on the needs of the shots.

Some of the motion capture was filmed at Perris Valley Skydiving in California, where the motion of skydivers was captured in a wind tunnel. For Iron Man's flight, a combination of flamethrowers and CG flames were used.

Shrinking schedules have become an ongoing challenge in the VFX industry, but Nelson said there are two sides to that coin.

"With big action movies like this, people are always trying to shove as much into them as possible. It makes delivery difficult. The other side is, if you are in post and you see you can make something better, you want to do that." (partialdiff)
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