Patriotic Spirit for ‘Iron Man 3’
May 20, 2013

Patriotic Spirit for ‘Iron Man 3’

Luma adds armor, weaponry and environmental effects in the third installment of this popular franchise.

Luma Pictures answered the call for Marvel Studios' new "Iron Man 3," the latest installment in the hit franchise, adding extensive full-body CG armor replacements for both Iron Man and Iron Patriot.

The VFX house, which now boasts locations in Santa Monica, California, and Melbourne, Australia, also added weaponry, environmental and particle effects as well as CG backgrounds. This is the first "Iron Man" for Luma, however the project marks its fourth collaboration with Marvel and third with VFX Supervisor Christopher Townsend.

"We were all excited at the opportunity to push Iron Man through our pipeline, this kind of work is always fun for any VFX artist," said Vince Cirelli, Luma Pictures VP and VFX Supervisor "It's great have such a solid history with Chris and to have earned his trust to allow us to help create such an iconic character. He's a brilliant supervisor who really works through his shots and puts a lot of effort into pre-planning, which ultimately makes the project so much more fun to work on."

For many of the shots featuring Iron Man and Iron Patriot, a full-CG replacement was needed to achieve the performance and the battle-worn look that director Shane Black was looking for. Every aspect of the suit with the exception of Downey's (and Don Cheadle's) face was a replacement. Luma used the performers faces as projections on the animated geometry in order to add realistic reflections and diffusion back onto the CG body armor. The armor itself was rendered in Arnold using a series of complex shading networks that approximated the special metallic properties of the Mark 3 suit.

Keeping with the evolving technology of Tony Stark's Mark Series Armors, a great deal of detail was added to show some of the inner workings of the suits in these predominantly close up shots.

"The rigging for the Iron Man and Iron Patriot suits was some of the more complex work in the show," said Cirelli "There were hundreds of small parts that needed to have articulation within the suit such as little pistons, and other types of mechanical gear."

For other shots, Luma utilized its in-house motion-capture studio to create 3D reference, and sometimes as the actual animation in the final shot. One instance in particular has Iron Man comically slipping down a short flight of stone stairs, a performance Luma needed to create from scratch.

"Our animation supervisor, Raphael A. Pimentel, nailed Iron Man's body language in certain key sequences during mocap," said Steven Swanson, Luma's Senior VFX Producer.

The company's work on Iron Patriot included scenes both on the ground and in the air. During one set of shots, Iron Patriot rockets through clouds, created with FumeFX for Maya, which Luma helped port from 3ds Max. Cloud volumes were rendered as fluid simulations and then combined with a complex, layered card system in Nuke to create the environment for the shots. In another, indoor scene, a CG Iron Patriot was created, including a pop-up mini-gun that was designed and implemented into the arm of the character.

Luma puts emphasis on designing tools for the easy management of complex simulations, and "Iron Man 3" utilized several in-house tools, as well as open-source programs to which Luma has contributed. PartIO Vizualizer for Maya, the procedural shaders for Arnold, as well as many new cache formats, all created at Luma by FX TD John Cassella, are part of tool set that was used to generate the contrails and thruster throughout the sequence.

To handle the various bullet and spark hits needed for some of the fight sequences, Luma created another tool dubbed "Sprite-o-Mater" which draws from a large, in house, database of practical FX elements and allows compositors to randomize the FX and project them onto 3D cards in Nuke.