An enormous number of people contributed to the VFX extravaganza director Jon Favreau serves up in 'Iron Man 2.' For this story, we talked with two visual effects houses that worked on the film: New York City-based Perception and Venice, California-based Pixel Liberation Front (PLF). Both explained how they used MAXON’s CINEMA 4D and After Effects to create some of the techy gadgets and other visual effects that made Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) visual world feel futuristic yet believably realistic at the same time.
Perception’s involvement with 'Iron Man 2' began during principal photography when Marvel Studios asked them to deliver a fully animated video sequence. Projected on a 70-foot screen, the video plays in the background as Tony Stark gives the keynote address at the Stark Expo, which the genius billionaire hosts to celebrate Iron Man’s triumph over evil in the world. To create the transitions between different parts of the video artists built a metal sheet in C4D and animated the squares to rotate in different ways.
Perception’s creative team delivered more than 125 shots in four months ranging from vintage logo animations and mock broadcast packages to futuristic designs and interfaces for Stark’s smart phone, glass coffee table, bedroom mirror and TV screens.
About 80 percent of the work Perception does relies on an integrated workflow between C4D and After Effects, LePore says, adding that 'Iron Man 2' is no exception. “We worked on so many elements for the film and, for most part, we would be rendering specific elements out of C4D and using external compositing information from C4D in After Effects,” he continues.
Designing and animating the HUDs
Lawes, who worked on 'Avatar' and 'Terminator: Salvation,' prior to heading up PLF’s artistic team for 'Iron Man 2,' says he wanted to push the film’s visual effects “as far as we could go design wise, creatively and technically.” The real challenge was coming up with HUD and monitor designs that looked futuristic but didn’t go beyond the bounds of what could be believed. “The director wanted a look that took into consideration what we have now and then pushed those boundaries,” he explains, adding that the team started by looking at military aircraft and HUDs. “You want to take something that physically works into the next believable step.”
To get the 3D graphics in the interior of the helmets right, PLF tried several test approaches using combinations of C4D and After Effects. Ultimately, the HUD animations were made in After Effects and the HUD data was projected onto a sphere in CINEMA 4D to get the curvature. That animation was then overlayed onto the actor’s face in After Effects so the face and the display could be visible at the same time. Artists who worked on the HUDs often used models gathered from Industrial Light and Magic that were rendered out in CINEMA 4D using shaders and Sketch and Tune.
Perception’s experience creating real broadcast sports packages came in handy when they were asked for on-screen graphics that would make the Historic Monaco Grand Prix look authentic when was televised as part of the film. “It was a no-brainer that we could execute a traditional-looking broadcast within a movie using C4D,” says LePore.
Meleah Maynard is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and editor. Contact her at her website: www.slowdog.com