The Avengers Interview: ILM Takes Us Inside Iron Man
Marc Chu, Animation Director for The Avengers, visited with Movie Fanatic when we headed to San Francisco to get the inside scoop on the magic behind the wizardry of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers as the film lands on pristine Blu-Ray.
The first thing made clear to Chu and his team by Whedon was that he wanted to up the ante on the Iron Man suit, worn by Robert Downey Jr. They came up with the idea of the suit being able to be literally removed while he walked… and vice versa.
“When he first lands and he starts walking, that’s completely CG. And that’s something that we did on our mobile cap stage. We have to imagine his movements exactly and then place the armor on him. And then figure out ways for us to take the armor off. Then once it gets to him, it’s just a matter of brute force, imagination, let’s figure out how this thing works,” Chu said.
One thing they learned early on at ILM is to not get in the way of the actor and their talents. “We never interfere with what Robert will do, so he’s just going to walk the way he does. And we just want him to be natural. In the end, all those shots are tight shots — they’re all going to be like this on his body, on his shoulder or whatever. So it wasn’t that important.”
When it came to working on Iron Man, Chu was especially eager to get going, considering his personal and professional joys. “I’m kind of a geeky guy and I like mechanical stuff too,” he said. “That’s Iron Man. For the Mark 7 suit, when it kind of unfolds and sticks onto him and transforms, we wanted to make sure that didn’t feel too magical. The volume of the pieces shouldn’t feel like they were coming from nowhere — like a magical tortoise of a suit,” he said and laughed.
There is a big deal made about motion capture suits, especially since Andy Serkis brought Gollum to life in The Lord of the Rings. They were used with Mark Ruffalo and his Hulk, but Chu cautions that without animators, those killer performances would exist in a vacuum.
“For this movie, for Iron Man in The Avengers — and for the Hulk — it doesn’t matter, it’s a combination of motion capture, stunt performer’s actions and key frame animation,” Chu said.
“I think each one of those is a tool. And each one of them has their place to be in the movie. And the sequence where he’s running after Black Widow and he’s running down that little grating, we’re using a combination of key frame shots and motion capture shots. And we’re cutting between, back and forth to those things. And you can’t tell! You will always need an animator to pulse it out.”
Pre-The Avengers, Chu’s biggest moment personally and professionally arrived with a Pirates of the Caribbean creation.
“I was the Davy Jones lead and that’s still one of my proudest things I worked on. And this is sort of the evolution that started us. We have Bill Nighy, great performer, and then we have Davy Jones. What kind of monster we made — there was a lot of interpretation there,” Chu said. “That was one where I felt like people can’t tell how we did it, and that’s always the hallmark of innovation. It creates an ‘Is it real? Is it fake?’ ‘Is it half real, half fake?’”
The special effects moment that really was a benchmark in terms of setting off a light bulb in his head as a child fatefully came from ILM. “When Jurassic Park came out and I saw that, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I want to be a part of this,’” Chu said.
The success of The Avengers was in the end, sure, the blockbuster ticket sales. But, for Chu and his team, those figures have more meaning than paper money. “I’m sure everyone was grinning ear to ear with it, but it was great just to see the fan reaction,” Chu said. “I mean the box office is basically telling us that we did a good job.”
By Joel D Amos