It's no secret that 'Iron Man 2' arrived to eye-popping box-office sales. It is, after all, the second-biggest release of 2010 so far. Audiences at up the second installment of the popular Marvel comic book's big-screen adaptation for a few reasons: It had killer action sequences, an entertaining new villain in Whiplash (played by Mickey Rourke), and of course another winning performance from Robert Downey Jr.
Oh, yeah, and because Iron Man's sweet metallic suit totally ruled.
That red-and-gold bad boy is on full display today with 'Iron Man 2' (finally) arriving on DVD. In honor of the release, Moviefone gets the behind-the-scenes scoop on Tony Stark's armor from effects guru Shane Mahan, who supervised the suit design for both the first and second movies. Mahan, who began his career with movies like 'The Terminator' (1984) and 'Jurassic Park' (1993), reveals some of the secrets behind the 'Iron Man' suits and also how comic-book adaptations have changed over the course of his career.
How did you get involved with in the movie?
I worked with [director] Jon Favreau on 'Zathura,' and because we had a pretty good experience on that film, there was a natural progression. Much to Jon's credit, he really pushed to have us. Marvel was a little on the fence about it -- but that's okay.
Why was Marvel hesitant?
That's how it goes; they're very cautious. Since [the suit] was really the star of the movie -- as opposed to just Robert Downey Jr. -- that was really the philosophy behind it.
How much did you draw or diverge from the original source material with your designs?
Jon Favreau and Marvel were very conscious of the fan base, which is huge. One thing they did was they hired one of Marvel's current artists, Adi Granov, and he would take the designs and add his touch to it. So there really was this sense of the comic book solidly throughout in terms of colors and shapes. Ultimately, I think if you look at the final designs, they're very similar to the earlier designs.
Were there any specific hurdles you faced in designing the suits and 'Iron Man 2' effects that were unique to these films?
The suits were actually sculpted in the computer, as opposed to being sculpted over a body form in clay, which would have been the more traditional way to do it. I think that that was very innovative. Maybe it's becoming more common, but [computer sculpting] gave it such a great, machine-like quality. The precision was perfect, like an automobile.
Is there an actual suit that Robert Downey and later, Don Cheadle, put on? Can you describe what it's made out of?
We had 10 sittings to get Robert's input and ideas, which are vast. None of us want to make his life miserable on set -- he should be having a good time in that suit. That's important, so we work very hard to make the materials lighter, to go on quicker, because to get through 14 hours a day of filming, you've got to make sure everyone's comfortable and can do their best performance. You don't want them to be in agony wearing a suit that feels like a boat anchor. I think the second film was a really good accomplishment of making the suit more precise.
How much did it weigh?
It was only a half suit -- from the waist up. I think we weighed it in at about 13 pounds. The [suit in] the first film was about 85 pounds.
So the bottom of the suit is animated?
The bottom is digital. It works best [if the character] is 6-foot-5. The proportions are going to [match that]. So the best thing to do -- and that's for Don Cheadle, too -- is a hybrid approach. The upper suit is real for most of those shots. Then they bridged the legs on digitally.
Was there a cohesive visual mission, going into the second 'Iron Man,' that had evolved?
The mission, from our perspective, was to be more effective, to shoot more, to get more action sequences. Because this movie is about [Iron Man's] suit -- you really wanted to make as much of an impact as possible. It was still a big experiment. I didn't know how was going to be in, or how much would be gutted out. But it didn't really matter because we built the prototype suit, and that's what drives all the digital work, as well. That always feels good. It's like the dinosaurs in 'Jurassic Park.' We sculpted those original dinosaurs and they're replicated digitally -- but they still represent what you've done.
You've been doing effects for movies for nearly three decades. How has the field changed since you started out?
Technically speaking, the work is more sophisticated. I've seen the films go from being thought of as B-grade horror, sci-fi fun to huge, box-office-draw movies. The aspect of the business itself, in terms of the respect level that science fiction or comic-book movies or horror films get -- now they're in a number one position. Which is interesting. We used to be Saturday afternoon [fare]. Now it's 'Avatar,' it's 'Iron Man' that are pretty essential.
Can you give us a hint about your next movie, 'Cowboys & Aliens'? What it's going to be like?
I can just tell you it's going to be great. It is based on a comic book, though -- so for those who really want to dig deep, you can find out what it's all about. But I'm not at liberty to discuss. But it's just like how the title sounds.