The American Society of Cinematographers

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Iron Man
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The biggest day in the cave involved a roving 360-degree Steadicam shot as Stark explains to his captors what he will need to build the weapons they want. “[Downey] was firing out various instructions in a very improvisational way,” says Libatique. “There was a flurry of activity around him, people literally carrying giant missiles through the set, giving him tools and setting up a workshop space for him.”             

The challenges in the cave were manifold: the set was constructed before rigging key grip Charley Gilleran and rigging gaffer Charlie McIntyre were on hand to tackle the complex lighting, and once they arrived, their hands were somewhat tied by the facility, which prohibits productions from modifying the overarching structure. This means crews must rig their own trusses. To mitigate this limitation, “we used what we called ‘pig stickers,’ which were long spikes with baby pins on the end,” says Dubbe. “We jammed those into the walls for all sorts of lighting and cable support.” Bauman notes conditions on the set became even more challenging as shooting began: “For the first three days, the set was chilled to 35 or 40 degrees because they wanted to see breath. It was cold and wet, and everybody got sick. But it looked cool!”             

When it was time to film the Steadicam move, Libatique and Bauman tapped the expertise of first-unit dimmer-board operators Joshua Thatcher and Scott Barnes. “As Robert walked around the space, we had 13 or 14 different cues in the shot,” says Bauman. “We had a lot of little practicals all over the place, small bulbs hidden behind things, bounces in the ceiling that turned on and off, and it all had to flow. With Matty, the guy on the board isn’t just setting the fader to 70 percent; he’s doing a lot of programming and fades.”             

Libatique kept the camera active, frequently exploiting Anderson’s Steadicam abilities and often moving the camera with the dolly on dance floor. “I planned more handheld coverage, but we made some technical decisions based on the restrictions of the [Iron Man] suit,” he reveals. “Stan Winston built amazing suits, but because Stark is a man of iron, he can’t necessarily move like a superhero wants to. We decided to shoot Super 35mm to hide some of the imperfections, and that, in turn, showed some things in handheld mode that Jon didn’t like — with the horizontal frame, he became very conscious of things entering and exiting the shot from the bottom and top.”             

Happy with the dolly and Steadicam work, the filmmakers regularly incorporated such moves to change axes within the shot. Libatique notes, “In every scene, I would try to devise a way to do a master that was moving from a medium shot to a close-up to a wide shot so I could get most of the scene in one take. That approach makes the performances flow, and it gives more importance to every master.”             

After escaping his captors and returning home, Stark sets up shop in the garage beneath his oceanfront manse. Constructed onstage at Playa Vista, that set featured a wall of angled windows overlooking the ocean — a painted backdrop that was frontlit with 1Ks during day scenes. (LumaPanels were aimed for ambience, and 20Ks provided sun effects through the windows.) Stark’s extravagant collection of automobiles lines the wall, and across from them sits a bank of repair bays. One end of the garage opens to a ramp that leads up to the road outside; occupying the other end is Stark’s high-tech workstation, which is flanked by monitors that display the blueprints for his newer, streamlined armor. Bauman explains, “We shot in there for about three weeks, so we tried to build as much [lighting] into the set as possible. There were a lot of opportunities for slamming lights in places you could justify because of the high-tech equipment. We also used a lot of [Kino Flo] Image 80s in the ceiling to create an overall ambience and provide some reflectance off the stainless steel in the shop.” Libatique adds, “Our fluorescents would be one color temperature, and then we dimmed incandescents to create a warmer color temperature through holes in the ceiling that were seemingly practical. I find it very flat to go with a single color temperature, and I was trying to create contrast with these different hues.”             

Several other sets also incorporated large windows, including the main floor of Stark’s home and the lobby of Stark Industries. To achieve a level of ambient daylight, Bauman used LumaPanels outside of the windows. “They’re roughly 4-by-7 feet and have about 28 T8 [fluorescent] tubes; they’re compact and super bright. We would stagger the bulbs, mixing daylight and tungsten, so we were around 4400°K or 4500°K with our color temperature. We’d hang about 30 of those outside a window, and that would give us a huge, soft, ambient source that was so broad it looked completely natural.”             

Once he decides to get out of the weapons business, Stark plans to announce his intention during a gala at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. His less noble business partner, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), isn’t so ready to walk away from the millions of dollars they stand to make, and he voices his concerns on the hall’s outdoor steps. “That scene was just massive,” says Libatique. “My first thought was to use a Technocrane, but when you have actors like Jeff and Robert, it’s important to see how they’re connecting. It was far more effective to stay with them and get the camera and operator in close to walk them up the stairs.”             

Libatique’s crew had its hands full lighting the Frank Gehry-designed structure, whose exterior features a series of curved stainless-steel panels. “What saved us was this quarter-inch lip on each level of cladding along the side of the façade,” says Bauman. “We lined up a bunch of Pars along the base and raked them up the side of the building, which gave us really cool highlights along every level. We also had two or three Condors, and we had two LRX Singles and three Clay Paky Alpha Profile 1200s mounted on each one of them. The whole thing was run off a wireless DMX, so we could program a bunch of cues. Because of the building’s contours, we had to use some crazy angles to get the wash we wanted.”             

With the exterior lit, the filmmakers still had to tackle the hall’s interior, where Bauman used 8K balloons for general ambience. “We used a lot of stuff on Max menace arms — China balls and things like that — and we had a perimeter run of Xflos around the entire façade to give us some underlight on the walls, which slope upwards.” The Xflos, Bauman explains, “are made by a newer company called Litegear. They’re dimmable fluorescents and they work off T8s, which are smaller-diameter tubes than standard T12s.”            

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