The American Society of Cinematographers

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Iron Man
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The interior space also gave the team a chance to use moving fixtures, a favorite tactic of Libatique’s. He explains, “You can control them from the ground and bounce them into cards, and then there are no lights or flags on the set. There’s just a light on the ceiling pointed down to a card that’s offscreen.” Inside the hall, their moving fixture of choice was the Clay Paky Alpha Profile 1200. The fixtures are “fantastic, and they’re very acceptable to the sound department,” notes Bauman. “We could bring them in close and use them like traditional lighting instruments.”             

Shooting on two Kodak Vision2 film stocks — 200T 5217 and 500T 5218 — Libatique was able to check his work with select print dailies throughout the shoot. “I was rating [5218] at 400, and my printing lights were always in the 40s,” he details. “I rarely expose a key; I just take a reflective reading everywhere and then determine where I want the film to be. I was shocked at the sensitivity of 5218. Around the middle of the shoot, I started to rate it at 500 and brought my printer lights down a bit. The more I underexposed the film, the happier I was; printing in the 40s, the contrast was unbearable to me.”             

The production’s dailies were handled at FotoKem by color timer Don Capoferri and production-services supervisor Mark Van Horne. “Mark was a champion for the film,” notes Libatique. “He’s got the eye of a timer and the knowledge of a lab technician, but at his core, he’s a filmmaker. He knows all the things that go on in the lab, and he went above and beyond to help me.” FotoKem also provided the production with hi-def video dailies; to help communicate his intent, Libatique used Gamma & Density’s 3cP color-management system. “3cP is pretty similar to Kodak’s Look Manager, but it has a few more isolations of color and gamma — it’s a bit more precise. Look Manager has worked great for me, but 3cP is Mac-oriented, and the learning curve is a bit simpler.”             

Libatique processed his film normally, but he notes that Taylor pushed 5218 one stop for second-unit photography of a large, nighttime freeway sequence. “He needed the help from an ASA standpoint, and he felt comfortable with it,” says Libatique. “I had pushed 18 before, and it wasn’t necessarily the look I was going for in this film, but that was a night scene, and 18 has so much latitude that if you go with a broad lighting setup, you should push it if you want to create any kind of contrast.”             

The freeway sequence pits Stark, in his Iron Man armor, against Stane, who has used similar technology to create his own Iron Monger metalware. Their rumble takes them to the Tokomak fusion reactor and the site of the film’s final battle, which climaxes in a massive electromagnetic pulse (EMP). The filming of the Tokomak (built onstage at Downey Studios) and the rooftop above the reactor (constructed inside at Playa Vista) came at the back end of the shoot. Going into Iron Man, Libatique watched a number of superhero movies, and he realized “the toughest part is the ending —that’s where the film can die. So anything having to do with the ending was my most dreaded set, and the Tokomak was the biggest challenge.             

“I knew I needed to throw everything I had at the EMP, both on the rooftop and at the Tokomak, and be as aggressive as possible,” he continues. “The real burden for the cinematographer is to deliver that material to the visual-effects team in some semblance of what [the finished sequence] is supposed to look like, so they can use it as a guide. If what I create is limiting, then they’re limited; but at the same time, I had to evaluate what would be too much on their end.”             

The interior of the Tokomak set was built through the open elephant doors on the production’s stage at Downey Studios. Outside the set’s glass wall, “we had some 250K Lightning Strikes units and some LumaPanels on a construction crane,” recalls Bauman. “The Lumas are great as an ambient moon source, and the Lightning Strikes were employed when all hell broke loose. Inside, we had a lot of interactive lights, with a lot of flashes when the reactor’s going to hell and things are blowing up. We used a lot of LEDs, a lot of [Kinetic Lighting] ColorBlasts, and a ton of [Martin] Atomic 3000 strobes. We had about a dozen 70K Lightning Strikes heads, and there were eight [High End Systems] DL.2 [projectors] and about 30 Clay Pakys. The [lighting cues] were so fast and furious we needed two board operators to stay on top of it.”             

As the Tokomak threatens to blow, Iron Man and Iron Monger trade punches on the rooftop. “I thought that was going to be the end of us,” says Libatique. “We were 25 feet in the air, right up against our lighting rig.” In the middle of the rooftop, a 50'-wide window overlooks the reactor. “We projected lighting effects up from below, and for the moment when the reactor explodes, we used some 500K and 250K Lightning Strikes heads,” says Bauman.             

The explosion and EMP short-circuit Iron Monger’s suit and shut down the surrounding electrical grid, plunging the city into darkness except for ambient moonlight. To effect this change quickly, the crew hung Image 80s in the ceiling, outfitting each with three daylight tubes, three tungsten tubes, one Cool White tube and one Warm White tube. “That moonlight had to happen in an instant, and it was really clever of Mike to put those lights up,” says Libatique. “There couldn’t have been any units up there that had a hard quality because there was no distance for the light to travel. The only way we were able to get away with it was to use something soft.”             

At press time, Libatique had begun to work on the digital intermediate (DI) with colorist Steve Scott at EFilm. He and Scott previously collaborated on parts of The Fountain (AC Nov. ’06) and Inside Man (AC April ’06). “The challenge in the DI is to not be seduced by the tools,” notes the cinematographer. “The hard work everyone put into creating the film’s reality would be destroyed through over-correction.”             

Having watched Iron Man save mankind, Libatique confesses that there were times on the show when he felt the cold finger of doom creeping up his spine, a sensation he attributes to his improvisational approach. “I remember being on set and feeling that I was unprepared from a lighting standpoint. That’s the worst feeling, and I still carry that anxiety. But sometimes, I find that when I go in with a plan and deviate from it, [my original strategy] is still discernible onscreen. So I’ve sort of let go of the constraints and opened myself to the possibilities of whatever is put in front of the camera. I’m trying to be as free as possible.”



Super 35mm

Panaflex Millennium,
Millennium XL; PanArri 235

Primo, Angenieux and
Cooke lenses

Kodak Vision2
200T 5217, 500T 5218

Digital Intermediate

Printed on Kodak Vision 2383

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