The American Society of Cinematographers

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Iron Man 2
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Iron Man 2 2nd Unit
Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up

In contrast to Stark’s digs, Vanko prepares for his war on Stark in a low-tech workspace. The set “was described to me as being not unlike Max Cohen’s apartment in Pi,” Libatique says with a laugh, referring to the indie he shot for Darren Aronofsky (AC April ’98). “It was that rare opportunity to go lo-fi in the movie, which is, in a lot of ways, my comfort zone. We used shop lights, clip lights, compact fluorescents and weird desk lamps with bare bulbs.”   

Libatique shot Kodak Vision 500T 5279 in Vanko’s workspace “because I liked how it accentuated the varying color temperatures.” (He used Vision2 50D 5201 and 200T 5217 and Vision3 500T 5219 elsewhere in the production.) Libatique has long employed color temperature as a means of creating contrast and suggesting conflict, and the character arcs in Iron Man 2 are rife with turmoil. “There’s always a conflict within [Stark], whether it be physical illness or complete irreverence, so I introduced more of a conflict of color in his world as well, but more subtly than I did with Vanko. I’ve always been a believer in a controlled palette, so if I’ve introduced two colors, I’ll avoid introducing a third in the same frame.”  

Believing the technology that powers the Iron Man armor was stolen from his family, Vanko constructs his own “Whiplash” armor and confronts Stark in a spectacular action sequence at the Monaco Grand Prix. Filming the sequence required the second unit, shot and directed by Jonathan Taylor, ASC, to shoot background plates and shots of a speeding Rolls Royce along the actual Monaco circuit. (See sidebar) Taylor recalls, “The Monaco police force and auto club were very cooperative, but because it’s a working city, we had only an hour or two for each section of track. It was just frantic, and we literally had only one hit at it. Second-unit first AD Michael Moore and I planned the whole thing at Manhattan Beach. It was a question of getting all the equipment set up and having a well-oiled machine.” Taylor’s equipment list included a high-speed camera-tracking vehicle, a Porsche 928 rented from Propulsion in Paris, driven by Jean-François Dubut and mounted with VistaVision cameras from Geo and Procam; an insert car rigged with VistaVision cameras, Arri 435s and Canon EOS 5D Mark IIs; and a Mercedes SUV-mounted Russian Arm rented from Bickers Action. Additionally, ground cameras were positioned to grab shots of the Rolls speeding by, and even a helicopter, rented from Flying Pictures, was employed for aerial shots. “We had all the toys, and we ran a whole convoy around the track,” Taylor continues. “It was quite a trick to pull the whole thing off.”  

In addition to the location work, a section of track was constructed at Downey Studios, where both units completed the sequence. For lighting, “Tana floated 40-by-60 Light Grids to try to control the overall ambience and keep it soft,” says Bauman. Equipment-wise, however, the second unit had its hands full. Taylor details, “We used a couple of Photo-Sonics cameras for some high-speed crashes with the racecars. We also had a high-speed track alongside and synced with the racecars so we could launch everything at the same time and run parallel to the cars. [Second-unit key grip] Richard Mall built the track, and we had four cameras on it: a VistaVision, a Phantom and two Arri 435s.”  

Taylor also incorporated Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLRs, fitted with Canon lenses, as crash cameras. “One of the problems with doing action stuff is finding interesting places to put the camera,” says Taylor, adding that he could “actually put the 5Ds on the cars we were going to crash. We cut holes for the lenses in small Pelican cases that we painted to match the cars. We got some amazing shots. Of course, it’s not film quality, but for a 12-frame cut in an action piece, it holds up very well.”  

After Whiplash makes his auspicious debut, Hammer enlists him to create an army of drones for the government. Whiplash instead pits the drones against Iron Man, who by film’s end is backed up in battle by Rhodes, now sporting his very own “War Machine” armor. “We were talking about CG characters with War Machine, Iron Man and the drones, so the question was, ‘How much do we really need to do practically?’” says Libatique. “Janek and I agreed that there needed to be physical interactivity with the foreground action to sell the background visual-effects work. We decided to build as big as we could to get a sense of scale and those physical relationships.”  

The production built the set, dubbed the Japanese Garden, inside Sony Studios’ Stage 30. Sirrs explains, “There’s a waterfall and a stream running through the middle of the set, and we wanted to capture as much of that with live plates as possible. We’ve also got missile hits, and we wanted to set off real pyro on the stage to get the atmosphere in there. Even if you have to paint something in later [with CG], it feels better if you have a real visual benchmark.”  

The Rag Place provided the bluescreen that surrounded the set; this was lit with Kino Flo Image 80s (fitted with Super Blue tubes) positioned along the top and bottom of the screen. To light the set, Libatique turned to a technique that had served him well for the climax of Iron Man: hanging Image 80s from the ceiling. Bauman explains, “Tana and [key rigging grip] Charley Gilleran designed and built a 40-by-60 box containing Image 80s mixed with daylight and tungsten tubes and run through Light Grid. We underexposed a bit to get some reflectivity. The source was low-intensity but very broad, and we could pick up highlights that the CG guys could then work from. We also used Image 80s as soft ambient backlight, and we put up truss with some VL3000s so we could highlight different areas.”   

The main unit was primarily responsible for filming the dialogue between Stark and Rhodes before they don their masks and blaze into action, after which the second unit stepped in to complete the in-camera elements. Taylor notes, “VistaVision came to the fore. [Steadicam operator] Chris McGuire manned a Revolution rig, which is great for fight sequences. We put the VistaVision camera on that, and although we were shooting background plates, we still had people running through the action.” Sirrs adds, “Even though we were going to put digital suits in there, we had people with partial suits stand in and go through the motions as a reference for how it should look.”  

Iron Man 2’s negative was processed by Deluxe, and throughout the shoot Libatique viewed select print dailies (timed by ASC associate member Adam Clark). “In the morning, I would look at the print, and at lunch I’d watch the digital version with Jon,” he recalls. “With print dailies, I feel like I can go into the digital intermediate knowing what I have.”  

As on Iron Man, Libatique plans to carry out the digital grade at EFilm with colorist (and ASC associate member) Steven J. Scott. The cinematographer emphasizes that although he achieves as much of the desired look as possible in-camera, the DI is “an absolute necessity on this film. I have to manage the Iron Man suit from environment to environment, and we don’t want it dominating the look of the movie. With a DI, I can isolate the suit and make sure the color stays true to what we’re trying to articulate. Chasing the color photochemically would be a nightmare.” 

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