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Luma Pictures Suits Up for 'Iron Man 3'

VFX company Luma Pictures recently contributed to Marvel Studios' new Iron Man 3 film, creating full-body CG armor replacements for both Iron Man and Iron Patriot.



VFX company Luma Pictures recently contributed to Marvel Studios' new Iron Man 3 film, creating full-body CG armor replacements for both Iron Man and Iron Patriot. The studio, which also has a location in Melbourne, also added weaponry, environmental and particle effects, and CG backgrounds. 

While the new film is the first Iron Man project for Luma, it marks the fourth collaboration with Marvel and the third with VFX supervisor Christopher Townsend.

"We were all excited at the opportunity to push Iron Man through our pipeline, this kind of work is always fun for any VFX artist," notes Vince Cirelli, Luma Pictures VP and VFX supervisor. "It's great to have such a solid history with Chris and to have earned his trust to allow us to help create such an iconic character. He's a brilliant supervisor who really works through his shots and puts a lot of effort into pre-planning, which ultimately makes the project so much more fun to work on."

For many of the shots featuring Iron Man and Iron Patriot, a full CG replacement was needed to achieve the performance and the battle-worn look that director Shane Black was looking for. Every aspect of the suits with the exception of Robert Downey Jr.'s and Don Cheadle's faces were a replacement. Luma used the performers’ faces as projections on the animated geometry in order to add realistic reflections and diffusion back onto the CG body armor. The armor itself was rendered in Arnold using a series of complex shading networks that approximated the special metallic properties of the Mark 3 suit.


A great deal of detail was added to show some of the inner workings of the Mark 3 suits in the predominantly close up shots.

"The rigging for the Iron Man and Iron Patriot suits was some of the more complex work in the show," explains Cirelli. "There were hundreds of small parts that needed to have articulation within the suit, such as little pistons, and other types of mechanical gear."

For other shots, Luma used its in-house motion capture studio to create 3D reference, and sometimes as the actual animation in the final shot. One instance in particular has Iron Man comically slipping down a short flight of stone stairs, a performance Luma needed to create from scratch.

"Our animation supervisor Raphael A. Pimentel nailed Iron Man's body language in certain key sequences during mocap," says Steven Swanson, Luma's senior VFX producer.

The company's work on Iron Patriot included scenes both on the ground and in the air. During one set of shots, Iron Patriot rockets through clouds, created with FumeFX for Maya, which Luma helped port from 3DS Max. Cloud volumes were rendered as fluid simulations and then combined with a complex, layered card system in Nuke to create the environment for the shots. In another, indoor scene, a CG Iron Patriot was created, including a pop-up minigun that was designed and implemented into the arm of the character.

Luma puts emphasis on designing tools for the easy management of complex simulations, and Iron Man 3 used several in-house tools, as well as open-source programs to which Luma has contributed. 

PartIO Vizualizer for Maya, the procedural shaders for Arnold, as well as many new cache formats, all created at Luma by FX TD John Cassella, are part of toolset that was used to generate the contrails and thruster throughout the sequence. To handle the various bullet and spark hits needed for some of the fight sequences, Luma created another tool dubbed "Sprite-o-Mater" which draws from a large, in house, database of practical FX elements and allows compositors to randomize the FX and project them onto 3D cards in Nuke. 

Source: Luma Pictures

Jennifer Wolfe's picture

Formerly Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network, Jennifer Wolfe has worked in the Media & Entertainment industry as a writer and PR professional since 2003.