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The I’s Have It: Indy, Iron Man, and ILM

[IMG:L]The summer blockbuster season may be behind us, but we do have something to look forward to: those same summer blockbusters on DVD and Blu-Ray, jammed full of special features.

In anticipation of the release of Iron Man and Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, we visited the technical artists on these films on their home turf: George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic, in the heart of San Francisco. While there, we got a sneak-peek at the extras we can look forward to.
Sorta the same ol’ Indy: “Steven Spielberg wanted Indy 4 to look like the original three,” visual effects supervisor Pablo Helman tells us. He worked closely with Spielberg, on set and off, to make sure that this latest installment would fall in line with the previous Indy films. “Steven wanted to use lots of physical stunts, practical effects, even the same lenses.” He also insisted on using at least one physical set piece in every shot.

There’s always a movie in Spielberg’s head: “On the first day of shooting, we are doing the Hangar 51 scene. Our one-sheet only says, ‘The Russians enter the hangar.’ Steven shows up, spends 10 minutes looking at the set, and he comes up with the entire scene on the spot. The shadow, the hat… everything.”

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[IMG:L]New School vs. Old School: “Steven loves blending practical effects with digital effects,” Christian Alzmann, visual effects art director, adds. He prefers the former, but sees the benefits of the latter. For the scene on the bomb-testing grounds, only one house (the one Indy actually interacts with) is built; all the others are miniatures. The mushroom cloud and fallout are all digital.

How they made Iron Man move: Digital supervisor Michael Sanders gave us the scoop on ILM’s new motion capture technology, called iMoCap. Traditional motion capture technology necessitates dozens of special cameras to record an actor’s performance, which is filmed separately, on a soundstage, then later animated over and inserted into the film. With iMoCap, an actor need only wear “funky computer pajamas” — a body suit covered with dots that can later be tracked in the computer. Regular cameras are all the equipment needed, so an actor can just act. “That was really Robert Downey Jr. on the screen,” Sanders said. “That was his performance. We just animated over him.”

[IMG:L]And speaking of the suit…: Director Jon Favreau had a very definite idea of what the Iron Man suit should look like. Despite that, Favreau was eager to see ideas from the effects team. Originally, Favreau wanted a suit that was more industrial-looking — nothing too future forward. “He also wanted technology that wasn’t too far-out,” Aaron McBride, visual effects art director, tells us. “We referenced real-world tech, like airplane wing flaps and robotic arms from military plants.”

Making Robert Downey Jr. taller: “If you look at the scenes of [Robert in] the Iron Man suit,“ says Ben Snow, special effects supervisor, “we made him taller. Jon wanted him to look more ‘superhero-y.’”

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