Marvel Studios approached Perception to assist in delivering a simple graphics package to be projected onto an 80 foot screen for the Summer blockbuster “Iron Man 2″. Immediately impressed with the team’s ability to immerse themselves in this world, Marvel Studios continued to seek Perception’s assistance in bringing numerous fantasy elements to life. Six months later Perception’s role on Iron Man 2 increased tenfold as the team delivered the last of over 125 shots, including the concepting, design and animation of various futuristic interface elements, numerous mock broadcast packages, and a tremendous amount of detailed compositing work.
Perception’s involvement in Iron Man 2 began during principal photography of the film, as the team at Marvel Studios was looking for a video to accompany a speech given by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), announcing the return of the Stark Expo. Jon Favreau loves to shoot as much ‘in-camera’ as possible, so this video needed to play back live on stage behind Robert Downey, Jr. Rather than a corporate power-point presentation, Tony Stark delivers his keynote in a rock concert atmosphere with a video presentation playing on a 80 foot wide screen.
Based on feedback from the styleframes, the design evolved into this motion test:
Tony Starks presentation eventually leads into a piece of vintage footage featuring his father, Howard Stark, giving a presentation recorded in the early seventies. To add an extra layer of authenticity, his speech would need to be capped off with an era-appropriate logo animation. Perception had a tremendous amount of fun browsing through piles of vintage logo animations looking for inspiration, some of which can be seen here.
The final elements for the Expo Presentation were projected onto a large 80 foot wide screen as part of a massive set built near the Sepulveda Dam.
Upon successfully delivering all of the elements, Perception moved their attention to something they were fascinated with. While presenting concepts for the presentation, the client noted that one design in particular (see lower left panel of Expo Frames) reminded them of Tony Stark’s phone, a prop seen throughout the film. The moment the people at Marvel mentioned “it’s like an iPhone, but transparent glass” the team at Perception all knew that whether requested or not, they had to mock up a test of the “Stark-Phone” in action. Without any brief or knowledge of the screenplay, Perception explored and fully prototyped several interface concepts for this glass smart phone device. Below is one of those tests:
Perception conceptualized an elaborate series of sequences taking place within Tony Stark’s garage-workshop. The creative challenge was to build the visual manifestation of Jarvis itself in a fully immersive holographic environment.
On a brisk 4-day turnaround, they completed this early test demonstrating the incredibly sophisticated and three-dimensional interface surrounding Stark, as well as several additional concept art renderings. Creatively, the objective was to design an interface that was as beautiful as it was functional, yet had a considerable amount of impressionistic and artistic flair. Indeed, Stark is the modern day DaVinci of the digital era and his representation of Jarvis as an immersive UI needed to bring this essence to life. In a sense, Jarvis is actually a visual representation of Stark’s imagination and genius level mind.
After presenting the tests, Perception was contracted to complete a wide range of shots containing the phone in the film, in addition to numerous other elements, including the glass coffee table interface, window monitors streaming live cable news feeds, and various other screen designs and interface elements—none of which had pre-existing concept art. After a very thorough briefing from the team at Marvel Studios, work began on a wealth of different elements, each going through multiple phases of design, UI, animation, and final compositing.
Perception began designing and conceptualizing the innovative Stark Smart Phone, breaking new ground with hand held computing UI design. It was important to balance the complexity and sophistication of an interface that felt futuristic, and were familiar and phone-like. The team worked with Director Jon Favreau and VFX Supervisor Janek Sirrs in striking that balance and were grateful for their insight and impressive attention to detail. Perception also needed to create an interface that would function properly within the context of the already shot footage of Robert Downey Jr. improvising gestural inputs with a blank phone (they found themselves designing several circular navigation devices to match his “dialing” gestures). As with the table, Perception presented flat designs of the interfaces, as well as shots with the interface temporarily composited:
Tony Stark’s “smart glass” coffee table was a particularly fascinating element to work with, not only as a cool technical gadget, but as an element that provides context for a new character and an outlet for Tony’s personality. In this sequence, Tony Stark is utilizing the table to conduct a “background check” during an interview with Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson).The Perception team started by focusing on the general layout of the interface, which allowed them to conceptualize ways for Tony to perform something as simple as a Google search. It was important to Jon Favreau and the team at Marvel Studios that the coffee table interface be legible and logical, while still appearing to be several generations beyond the typical user experience. Perception presented two versions of each of six concepts. One with the graphics flat in the frame as if a “screenshot” so that Favreau and his team at Marvel could inspect every detail, and a version with the interfaces temporarily composited into the scene to provide an accurate view of how the interfaces would work in the context of the final shot. Once a direction was approved, Perception worked with the Marvel team in refining the content contained within the interface, as well as adjusting the timing and pacing to match the narrative leading to the final shots used in the film.
In the film a constant news feed from multiple networks were feeding Jarvis breaking news. Tony and company keep tabs on the feed via the multiple television screens which appear embedded within his home windows. In creating television displays for Tony’s “Smart Glass” Windows, Perception was tasked to frame broadcast footage with enough additional layers of information so that weather, stock prices, and various news feeds were all available at a glance.
Tony Stark’s bedroom mirror is another element that appears on-demand, based on his location. Not only does the glass transform into a mirror, but numerous widgets appear around the perimeter.
Marvel Studios asked Perception to lend some authenticity to a large set piece in the film, the Monaco Grand Prix. Perception was able to utilize their past experience with Networks in creating on-screen graphics that would display the Monaco Grand Prix as a worldwide televised event. It was important that the Monaco graphics had the slickness of a high-profile broadcast package, while maintaining the European sophistication of Formula 1 racing. They started with numerous concepts for both a title treatment, as well as leaderboard graphics:
Perception created a number of designs for a wide range of additional video assets, from military presentation graphics to news station lower thirds, to classified footage overlays, each one lending an added layer of authenticity in bringing these fantasy elements into a more recognizable world.
Once Perception had their final design approved, they animated the smart phone performing a number of different tasks during Tony Stark’s Senate hearing. Tony Stark uses his smart phone to scroll through various video files, as well as hack into the Senate hall’s video feed to take over the monitors.
Once all design and animation was completed, Perception had to fuse these elements into the existing footage with air-tight compositing. No matter how simple the element, there was a tremendous amount of attention to every aspect of the compositing to ensure that there was a seamless meld between Perception’s interfaces and the footage plates.
It was truly an honor for Perception to be involved in such an exciting project, and those who have spent time in the hallways of the office understand the level of excitement to be involved in the Marvel Universe. The enthusiasm everyone has towards this project allowed the team to collaborate while challenging each other, as well as keeping the team positive, motivated, and energetic, even when they found themselves in the studio at 4am racing towards a deadline. Their biggest thanks to Jon Favreau and the entire team at Marvel Studios for a fantastic collaborative experience.
The reaction to the film has been staggering. Having the 5th largest opening weekend ever at $128 Million +, Iron Man 2 was the third largest grossing movie of 2010. The response to the work that Perception contributed to the film has been phenomenal. Breaking the story about Perception’s involvement was Engadget, the #1 website for technology news, followed by Gizmodo, Forbes, Greyscalegorilla and a number of other sites. Traffic being routed to Perception’s website has been the highest ever in the company’s history. Check out some of the work mentioned here, and follow what everyone has been saying about the work produced by Perception.