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In all three movies, you see Downey Jr (as Tony Stark, and occasionally Cheadle as Rhodes/War Machine) in the namesake suit, either completely covered, or with the head open or having the suit put on/taken off.

My question is what kind of filming techniques were used in order to achieve this feat of seamless transition from ordinary man to Iron Man?

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iv always wondered how they did the suit.. the cgi in iron man is very good second only to transformers thats the best cgi iv every seen in a film. the intergration of the cgi into the film is flawless same with iron man. so why was the x men film so shit o well hopefully they will do e decent x men film some time.. –  user4490 Mar 31 '13 at 17:56
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1 Answer

up vote 21 down vote accepted

In Iron Man, there was a heavy physical suit they sometimes used, but the bulk of the footage was CGI, as the proportions of the Iron Man suit aren't that of a human's. Wikipedia mentions sometimes, Downey would only wear the helmet, sleeves and chest of the costume over a motion capture suit.

From here:

[The Iron Man 2 suit] was only a half suit -- from the waist up. I think we weighed it in at about 13 pounds. The [suit in] the first film was about 85 pounds.

In Iron Man 2, they built a light partial suit that a person could fit in. If you compare Iron Man in any of the action scenes against the suit that Stark is wearing during his party for example, you'll see that the party suit is much larger and bulkier. This is because he's wearing the physical suit during the party scenes (they then transition back to the CGI for the fight afterwards).

Physical suit:

Image of partial suit

As you can see, the arms and legs are then added via computer later on. However, they leave the thicker real torso for these scenes instead of making him thin. After they've put it through computer movie magic, it looks like this:

Iron man in physical suit

For one of the all-CGI suits, see how it's much thinner in the waist:

War Machine image

From the same article:

The upper suit is real for most of those shots.

For the shots where it isn't real, they also had this:

Before/After animated gif of RDJ and Don Cheadle in CGI suits


Update for The Avengers:

io9.com recently interviewed some of the folks at ILM who worked on the special effects for The Avengers:

Robert Downey Jr. basically never wears the full Iron Man suit any more. That suit is really, really uncomfortable and pinchy, says Chu. And whenever you see Iron Man in his armor, that's a CG rendering of Iron Man, or a stunt man named Clay. After the first Iron Man movie, says Chu, Downey Jr. saw what they could do with CG versions of the suit. "He knew he did not have to wear as much of the suit, and that would make him a lot more comfortable." There's a partial version called the "football suit" that he wears in a couple scenes, like at the end when he's laying on the ground.

Although, there are still occasions where he wears a full version of the suit: Captain America and Iron Man Iron Man and Joss Whedon

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Now that's an explanation. Very interesting that they wouldn't do the opposite. Have just the limbs in the suit and CGI the chest if they're worried about wasitline –  TylerShads May 4 '12 at 12:28
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@TylerShads I just wish I could find more information on the Iron Man 1 suit they had. The official film site used to have some info, but it's gone now, and is just an ad for Iron Man 2. And googling leads to a bunch of Iron Man 2 information. –  Keen May 4 '12 at 14:09
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A good reference would be Cinefex magazine. They've always had fantastic articles that take apart how effects for a film were done. The issue on the original Tron is one of their all time bests. –  Andrei Freeman May 10 '12 at 22:51
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