Concept Artist Phil Saunders Talks Iron Man's Suits In THE AVENGERS

Concept Artist Phil Saunders Talks Iron Man's Suits In THE AVENGERS

Check out to see what concept artist Phil Saunders had to say about designing the suits for Iron Man in Marvel's The Avenger's, including lessons learned from the first Iron Man film and the tricky part about designing them.


There has been all kinds of Avengers goodies released this week with the poster, interview excerpts from the cast, and an extremely cool trailer. We have heard very little from the designer of the film, but Marvel has sat down with concept artist Phil Saunders to talk about his work on Iron Man's Mark suits for the film. During the interview they talk about bridging the gap between the Mark VI suit from Iron Man 2 to where he puts on the Mark VII suit in The Avengers as well as how the triangular chest piece works design wise.

On the challenges of designing the new Mark VII suit for The Avengers:

"Each suit has been really successful, which has raised the bar, from the Mark I to the suits from “Iron Man 2.” Particularly with the suitcase suit. That was really spectacular, so there’s sort of an expectation that we’re going to take the suit to another level. With the Mark VII, there were a couple of elements that were already written into the script. The design always starts from the script. [Director] Joss Whedon was looking for something that had the “cool” factor of the suitcase suit, while still being a fully-armored, heavy duty suit that could take on an army in the final battle."

"The second element was borrowing some ideas that had been proposed in “Iron Man 2,” as well as some ideas that we had abandoned in “Iron Man,” in terms of having a modular suit, something that had two configurations to it. In “Iron Man,” the original script had called for something akin to the War Machine, but it was actually a series of additional bolt-on armor pieces that were going to go over the top of the Mark III suit for a big battle. Over the course of the battle, the idea was either his ammo packs would be depleted and he would eject those weapons, or armor pieces would get damaged. We took a bit of that idea and the modular armor that was proposed and merged all that together into a suit that has big ammo packets on the arms and a backpack, and that sort of dictated the design of the suit."


On if the chest piece being triangular or circular has an affect on how the suit is designed:

"Stylistically, yeah. That icon is going to be the thing that the rest of the lines of the suit radiate out from--it’s the focal point of the design. The Mark IV and VI are essentially the same suit, but you have to have an entirely different chest piece and torso to follow the lines of the triangular RT. [Visual Development Supervisor] Ryan Meinerding spent a lot of time making something that was harmonious to those shapes. When Joss Whedon started directing the film, he gravitated towards the classic circle-in-the-chest image of Iron Man, and ultimately, whatever the actual RT element is inside, what you’re seeing on the surface is just the focusing lens of the thing."


On the challenges of working on a suit when it has heavy VFX:

"The interesting thing is that when we started out in “Iron Man,” the intention had been to [make] it as practical as possible. The intent was to have 80-percent of the shots fully practical with the Iron Man suit. We built full practical suits with the Mark II and III, so there was a much longer problem-solving period with that costume than we have had subsequent to that. We were working out how he was going to lift his arms, how he would rotate his waist with all the overlapping plates to still make it look convincing, etc. You’re trying to design something that is built to aerospace tolerances, but still has to be a costume that an actor can wear. We had always intended, for distance or fast-action shots, that he’d be wearing as much of a practical suit as possible. For anything else, we’d do as much of the hard parts practically as possible and then the in between parts become digital replacements."

A lot of the main problem solving that had to be done for that had already been done in “Iron Man,” so by the time “Iron Man 2” came around the lessons had been learned of how much looked good practical and how much flexibility we had with the digital world. We had a much more open canvas on what could be done digitally. As we refined the suits, making them tighter and far more streamlined, they still retain the convincing qualities and believability that we had with the Mark III suit."


On working with Legacy Effects and what his role is wit them:

"They are really the experts at figuring out how to build the suit. That’s really their domain, figuring out if the material is going to be a flexible piece or fiber glass, etc. We determine what the surface and proportions are going to be--how do we make this thing look like something that doesn’t feel like a costume, but feels like a highly-precise piece of aerospace or automotive design. My own background is car design, so getting those very smooth-flowing surfaces, where lights, highlights and reflections flow [works] in the same sort of way."

What we do is sit down with their 3D modelers. The intent was to develop a digital model of it that would represent the final, refined surface--something they were going to use to grow a half-scale model that would be our proving ground for everything: surfaces, proportions, paint, etc. That digital model would then be passed onto various special or visual effects vendors that would then be doing the final shots so we could keep the consistency of what the Iron Man suit looks like. We sat down with their modelers and just went surface-by-surface to make sure everything worked."


Any thing else he wants to add:

"The trick to designing an Iron Man suit is that balance between creating something that is a believable piece of technology but doesn’t look like a robot. It still has to look like a character in-and-of itself, beside the fact that someone is wearing it. The suit itself is a super hero. You’ve got to work in all the classic musculature and disguise it all as purposeful aerodynamic components and machinery, or speed forms, and subliminally suggest the musculature of a hero while not making it obvious."


The Avengers stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård , Samuel L. Jackson and will be released in the US on May 4, 2012 and in the UK on April 26, 2012.

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