It was the ankle sprain heard around the world. Or, at least, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While attempting a wire-rigged stunt on the Wilmington, N.C. set of Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 last August, star Robert Downey Jr. injured his ankle, leading to a six-week slowdown of production right in the heart of shooting. What is a director to do? It’s not like RDJ is an extra whom you can shoot around. He’s the star of practically every single Iron Man 3 scene. So the digital effects wizards tackling Marvel’s sequel had to creatively work around him using the tech tools at their fingertips.
In a fascinating read posted on CGSociety.org, the in-house visual-effects supervisors explain how they used body doubles and facial captures to build a digital Downey Jr. for use in certain sequences.
Together with face replacement and full body doubles, somewhere there was a solution to the problem of not having Robert Downey Jr. on set for the time,” explains VFX supervisor Chris Townsend. “The collective VFX Supes and unit leads ran into a room as soon as the incident happened to try to ascertain what sequences could they shoot.
The site says that the film’s “final sequence on the beach was shot with a body double,” while Weta Digital was pulled in to create a body double of Downey during and after the ankle break to ensure that production stayed on schedule. All together, CGSociety says that there were 17 VFX studios working on Iron Man 3, and that included Marvel’s in-house group.
It really was a grueling show to work on, but the result I believe is tremendous,” Townsend says. “Seven-day weeks and 14- to 18-hour days, and its brutal. It’s just what you have to do. You can only do it with the right group of people, and we had a phenomenal group of people working on this movie.”
And now, the $1 million dollar question: Did you notice the body double? Did you notice a digital Downey? Go back and watch Iron Man 3. I’m willing to bet that Weta and Marvel did such a phenomenal job, you won’t even be able to notice the medical hiccup that almost pushed Marvel out of the summer season.