Bruce Wayne had to sweet-talk Morgan Freeman into girding his Bat-loins with heavy Bat-artillery, but Tony Stark, an engineering virtuoso himself, cajoled not a soul. In a case of life imitating art, the production team behind Stark’s iconic body armor Iron Man 2 relied on neither CGI nor gadget-minded elder statesmen, but a bleeding-edge prototyping technology commonly known as 3D printing.
ARMORED AND READY
Legacy Effects, the film’s production company, fashioned Iron Man’s suit (and the one worn by his super-foe Whiplash) with a 3D printer by Objet Geometries. The printer uses an ink cartridge of powdered plastic to print an ultra-thin layer, which is then “cured” using ultraviolet light and swabbed with paint as a finishing touch. From concept to prototype, the process takes mere hours.
The printer uses an ink cartridge of powdered plastic to print an ultra-thin layer that is “cured” using UV light.
Besides truncating the time and cost of production development cycles—as well as eliminating much of the intervening supply chain—the technology has another advantage: Custom-fitted pieces that meld to the wearer like a second skin.
For the sequel, Legacy Effects scanned actor Robert Downey Jr.’s hands to create flexible gauntlets no thicker than a dime, which stand in marked contrast to the gloves in the original Iron Man, which were clunky and difficult to maneuver. “He was thrilled with the change and happy to work in them for hours,” notes Objet in a press release.
Legacy Effects scanned Robert Downey Jr.’s hands to create flexible gauntlets no thicker than a dime.
In the below video, Jason Lopes, a systems engineer at Legacy Effects, talks about using Objet’s technology. “In the land of CG, all you need is a computer, but real stunt work calls for endless, identical, often customized props,” he says. “Thanks to Objet, these are available at the touch of a button.”