• 05.07.10

Iron Man 2’s Secret Sauce: 3-D Printing

Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 opens today! Are you excited? Really? Huh. Well, keep reading anyway. You know someone’s gonna drag you into a showing.

On screen, with all those suits whirling into place, you’d probably assume that the “costumes” are merely virtual. Actually, they’re not: Maybe the most cutting-edge facet of Iron Man 2‘s production was the real-life fabrication of the suits. Using 3-D printers, the film’s production company, Legacy Effects, was able to have artists draw an art concept–and then physically make that concept in just four hours.

The “Eden” printers, which are made by Objet, work by using an inkjet cartridge to print a layer of powdered plastic, which is then fused with UV light. Each layer is just microns thick, and the product gets printed from the bottom up. Here’s video of the process, though not an actual Iron Man costume:

The product emerges completely finished. All you need is some paint. Basically, if Tony Stark was real, he wouldn’t be sitting around in a tool shop. He’d be clicking on a CAD program, and then kicking his feet up as his suit was printed.

In addition to speed, the benefit is that you can print out costumes custom fitted to the actors, down to the millimeter. And with custom-fitted suits, Robert Downey, Jr. and Mickey Rourke can put a lot more action into their fight scenes, without the wonky effect of layering on too much CGI. (Downey complained that the original Iron Man suits, which were made more traditionally, were too clunky to act in, and extremely uncomfortable.)

Maybe the best example are the gloves that Downey wore–which were no thicker than a dime, and could be worn for hours without getting so hot that the dude needed some Colombian Marching Powder to take the edge off: