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‘Iron Man 2’ Creators Had Science in Mind

14 Oct, 2010 By: Chris Tribbey

PASADENA, Calif. — Homemade particle accelerators, remote-controlled flying war machines, and men in impenetrable metal suits capable of waging war single handedly.

While the fiction in Paramount’s Iron Man 2 may seem implausible, the filmmakers and real-life scientists behind the film say such things are possible. Maybe even inevitable.

“Some of the first silent films are about traveling to the moon,” said Shane Mahan, visual effects supervisor for the film, speaking at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) Oct. 13, during a roundtable science discussion about the film. “You might have thought that was preposterous in the 1920s.”

“This film in particular will inspire someone crazy enough to try to [build an Iron Man].”

Sure, creating a new, stable element for the periodic table in your basement is pretty far fetched, according to Caltech theoretical physicist Mark Wise. And anyone dropping more than a few feet off the ground wearing a metal suit is going to be in serious pain, he added.

“I think it’s good that you’re vague about what you’re colliding,” he joked, referring to the film’s narcissistic playboy Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) creating a new element, seemingly overnight. “The power bill would be significant.”

Jeremy Latcham, SVP of production at Marvel Studios and co-producer of Iron Man 2, said that the film’s creative team had the visual effects of the film in mind before they turned to Caltech to help with the science.

“We want it to feel as real as it can, and still tell a cool story,” he said.

The suit aspect of Iron Man is a lot more realistic, filmmakers and scientists agreed. Andreas Krause, assistant professor of computer science at Caltech, noted that as far back as the 1960s companies like General Electric were experimenting with robotics that made humans stronger. Today, outside of military experiments, robotics are helping people in many aspects of their lives, he said. In terms of robotic suits that fly and are equipped with high-energy weapons, “We’re probably still a couple years down the road,” he said.

“Building [robotics] that let people change their physical manifestations has always been a human [desire].”

Much like a recent real-life exoskeleton suit created by defense technology company Raytheon Sarcos in Salt Lake City, the military will probably be the first to debut anything close to what’s in the film, according to Mahan.

“I’m sure the ones that really work well are kept in the vault,” he quipped.

But if you’re looking for a less functional Iron Man suit, look no further than the hard-core fans, Latcham said.

“We spent a lot of money building and designing a suit, and then at Comic-Con a guy in an Iron Man suit walks by,” he said. “[I said] ‘That looks great!’ He said ‘I studied what you guys did online.’”

The film’s creators also reflected on the obvious comparison between Stark and iconic American aviator and engineer Howard Hughes. Latcham noted that part of the filming took place in the hanger where Hughes’ 1947 “Spruce Goose” was built. Also known as the Hughes H-4 Hercules, the “Goose” still holds the record as the plane with the largest wingspan of any aircraft in history.

“Wait a minute,” Latcham pondered. “We’re making Iron Man where Iron Man would have been built!”

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