Iron Man 3, Marvel & The Future of the Superhero
COW Library : TV & Movie Appreciation : Debra Kaufman : Iron Man 3, Marvel & The Future of the Superhero
Victoria Alonso, Marvel Studios Executive Vice President of Visual Effects and Post Production, began her career in the early days of the digital visual effects industry. Starting off as a commercial VFX producer, she went on to produce effects for numerous feature films, working with such directors as Ridley Scott (Kingdom of Heaven), Tim Burton (Big Fish) and Andrew Adamson (Shrek), to name a few.
She executive produced Shane Black's Iron Man 3, Marvel's The Avengers for writer/director Joss Whedon and co-produced Iron Man and Iron Man 2 with director Jon Favreau, Kenneth Branagh's Thor, and Joe Johnston's Captain America: The First Avenger. She is currently executive producing Alan Taylor's Thor: The Dark World, Joe and Anthony Russo's Captain America: The Winter Soldier and James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy for Marvel Studios.
Victoria spoke to us about Iron Man, Marvel's production priorities, on-set workflow, and the future of the movie superhero.
Debra Kaufman: Some people are predicting that Iron Man 3 is going to top The Avengers in terms of box office. What aspects of Iron Man 3 are you most proud of?
Victoria Alonso: I'm proud of all of it. We have our first third chapter in a franchise -- and we've never done that before. When we did the first movie, we never knew we'd be open after the movie went out. It's such a journey. I'd be a fool to say that I know exactly what each chapter needs to be successful. It's like a child, in that every one is different. We have a character people love and want to know more about; we explored him as a character and we somehow touched a nerve with the audience. What's key is that this is its own movie and we focused on how to tell this particular story. It just happens to be the third chapter of this particular character -- or three-and-a-half if you consider that he appeared in The Avengers.
Iron Man 3 is the first of the Iron Man franchise to be released in 3D. How was that decision made?
The only movies we didn't convert to 3D were Iron Man 1 and 2. From that point on, the world was asking for that format, so this is the fourth movie that we've converted. We've converted all of them with Stereo D. With Iron Man 3, the movie was 96 percent converted by Stereo D, with two small sequences done by Gener8.
We like the creative leeway we have with conversion. The way we shoot, we're pretty quick and we have found freedom in conversion that you sometimes don't have in shooting natively. I don't think we'd shoot any of our movies in stereo. Never say never, but so far the way we do it has proven to be good. This is a leaner way of getting a better result. We don't have to carry very heavy files while we're finding the movie [in the edit].
Marvel has had a tremendous amount of success with 3D releases. Can you talk a bit about how your philosophy about 3D has evolved over the years? What have been some of the lessons learned?
It's a format more welcomed in the rest of the world than it is in the U.S., and the numbers reflect that. The same way people like to see these movies in IMAX, they might like IMAX flat or 3D. We love to give our fans all the different ways of seeing our films, especially since people see these movies more than once. This way, the second time a fan goes to see it, he or she can have a different experience.
Filmmaking is currently beset by a lot of financial stresses. That's one of the reasons that productions shoot in different states and countries; I know Iron Man III was shot in North Carolina due to tax incentives, for example. How does today's economic climate impact how you proceed with VFX? Is there a formula that works for you here, in terms of where you send the VFX and how you orchestrate the work?
We take a look at any place that can save money but we take it very seriously and I always try to find the best team for each particular task. You can get things done for very cheaply globally and yet not get the same quality. Or you can have a predictably higher quality and try to make an aggressive deal, and that's what I do. I try to protect the quality and do an aggressive deal that matches sometimes what I'd get elsewhere -- but it protects the image. When people see a movie that is seamlessly beautiful as well as a good story, there's something to be said about that.
The Avengers (Marvel Entertainment)
If you only have 10 pennies and you do it through tax incentives or a tough deal, it doesn't matter how you got it. If you don't protect quality, it's a free for all. I think I would be lazy if I sent the effects just to where it was cheaper, and I haven't done that.
My duty is to find the best home for that particular sequence and spend the money we have as opposed to the money we don't have. All the companies I've worked with have been incredibly fair and excellent at delivering the best imagery they can.
Method Studios' VFX Supervisor Matt Dessero oversaw more than 80 shots for Iron Man Three, including this one of Tony Stark. Special thanks to Method Studios for the images.
What about the evolution of post production in general? What new technologies are you adopting that streamline the workflow or improve the production in other ways?
We try to control a lot of [the post production] here. In the old days when we used to scan film, we tried to keep our files here and our cutting rooms here, so we can buy that 36 hours it would have taken us to do the other way. Now instead of having another company do the pulls, we do it ourselves. We never have enough time -- that's our problem. It doesn't matter how much we figure out with new technology, we're always five days behind.
What about remote dailies or coloring on set?
We do have coloring on set and it does allow you to know what the DP is thinking on that day. We always take the DP's CDLs [Color Decision Lists] to heart. But it's a very organic process: you can color something on set that looks good, but sometimes you have a CDL for an image that's only 30 percent real. Once you put the additional 70 percent in the image, it doesn't always match. It can be bumpy color-wise when you put it together. Most of the time, when the cinematographer is done shooting, he's gone and we have a lot of do in the next 6 or 9 months. But it's always good to know what John Toll had in mind that day. You work on it and try to make sure it's integrated, then apply the CDL -- and then ask John, was this what you had in mind? With the DP's guidance, we take it to a finished point.
Guardians of the Galaxy, which Victoria is currently producing.
Are you archiving a 4K master? Is shooting in 4K inevitable? What is required from manufacturers and the industry in general to make shooting and posting and distributing in 4K appealing to Marvel?
We are archiving a 2K master now. I think better quality is always inevitable, and if 4K is the next step, it's inevitable. We use a lot of 4K, when we can. That's sometimes why we use the RED camera, which gives us 5K -- but only for certain sequences, and use the ARRI Alexa for most of what we shoot. It's always about what is the best...but it's also a balance with what's the most efficient. If the improvement in quality is only perceptible to 5 percent of the world, is it worth it? I'm always an advocate for better is better, but sometimes it doesn't prove to be the most efficient way of working. And efficiency is about time. It you're moving gigantic trucks full of data, you can't park these trucks in any street. They're heavy and cumbersome, especially with 2,000+ visual effects shots, and it's difficult to move that data across the world to 10 to 15 VFX facilities. There is a case to be made for 4K and I'm 100 percent open to looking at every case separately.
Along the line of 4K -- what do you think of HFR cinema? What's the thinking at Marvel on this at the moment?
We look at everything Peter Jackson does -- he's a genius and we like to learn from what he does. I look forward to seeing where Peter Jackson takes it and what results he gains. But HFR is not for our movies...yet.
Marvel has always been a multi-platform company, just by virtue of the fact that the stories come from print (comics). How do you see this part of the business growing?
We have characters that cross all platforms. We're going to put those characters on whatever platforms our fans want: if they want it in print, they'll get it in print; if they want it on TV, it'll be on TV; for movies, we'll give them all kinds of formats in the theatre. We're always trying to please the fans, because we know how much our characters are loved and well received. Every day it changes, with adding to our DVD releases, providing interactive content on the iPad. We try all kinds of things for multi-platforms to make sure that those fans who aren't getting enough will be happy with a little bit more. If it's out there, Marvel is trying to get it done.
Marvel has really invented the modern superhero movie. What are the ingredients you need to make blockbuster after blockbuster? How do you keep it fresh?
I don't think it's fair to say we invented the superhero genre...that wouldn't be fair to everyone who came before us. We redefined it or readjusted it to the times. Our stories are quite simple; you don't have to be a rocket scientist to get it. If you don't care about the characters, you won't sit there for 2 hours. We're trying to tell a story that people can relate to, human issues, whether it's happening in New York or Asgard. If you love someone but can't be with him or her geographically, we can all relate to that. Father-son relationships...we've all had issues with our parents. Internal issues of being completely obsessed with demons...we all have demons. You don't have to be Tony Stark to understand demons. As human beings, we all have common issues that we at Marvel try to expand and develop through our stories. The message is about standing by your friend, or doing the right thing or not letting greed take over, and if we can teach that to the younger generation by redefining the super hero genre, then we've done our job.
Trixter worked an entire year to create 208 VFX shots for Marvel's Iron Man 3. Read more about that in our coverage here.
Iron Man 3 went through a lot of hurdles -- injuries, postponements, Fuel was absorbed by Animal Logic. A lot of things went a little skewed and it could have gone awfully wrong. The most important thing is that we strayed strong and together and saw the end together. That's the biggest lesson in all of it. At times, we stayed above water by a hair because time is always getting away from us but this movie could not have been made without the 5,000 people who pitched in day in and out. In our cast and crew screenings, I try to thank every single one. We couldn't have done it without them.
Thor: The Dark World (2013) trailer.
Follow Debra Kaufman on Twitter @MobilizedDebra