RT Interview: Jon Favreau on Iron Man, Effective CGI and the New Marvel Movies

The helmer on how to deliver the ultimate fanboy superhero movie.

by | April 28, 2008 | Comments

Jon Favreau - M. Caulfield/WireImage.comActor, director, fanboy hero. When Jon Favreau was announced as the man who’d be responsible for bringing one of Marvel’s comic staples to the big screen it was news openly embraced by a passionate group of fans. With Robert Downey Jr. later cast in the lead role, interest in Iron Man reached fever pitch. For two years Favreau has consulted with those fans and dropped teasers of his adaptation to the point that, come Friday, a legion of dorks will be openly salivating in anticipation outside cinemas worldwide. And lest it seem like we’re disapproving of that sort of thing – rest assured RT will be there too.

But, as we sit down with an exhausted Favreau, who’s fighting his way around the world on a mammoth press trip for the movie, the multihyphenate explains that it’s everyone else he wants to see in cinemas. Favreau tells us why Iron Man needs to fly into the hearts of housewives, dads and kids if he’s going to be given the reins to another chapter…

Busy day?

Jon Favreau: Busy two weeks. I started in LA, went to Mexico City, Australia, Seoul, Paris, Berlin, Rome and now London and then I’m going to New York for more press and finally back to LA for the premiere.

Is this the biggest thing you’ve ever experienced?

JF: By far. And I’m afraid to fly! Well, I was…

For Robert and me, this is a huge opportunity for both of us and we’ve got to really get out there. Especially this summer where there are so many good movies coming out. You’ve got to do everything you can to stand out, whether it’s marketing tie-ins or personal appearances or press or talk shows or cutting commercials together; anything you can to cut through all that chatter and get to the audience you hope will come see the movie and make it successful.

Robert’s even in The Incredible Hulk – it’s that intense…

JF: He does, I think, a one scene cameo in the film. I don’t know that much about it, I wasn’t involved in that, but he’s confirmed it so I feel comfortable talking about it!

But this is the first film under a new approach Marvel is taking to making movies that’s really empowering that.

JF: Absolutely – it’s their money. Marvel has tremendous control over these characters now. They’re not sharing control with a studio like Sony or Fox which is the arrangement they’d had in the past. As certain characters revert back to them they’re self-financing these projects, which gives them the ability to combine characters if they want to. You couldn’t do that with X-Men or Spider-Man because they’re different studios.

Iron Man

There was talk of a cameo by Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury in Iron Man but we didn’t spot it in the movie – what happened to that?

JF: Well, we were making the movie for two years and a year ago we went to Comic-Con and showed a bit of footage, then some spy stuff or reports from the set come out, and then we leak certain footage and images. People are smart – especially the fans of Marvel comics. Many of them know more about the source material than I do. They’re able to piece together what’s going on and what you don’t want to have happen is have everyone figure out what’s in the movie before it comes out.

So I’m online, I’m reading Rotten Tomatoes, I’m reading Ain’t it Cool News, I’m reading Dark Horizons, Superhero Hype, and I have my own MySpace Iron Man movie group. I’m constantly getting a sense about what people are talking about and what they’re expecting and sometimes you have to acknowledge the anticipations and sometimes you have to go against them. You never want the audience to be ahead of you, because you always want some surprises up your sleeve.

It all comes down to this phrase that Robert even uses in the press notes: nerdgasm. All of that anticipation is the build up to the nerdgasm, which is the release of the film. But you even go as far as doing it in the film, with Terrence Howard‘s line, “Next time baby,” when he looks at the empty suit…

JF: Yeah, and there are a few of those. The way we introduce S.H.I.E.L.D. is another thing where you don’t see it coming and then it’s there. There’s all sorts of images and references to The Mandarin, in the end credits in the animations there’s a little tip of the hat to War Machine. There’s little things in the details that I know the fans of the books are going to see. They fly by people that aren’t aware of the books and they can see the movie as what it is, a summer popcorn movie with hopefully and intelligent tone to it, and ultimately a story about a man who transforms himself.

Iron Man

There’s also a much greater sense of reality to the film than we’re used to from superhero movies, you built a lot of what we see on screen and you use CGI sparingly.

JF: Me and my effects supervisor John Nelson worked with the Stan Winston studios to build practical suits and we were working with the team from ILM who, a lot of them, had worked on Transformers. We got to benefit from a lot of the technology they broke through for that production which really makes Iron Man photo-real. As you might know, I’m not a fan of CGI per-se so I was very demanding that we make the effects as photo-real as possible.

If you can find a balance where you’re using that technology where necessary but practical effects where you can the blend is much more seamless and it’s harder to tell where the CG comes in.

JF: Well that’s what Jurassic Park did and that’s why I think it holds up so well today. There are relatively few shots in Jurassic Park; a lot of that stuff is robotics, animatronics. You have to mix practical with computer generated and so there was stuff we did that was seen as wasteful sometimes when we were budgeting.

When Iron Man’s flying we’d send real planes up to do the choreography so that we’d get the camerawork to really look like a cameraman was following from another plane. It gives it that Top Gun look. One of the first things I did was I sat down all the people working on the visual effects and we screened scenes from Top Gun and scenes from Stealth and I said, “Why does Top Gun look so much more real?” Stealth had all of this money, technology and state-of-the-art effects and it looks like you’re watching a videogame.

We figured out that a lot of it had to do with how restrained the camera was. Don’t give the camera too much freedom or choreography. Get the shading right, the lighting right and there are things you can do to make the CGI look more real. People end up going crazy and give themselves a little too much freedom in how they use CGI and if you overuse it, it draws attention to itself.

Iron Man

Does your Iron Man journey continue? Are you going to stick around?

JF: I hope so. Now it’s out of the hands of us, of the filmmakers, and it’s even out the hands of your readers. I know all the people who have been following this for two years are going to go and see the movie, and maybe they’ll see it twice and I’m very grateful for that, but it’s got to crossover and it’s got to hit people who’ve never heard of Iron Man. It’s got to hit the housewives, it’s got to hit the dads, it’s got to hit the kids and if everybody comes out to see the movie and it’s successful, then I’m sure Marvel’s going to want to do another one and if they want to, I’ve got another two movies in my head and I’m ready to go and I know the cast feels the same way. It’s really in the hands of the public now, whether they like it or not.

But I’m very proud of what we were able to accomplish and I’m very grateful to your readership and the people who were very supportive of this when it was seen by the mainstream media as a B-level superhero movie that would be an experiment in financing as to whether Wall Street would support Marvel in their new studio and now the debate is about what’s going to be the biggest movie of the summer and whether Iron Man will be one of them. Things really got classed-up and I owe a debt of gratitude to the fanboys who really stuck with it and were vocal about it and their voices really rose up to the mainstream.

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