Behind The Scenes

Real IRON MAN Suit. Real Performance.

Iron Man's real suits maintained the iconic proportions of the comic book while allowing a great performance by Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark.

Jul 7, 2012


For the Stan Winston Studio IRON MAN team, the biggest challenge was to create suits that retained their well-known comic book proportions while still allowing Robert Downey Jr. and his stuntmen to perform with minimal discomfort and maximum range of motion.

Shane Mahan, 25 year SWS FX supervisor and co-founder of Legacy Effects said, “For Robert to be in the Mark III suit was a culmination of a great many steps because we had to take a design that is non-human in some of its proportions and fit actors and stuntmen into it.”


To add to the complexity of the job, Mahan added, "We were forced to reverse-engineer the suit because we didn’t have Robert’s body cast to build the suit over joint-for-joint, measurement-for-measurement. The digital build and design of the suit was 95 percent complete before Robert was even cast in the film."


"We actually built the structures in the computer so that they’re mathematically perfect and grew those parts in a process of rapid prototyping. Then we made the pieces and fit them around him and made them work and actually move. I was very happy with the results because the suits are quite athletic.” said Mahan.


Jon Favreau, Robert Downey Jr. and the entire production team shared Mahan’s enthusiasm and exhaled a communal sigh of relief when Downey donned the completed Mark III armor for the first time on the Iron Man set.

Marvel’s Kevin Feige describes a transformation in Downey Jr. at that moment, “Seeing Robert in the suit for the first time was like watching a kid in a candy store. He looked amazing and had all of the enthusiasm of a little boy. Then, he suddenly stood up and you could see the hero forming within him.”

“Being in the Iron Man suit is like being in the coolest Halloween costume ever,” said Downey Jr. “You’re putting the suit on and you catch a glimpse in the mirror and you go, That’s right, Grandma would be proud.”


“From my point-of-view Robert was essential to the suit performance because he instructed me or any other member of the suit crew as to what he needed to make his performance better,” said Mahan. “We were happy to take a bicep or the lower legs off so that he had more freedom of movement, because in the end it’s all about performance and if we needed to do something to make the actor more comfortable, that’s what we did.”


According to executive producer Louis D’Esposito, “the finished Mark III armor was the culmination of a truly collaborative effort of many talented designers, technicians, craftsmen and filmmakers. The Mark III suit is a life-size, three-dimensional prototype of something that you’ve only seen in a comic book until now. It is the comic book character come to life, which really is a testament to Marvel, Jon Favreau, Stan Winston Studio and all of the incredibly talented people on the production team that helped conceive, design and build this iconic Iron Man armor.”

-Matt Winston

Quotes sourced here. Thanks to Emanuel Levy.

More IRON MAN stuff from Stan Winston School:

Making of the Mark I "Cave Escape" Suit

Why I made an Iron Man Suit - 16-year old Tony Stark builds homemade Iron Man Suit