As the resident designer, gadgeteer, and in many ways, artist, of superhero supergroup The Avengers, Robert Downey, Jr.'s portrayal of billionaire genius inventor Tony Stark is easy to love. He has the best quips, is always the best-equipped, and his sweet holographic display setup shows us just how cool everything he does is. In fact, throughout Avengers: Age of Ultron, which hit theaters last weekend, we see futuristic 3D infographics, biometrics, analysis of alien tech, and a lot more in Stark's lab. But perhaps one of the coolest displays is the film's data-driven breakdown of the Iron Man suit.
To create every screen and readout in Avengers: Age of Ultron, including the specs that explain how everything in Iron Man's suit works, Territory Studio, the interface design and CGI group that designed all the computers in Guardians of the Galaxy and the game changing search engine from Ex Machina, worked with director Joss Whedon and production designer Charles Wood. "Joss's vision for this film was a darker, more gritty story that really got under the skin of the Avengers characters and explored their humanity," explains Territory Creative Director and Co-Founder, David Sheldon-Hicks. "Both Joss and Charlie [Wood] wanted us to bring a new level of reality to the screen UI and so we began to research advanced clinical technology, robotics, avionics and military weapons and HUDs."
"There were two aspects to the technical displays that featured the suit in Stark's lab," he goes on. "One set shows general diagnostics of Stark's own suit and then another set of screens associated with the Iron Legion, the automated army of Iron Men." In the image above, you can see each component that J.A.R.V.I.S., Stark's Siri-on-steroids automated computer interface, checks as his robotic footsoldiers return after a long day of assaulting Hydra fortresses. But Sheldon-Hicks wanted to show more than just the physical happenings in the lab and give insight into the fictional inventor's actual creative process:
"When thinking about Stark's character we knew that he had a love of engineering in general, so to reflect more of his character than just Iron Man, we created screens that were looking at building plans, modern day jet engines, mechanical pumps, etc., and dissecting them. Our idea was to show this genius at work, back-engineering to improve his own designs, and at the same time providing the fans with a more rounded character."
As we previously saw in Guardians of the Galaxy's now-iconic prison graphics, user interfaces aren't just for slipping in a bit of back story and projecting an air of futurism. Sheldon-Hicks reveals how all the moving parts in the background are incrediby effective at setting the stage and driving the story forward:
"The screens featuring the suit are both used as a narrative device to help the audience know at a glance that they are in Stark's own lab, and they also show the constant improvements and innovations Jarvis is making behind the scenes. So, some screens isolate areas of the suit, a shoulder or knee mechanism, explode it out, check for metal fatigue, intersecting surfaces, etc. The idea being everything was constantly being checked by Jarvis, stress tested, and fine-tuned for optimal performance. Much like software design upgrades, constant iterations, testing, and checking data to make improvements to both Iron Man and the Iron Legion. It was important that the screens were showing constant activity. Joss wanted a sense that Jarvis was always there, working behind the scenes tirelessly updating firmware, checking efficiencies and offering solutions before Stark knew he needed it. More than anything these screens needed to convey the idea that Jarvis was at the heart of it all."
Sheldon-Hicks was fresh off of building the alien computer interfaces for Guradians when Wood tapped him for Avengers: Age of Ultron, which was helpful for designing the traces of advanced technology leftover from the invasion at the end of the first Marvel's The Avengers film—but balancing that universe with the near-future world of Avengers: Age of Ultron was a challenge. "We worked closely with Charlie and art director Alan Payne to make sure we got the right balance between real world and Marvel fantasy," he says. "We're often pulled between real world credibility and creating entertaining narrative designs in our work, but Charlie and Joss's direction on this allowed us to push forward with a fresh and informed set of designs."
Check out the full extent of their research, collaboration with Whedon, and flair for design in a reel of the in-depth displays Territory developed for Avengers: Age of Ultron below:
Read more from David Sheldon-Hicks and Territory Studio below, and check out more high-resolution images from Avengers: The Age of Ultron on Territory's website.