They’re PROPstars! An interview with the men behind Iron Man’s Arc Reactor & Armor #IronMan3Event

May 8, 2013 Comments Off on They’re PROPstars! An interview with the men behind Iron Man’s Arc Reactor & Armor #IronMan3Event
They’re PROPstars! An interview with the men behind Iron Man’s Arc Reactor & Armor #IronMan3Event


So you’re telling me you think those Iron Man suits just make themselves? Or did you really think Robert Downey Jr was off camera tinkering with his tools and building them from scraps he found in his kitchen?

Well those suits are real indeed but there are some heroes of sorts behind the scenes responsible for building those Iron Man suits, and in fact all of the props you see in various Marvel movies like Captain America’s shield and Thor’s heavy hammer. And I had the opportunity to meet those prop masters during the Los Angeles premiere of the summer blockbuster Iron Man 3. 

Along with 24 other bloggers we met Chris Swift, the on-set coordinator for Legacy Effects and Russell Bobbit, property master. Chris talked about the difficulty of refining the Iron man suit. Just like with anything you build the first time, you eventually learn to perfect it three movies later.

After the first Iron Man movie, Chris learned that building the Iron Man suit to fit Robert Downey Jr, would present a challenge. Mainly because Iron Man and the real man, Robert Downey Jr, don’t exactly meet eye to eye.

“They wanted it tall, and Robert doesn’t quite fit the bill. He’s just about my height.  So he’s about ten inches too short,” Chris said.

“It took us about three months to work out the first prototype,” he said.

The height deficient presented somewhat of a problem so the legs of his suit in the first Iron Man were digitized from the waist down, he said.

Each time Chris and his crew made a suit there was a lesson to be learned.

“Every time we’ve done the suits we make them better; we figure out a problem.  And then we see what the problem was on that one.  That first one was a nightmare.  And it was really heavy and it was hard to get into.  And it killed the actors — the stunt guys trying to get into it.  If we had to make it again today we could make it and we could make it a lot better and a lot easier and a lot simpler and a lot faster to get into.  It’s just there was no real reason because they didn’t wanna pay for suits to fit Robert and then pay for more suits to fit a stunt guy that was tall enough.”

Chris said it made more sense just to make the suits all Robert’s size, especially because he was the man of the hour who would be wearing them the most. “It was clear he was the guy who needed to wear them ‘cause we know he’s gotta be in it.  And then the rest of them we’ll just digitally add that in.  And that just seemed to be a better way of doing it.  That way they weren’t paying a lot of extra money for different sized suits.”

Those learning pains made a difference when it came to Iron Man 3. There was a lot less time spent on building the Mark 42 suit.

“I would say we spent more time in the computer trying to figure out how to make it move and engineer it from the design then we did actually building it,” he said.  Chris said he spent a good  two months building it in the computer.

“And then once we started actually physically building them we worked all the problems out there.  They went together pretty quick.”

From designing the computer prototype of the suit to fruition, Chris breaks down the process.

“We send that computer file out.  And there’s machines that will actually take those pieces that we’ve engineered and built it.  And they’ll actually cut them out.  And we’ll — we’ll — they’ll come back with full finished pieces.

So then we have to take those, clean them up and make them all and go through the whole process.  But — but they all fit together like a puzzle at that point.  So if you’ve done your job right meaning me, then all those pieces should fit together really easy.  And it should  together like a little toy, you know what I’m saying?  So that’s kind of the way it works.”

And as for getting Gwyneth Paltrow in an Iron Man suit, Chris said she actually put on Robert’s suit and was so giddy about it that they couldn’t get her out of it!

“It was funny ‘cause she just was the belle of the ball in the suit.”


Russell Bobbitt is a rare prop master. He makes many of the items that you see on the screen.  When you watch “Iron Man 3” just know that many of the gadgets you see in there were made by Bobbitt. He’s not just a prop master, he’s Iron Man’s Alfred. (You know, the dude who helps Bat Man!) Bobbitt actually designs many of the iconic props that you see in all the “Iron Man” Marvel movies. Captain America’s shields are made by Bobbitt as well as Thor’s humongous hammer. 

Capt America


 For Iron Man, Bobbitt made the Arc Reactor, the light that’s on Tony Stark’s chest.


“Since Iron Man 1 we made all those  to fit.  And his (RDJ) body has changed over the years as many of ours do.  So we take a cast of his chest and we mold the piece right to his chest,” he said.

With special effects makeup glue, Bobbitt said he would glue the Arc Reactor onto Robert’s shaved chest so that it would stay on.   And then by remote control he would turn the light on and off for each take. 

“It runs on a little cell phone battery.  And there’s ten minutes of life to that — that light that you’re seeing.  And he (RDJ) certainly doesn’t appreciate it being torn off his chest to change the battery a whole lot,” he said. And for  each film the design changed, he said.

Bobbitt said it’s surreal seeing all of his props played out on screen and he takes great pride being a master at his craft.

Disclosure: I attended an all-expense paid Iron Man 3 Premiere is Los Angeles by Disney. All opinions expressed are my own.

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