This witty, visually stunning adaptation of the long-running Marvel Comics series got it all right — from billionaire Tony Stark’s ultramodern cliff-top Malibu mansion to the metallic flying armor that fit Robert Downey Jr. like a glove. And director Jon Favreau — best known for “Swingers” and “Elf,” not action/sci-fi — was smart enough to hire Oscar-nominated production designer J. Michael Riva, who conceptualized “Spider-Man 3” and “Charlie’s Angels,” and costume designers Laura Jean Shannon (“Elf”) and Rebecca Bentjen.
“Our main challenge was to make this film look different from other action/effects-heavy films, which tend to be dark and stylized,” Riva says. “Jon and I wanted to let in some light and focus on character, not effects.” Riva’s brief ranged from creating Stark’s high-tech workshop in his mansion’s basement — “a car-nut’s fantasy come true,” Favreau notes — to a low-tech terrorists’ cave. “We shot the cave sequence first and froze the set to 34-degrees, to get that authentic breath effect,” Riva reveals. “The crew were miserable, but it worked.”
Meanwhile, Shannon and Bentjen’s challenge was “to keep it modern and realistic” and ranged from outfitting stars Downey and Gwyneth Paltrow in stylish suits to supplying clothing for villains and terrorists.