The mechanics of Marvel
As many of you have probably heard, Stan Lee will no longer be making any cameos in our favorite Marvel movies. The legendary comic book writer, editor, and publisher of Marvel Comics passed away recently at the age of 95. As a tribute to this extraordinary man, I wanted to investigate some of the engineering that went into bringing his characters to life in some of the Marvel films.
One such character was the Black Panther. A lot of research was done to design the Wakandan culture for the movie, which resulted in a few scenes of ritual combat that occurred at Warrior Falls. It’s a very important set to the movie and there was a lot of engineering that went into its creation.
Inspired by the Oribi Gorge in South Africa, the set stood 36 feet tall and spanned 120 by 75 feet, though CGI was used to help it look over 100 feet tall. It’s all made from over 25,000 cubic feet of industrial Styrofoam which was plastered and painted to create the desired cliff appearance, and it was so tall that it needed mountain climbing gear to ensure the safety of the actors. The real engineering feat, however, was creating the multitude of waterfalls and flowing water down the cliff faces. The set used a fully functioning waterfall and pool at the ledge of the cliff that was the center stage for the ritual combat scenes. They used six large, submersible pumps that would feed over 125,000 gallons of water at a rate of 30,000 gallons per minute.
Another iconic Marvel character is Thor, and one of the first things that comes to mind when you think of Thor is his hammer, Mjolnir. They created about 30 different versions of Mjolnir for “Thor: The Dark World” of varying materials and weights. The master hammer is made from aluminum, which was manufactured using 3D prototyping. However, when the hammer looked too manufactured initially, they used acid etching to create patterns and give the metal a more aged look.
The kingpin of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man, had a lot of thought put into his costume for the original Iron Man movie. There were two major suits that Iron Man wore in the movie, the Mark I and Mark III suits.
The Mark I suit was a challenge to design because it needed to be light and allow for a decent amount of movement, while looking like it was just thrown together. The suit was manufactured out of hunks of metal and parts of bombs, and ended up being 90 pounds so that it could withstand hits without being crushed, but still be light enough to avoid making the actors and stuntmen move awkwardly.
The Mark III suit was a much smoother shape, and while weight wasn’t as much of an issue, there needed to be a lot of consideration to avoid pieces colliding and restricting movement while still having a sleek look. They designed parts using polygonal modeling, which starts with a rough surface and refines it to the desired smoothness, along with computer models to simulate the actor’s movement to predict problem areas before the suit is manufactured. In manufacturing the suit, they used materials such as lightweight epoxies and urethanes with chrome surfacing for substructures so that the suit wasn’t too heavy.