Posted by: Jerry Garrett | May 6, 2010

How Iron Man 2’s Wild Special Effects Were Filmed

The $200 million blockbuster movie “Iron Man 2” has been described by its director Jon Favreau as “bigger, brighter, louder, sexier and stronger.”

“Iron Man 2” (official site) may be all of those things and more, but Mr. Favreau left out “more expensive”. How did the filmmakers blow through that much money, choreograph their amazing special effects and stunts, and not get arrested? Let’s pull back the curtain of movie special effects magic and look behind the scenes at how, where and when Iron Man’s latest stunts were filmed. To wit, my 10 favorites (okay, let’s do 11, out of respect for Tony Stark’s lucky number):

How did Mickey Rourke destroy the Monaco GP? Note "green screen" edge at top of grandstands. (Courtesy: Marvel Studios)

1. How do you create mayhem, kill hundreds and destroy the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix? You film it in Downey, California instead. Most of the sequence involving the “Grand Prix de Monaco Historique” (a real race that was staged May 2, 2010, by the way) was filmed in the parking lot of Downey Studios – formerly the manufacturing facility where the original Space Shuttle was built.

Downey Studios parking lot, site of the "Monaco GP de Historique" (Jerry Garrett Photo)

Set builders re-created several turns and two straightaways of the Monaco circuit, put up catch fencing, guardrails and grandstands. They even put “inflatable patrons” in the seats. A huge “green screen” behind all the action let film editors key in wide shots of the Monaco skyline and harbor.

Was that the largest “green screen” ever built. “No, we built the entire Vatican for ‘Angels & Demons’ at Hollywood Park,” a horse racing track in Inglewood, Calif., said John Armstrong, a movie stunt magician.

Before: Faux "starting grid" of Monaco GP de Historique (John Armstrong Photos)

Aftermath: Historic car racers Chris Locke, left, & James King

2. Did they really demolish a Rolls-Royce Phantom? Yes, in fact, they totaled two identical Phantoms. “Rolls-Royce built us two identical cars,” said Mr. Armstrong, “Iron Man 2” transportation coordinator. “Because their cars are hand-built, they never build any identical cars, but they did for us.” (Sharp-eyed movie-goers may note one car has the optional “coolbox” in the back seat; the other doesn’t.) How did they create the effect of the cars being cut to pieces? By actually cutting them to pieces before filming, gluing them back together and then – with the cameras rolling – ripping them apart again along the hidden seams. The effect was explosive – and fatal to the Phantoms. Each Phantom had a sticker price of $438,000. Consider the Rolls-Royce portion of the sequence “The Million-Dollar Stunt.”

Low miles: 2009 Rolls Royce Phantom, "handyman special" (Jerry Garrett)

3. Why didn’t they film in Monaco? It’s not like they couldn’t afford to go there. Actually, the filmmakers were given permission by Monaco to film there, before the 2009 grand prix, but Formula 1 honcho Bernie Ecclestone over-ruled the decision. “We did end up flying one of the Rolls-Royces over there,” said Mr. Armstrong, “and we filmed it driving down the course.” The race cars that were flying by in the opposite direction, at the same time? “Computer-generated,” he added. “All CG.”

What's left of Tony Stark's race car, after its Hollywood nose job (Jerry Garrett)

4. Where did all the race cars come from? Six were supplied by the Historic Grand Prix Association, and its principals, Chris Locke and James King. Some 19 additional cars were constructed by Mr. Armstrong’s crew, using molds they created based on 1978 Wolf Formula 1 cars. Only two of the 19 were actually running models; the “runners” were equipped with 320-horsepower, 350-cubic-inch Chevrolet V8 “crate motors”.  “They are real race cars, capable of 100+ m.p.h. speeds,” Mr. Armstrong noted.

Underneath, the Stark car is a real 100+ m.p.h. racer (Jerry Garrett)

5. Who actually drove the blue and white “Tony Stark” (Robert Downey Jr.) Stark Industries race car? A real race car driver: X Games star Tanner Foust. The yellow Kodak car, the only other vehicle that was capable of running had the driver’s name of “Elon Musk” painted on the side.

Elon Musk introduces Tesla Model S electric car at the 2010 Detroit auto show. (Jerry Garrett)

6. Who is Elon Musk, and why did he make a cameo appearance in the film? Mr. Musk is the CEO at Tesla Motors, the electric car maker. He also is chief executive of SpaceX, the private space exploration company headquartered in Hawthorne, Calif. In fact, the SpaceX factory is the location for “Hammer Industries” in the film – both inside and outside. The interior shots where the evil robots were constructed is adjacent to the area where designer Franz von Holzhausen was putting together the prototype of Tesla’s upcoming Model S electric car. The Model S, coincidentally, will be produced at Downey Studios. (Tesla’s Roadster was in the first “Iron Man” film in 2008, but only because vehicle sponsor Audi considered Tesla a “niche player” back then; now, with Audi about to produce its own electric vehicles, they see Tesla as a competitor, and said “no” to Tesla being in the sequel.) Near his SpaceX cubicle (he eschews an office), Mr. Musk has a life-sized Iron Man statue, which wears a SpaceX employee ID badge around its neck.

Spy photo of Iron Man 2 Audi R8 Spider on PCH (Auto Express)

7. Where can I buy the Audi R8 Spider (convertible) seen in the film, and how much does it cost? The R8 Spider in the film costs about $200,000 in Europe; it was not available in the U.S. at the time the film was released. “We got it about a year ago,” Mr. Armstrong said, “And it is still the only one in the U.S.” (The Stark11 California license plate matches the No. 11 on the Stark Industries race car.) The R8 was demoted for the sequel from stunt vehicle to plot vehicle (it is used to have a summons served, and buy strawberries and tote Stark Expo panels along California’s Pacific Coast Highway). In the original “Iron Man”, stunt coordinators tried to make the R8 flip after being blown up, but the car has such a low center of gravity, it would only jump into the air, twirl around, and come down on its wheels. The scene was deleted from the movie. “The R8 is too well constructed,” said an Audi of America spokesman.

Tony Stark's workshop/garage (Marvel Studios)

One of several IM2 posters (Marvel)

8. What were the vehicles in the workshop of Tony Stark (a.k.a. the “Iron Man”)?  An Icon A5 amphibious jet airplane with folding wings; a 1953 Cadillac Series 62 Coupe by Ghia, once owned by actress Rita Hayworth (a gift from her lover and later third husband, the Aly Khan); a 1949 Mercury “lead sled” customized by Sam Barris (brother of George); and, a 1932 Ford flathead roadster owned by Mr. Favreau, the director, who also played the role of “Happy Hogan” in the movie. The Caddy and the Merc were on loan from L.A.’s Petersen Automotive Museum.

9. Was any of the movie actually shot in Moscow? No, except for generic establishing shots. New York? Nope; sorry Flushing Meadows. Besides the one sequence of the Rolls Royce on the Monaco grand prix track, and green screen work in New Mexico, the rest of the movie was shot in and around the Los Angeles area.

10. The scene where they blew up all of the parked cars – that was all computer-generated too, right? No! “First, we shot plate shots under Interstate 105 at Imperial Highway with rental cars,” said Mr. Armstrong of a location in Inglewood, Calif. “We only set off (car) alarms there.” For the big pyrotechnics that followed, “Then, we blew up 40 non-matching cars at Mystery Mesa in Valencia!” That’s the Agua Dulce Movie Ranch area some 60 miles north of Los Angeles.

Randy's (Jerry Garrett)

11. Finally, I just have to ask: Where the hell is Randy’s Donuts? And why should I care? It is located at the corner of La Cienega and Manchester in Inglewood, Calif., near the Los Angeles International Airport. Built in 1953, Randy’s is an L.A. landmark (once part of a now defunct chain), with damn fine donuts.

Carb-craving Tony Stark (Marvel)

The iconic building has been seen in many movies, including “2012”, “Mars Attacks!”. “The Simpsons” (in an animated version), and “Earth Girls Are Easy”.

For more on the secrets behind Stark Expo, inside info on casting, who made cameo appearances – and why, location tricks and trivia, check out my next “Iron Man 2” column.

[Parting note: You really ought to sit through this movie’s entire credit roll!]

Jerry Garrett

May 6, 2010


  1. I can’t believe they destroyed two Phantoms. I am going to see this today, I can’t wait.

    • Even when you know what they did, and you see it again, you have to marvel at how convincingly they did it.

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  4. You left out the SimCraft APEX sc830 racing simulator from the list of “vehicles” in #8. This racing sim reinforces the point that Tony always intended to drive the car himself and only had an alternate driver due to his poisoning from Palladium toxicity.

    • Coolio! Thanks for pointing that out!

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