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Behind the VFX and stuntmen who created 'Iron Man 3's' Air Force One rescue scene

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Iron Man 3 America (1024px)
Iron Man 3 America (1024px)

One of Iron Man 3's defining action scenes is the so-called "barrel of monkeys" scene (minor spoilers ahead), in which Tony Stark saves the passengers of Air Force One after a hole is blown in it at 30,000 feet. While it's a scene that may stretch the laws of physics, it's also one of the film's high points — two minutes of edge-of-the-seat drama and visual effects spender. The Los Angeles Times' Hero Complex blog breaks the whole scene down, covering both VFX needed to pull it off as well as the stunts that made it look so convincing. For starters, those falling passengers were skydivers from Red Bull's skydiving team, with their gear and parachutes removed in post-production. "It's something that's incredibly difficult to fake — the high-frequency camera shake that's inherent to free fall photography," said Digital Domain VFX supervisor Erik Nash "If you start with something photographed, it's real, it's believable and even if you change everything about it you've got a foundation."

Another huge VFX challenge was swapping out the 20-seat turbo prop plane for a convincing replica of Air Force One, as well as replacing North Carolina (where the scene was filmed) with the Florida coast. All in all, it took some six days of shooting with multiple jumps and filming done with a head-mounted camera. Even rendering the digital Air Force One when it was on the ground was a challenge, because the plane just didn't quite look real' "Air Force One is probably the cleanest aircraft around," said Nash. "What we determined was the cause of that unreality was that it was so clean. What gives reality is imperfection — oil streaks, dirt. So we actually made our Air Force One a lot dirtier than the real thing."