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Iron Man 3

Vesa Lehtmaki Plays With Iron Man's Toys

We chat with the photographer behind the epic photos unveiling Hasbro's Iron Man 3 Assemblers action figures!

By Nikki Griffin

Earlier this month, we gave you a first look at Hasbro’s upcoming line of Assemblers action figures based on Marvel’s “Iron Man 3” with a series of stunning photographs by Finnish photographer Vesa Lehtmaki.

Iron Man 3 Assemblers Iron Man action figure photographed by Vesa Lehtmaki

Recently, Lehtmaki, who garnered attention for his pictures of his son’s Star Wars Legos, answered some questions for Marvel.com about his latest project, and gave some insight into the mind of an artist. 

The photographer’s Instagram and Flickr accounts indicate that some of the photos--and all of them are impressive--were shot with an iPhone, though he hasn’t used the iPhone for professional photography yet.

“I don't see why it couldn't happen,” he remarks. “It's just a question of style, maybe. Unlike a heavy DSLR, a phone is always there ready for use. I experiment with it and use it to make reference photos and notes. The ‘Iron Man 3’ photos were shot with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. I purchased it in October 2011 and I've been very happy with it, although I've been wondering what it would be like to shoot with the Canon Mark III.”

Lehtmaki didn’t happen into photography. A trained designer and illustrator, he has an Master of Arts degree in graphic design.

Iron Man 3 Assemblers Iron Patriot & Iron Man action figure photographed by Vesa Lehtmaki

“I used to work as a magazine designer and an Art Director for 10 years and I got to working with some of the best photographers in Finland during that period,” he recalls. “What a good photographer can do with a camera and Photoshop is something I always found really, really interesting but never got into doing myself. That is, until I bought a Canon 400D a few years ago, [which] opened a new world for me and I've been learning ever since.”

Since then, Lehtmaki has elevated the artistic level of product photography with his detailed set ups and creative storytelling through pictures, something he started when taking photographs of his son’s LEGO Star Wars figures and posting them online. Looking back, Lehtmaki did not really expect how large the reaction to those photographs would become.

“I like the feedback I get from Flickr and other places--I find the statistics and the traffic on my photographs endlessly fascinating--but in general, I have no clue how anything works,” notes the photographer. “I often find that the material I think is really hot does not interest people much, and vice versa. Some of my more popular photographs were almost not uploaded at all because I thought they were not as good as they should've been. I haven't foreseen anything much, I just find photographing the little toys hugely enjoyable. I love to challenge myself trying out new approaches and new ideas, maybe that shows.”

With a background in graphic design and illustration, Lehtmaki’s process for creating photos like the ones of Hasbro’s Iron Man 3 Assemblers can be quite involved.

Iron Man 3 Assemblers Iron Patriot action figure photographed by Vesa Lehtmaki

“First I try to understand who the client is, what they do and what the image is for, then I do quick thumbs to test ideas,” he explains. “It's the same process as with illustrations. With photographs I find it very difficult to figure out what is doable if I do not actually know how camera lenses affect the layout, so I shoot the images first with basic lights and no setups to see for certain if it works technically. For the client, though, I reduce these basic WIP photos back to drawings, or storyboards, because I try to avoid defining the look too much with a photograph that isn't finished. This way the client sees illustrations of what I'm going for. It's pretty exact layout-wise, but there's some room to explore with the lighting and general atmosphere. After possible revisions I shoot along the original WIP photo, but with all the lighting and possible effects in place.”

Perhaps surprisingly given his work, Lehtmaki reveals that he himself does not have a very large collection of toys.

“I do not possess many toys, really, no cupboards or display shelves. It's been mainly the kids’ toys I've been photographing so far. I wanted to expand a little and began buying some of my own only last year. At one point I was a bit concerned that I might be affecting [my son’s] perception of his toys by hovering about and hawking them for photography, so I decided to narrow things down and only borrow his LEGO Star Wars and Lord of the Rings [figures], and maybe some action figures from time to time. I have to admit we have more LEGO Star Wars and Lord of the Rings than we would if I didn't photograph them, so maybe there are some benefits there since everything is available for play at all times, no questions asked.”

Working for Marvel would be a dream come true for anyone, but especially to a comic book fan. Growing up in Finland, Lehtmaki did not have the typical exposure to comic books and super heroes that many American fans have, but he still read them quite avidly.

Iron Man 3 Assemblers War Machine action figure photographed by Vesa Lehtmaki

“When I was growing up there was a boom of European comics, [including] Spirou, Gaston Lagaffe, Valerian, Natasha, Asterix, Lucky Luke et al. I still try to visit the annual Angoulême comics fair in France as often as I can. The European comics influence was all very big but I also subscribed to the United States edition of Mad Magazine from the age of 11--I still illustrate hands like Mort Drucker. Spider-Man and Fantastic Four were first published in Finland from 1967 to 1970, [and while] that was a bit too early for me, I dug those up from antiquarian bookshops later. The Silver Surfer and Galactus were fantastic in those stories! I subscribed to Spider-Man's own magazine when it launched in Finland in 1980, and one of my all-time favorite comic books from my childhood was SUPERMAN VS. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN [from] 1976. I still have it. Well, I still have all of the comics I've ever had.”

His favorite Iron Man 3 toy to photograph, however, featured a newer character who didn’t first appear until 1992…War Machine.

“I do not know that character, I had a brief description of what works or doesn't work with [him but] otherwise it was left for me to figure it out. I really liked the no-nonsense look to War Machine, the metal finish looked great and I wanted to do something brutal with it. After some planning I figured I'd crash it thru a rock wall. It sounded brutal enough to me. I went to a hardware store and bought a 25 kilogram sack of crushed black obsidian rock, took a handful of that stuff to the studio and shot it as it is to create the crashing stone effect. This was a new material for me and I really liked how it played out, but now I have 25 kilograms of crushed rock in the basement and I have to figure out what to do with.”

For more of Vesa Lehtmaki’s photography, you can head to his Flickr stream, or catch him on Facebook and Twitter.

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