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Iron Man: Armored Adventures Animated Series

Looking Back at Iron Man: Armored Adventures

We chat with one of the series' key creators as it concludes its second season!

By Christina Pham & Marc Strom

Director Philippe Guyenne worked on both seasons of “Iron Man: Armored Adventures,” doing everything from creating character designs to directing episodes himself.

Now, with the second season coming to its dramatic conclusion tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET on Nicktoons, Marvel.com spoke with Guyenne. The director broke down the full process of taking an episode of “Iron Man: Armored Adventures” from concept to finished product, recalled some of his favorite designs for the show, and talked about his roots as a comics reader.

Marvel.com: As a Character Designer and Director, what did your roles and responsibilities entail?

Season 1 concept art from "Iron Man: Armored Adventures"

Philippe Guyenne: Like everyone involved in this series, my main concern was to create a series that is fun and enjoyable, so that people who watch it are happy to do so. Also, as a director I have to do my best to deliver the best episode possible before the deadlines that were agreed upon, so that the producers and broadcasters are happy too.

So basically, my role is to ensure that all the hard work and talent from the writers, designers, storyboard artists & animators translate into something interesting on-screen. I also work with the sound designers and music composer to define the mood for each episode.

Marvel.com: Can you describe your typical workflow for an episode from beginning to end?

Philippe Guyenne: The main stages for a standard episode are: script, storyboard, design, animatics, layout, animation, rendering, editing, sound design, compositing, then final mix. But on a typical week, as we’re working on multiple episodes at the same time, everything is mixed up: we could be working on the storyboards for episode nine while we’re editing episode five and finalizing the compositing of episode four. The nasty part is keeping track of everything, but it’s also part of the fun.

The Story Editor creates a pitch that defines the basic premise of an episode. Then the writer comes out with an outline, a short script that highlights the main narrative events and plot. From there, we can adjust the overall tone and pace of the episode. This outline is also very important to estimate the amount of new characters and locations that will have to be created. Before we get to the final script, it’s reviewed several times with the broadcasters and producers to ensure that it’s interesting and feasible.

While the writer continues to work toward the finished script, the designers start to work on the new assets. They create concept art and rough sketches to define the mood and style of the new assets.

Season 1 concept art of Crimson Dynamo from "Iron Man: Armored Adventures"

With the finished script and the concept designs, we start to work on the storyboard. At this stage, the main focus is storytelling. We define the rhythm of the episode and flesh out the content of each shot. A typical 22 minute episode is made of 420-450 shots, [which is] about 1500 panels, or drawings.

The pace and timing of each panel/drawing is finalized in the animatic, an animated version of the storyboard with the final voices.

Then we create a ‘breakdown’ of the approved animatics. For each panel, we describe its content, associate it with an asset from the 3D database, and annotate the actions for the animators and lighting team.

Meanwhile, the designers create model sheets and color references for the new assets--sets, characters, vehicles, props--and these model sheets are sent out to the modeling team. While we’re waiting for the completion of the final 3D models, we work with “proxies,” low resolution placeholders that are used to create the “layout.”

The Layout stage is very important. This is where we turn the animatic into 3D scenes, and fine tune the framing and timing of the shots.

Each shot of the animatic is re-created in a 3D package, where we import all the database elements to populate the virtual set. The layout artists animate the camera, creating near-final camerawork, [and] they have to pay extra care to the framing and composition of the image. The initial block-in animation is also created for key scenes.

Then each approved layout scene moves to the animation stage. The animators take the layout scenes and make the characters come to life, focusing on the acting and rhythm. The animation ‘takes’ are reviewed multiple times, to try to improve the staging, performance and expressiveness of the scene. We can also tweak the timing of a shot to ensure a better narrative flow.

The approved animated scenes are then lit and rendered according to the guidelines of the breakdown list. Our workflow enables some degree of freedom in terms of lighting as each image is rendered using multiple render layers, [so] we had access to different light directions for a single scene. This means that a backlight could be created in compositing rather than in the rendering stage, with minimal efforts. The most important thing is to make sure that we have all the required elements to finalize the image during the post processing.

Season 1 concept art of Stark Tower from "Iron Man: Armored Adventures"

Once we have all the raw render images, we rework the editing to lock the timing of the episode once and for all. This way, the sound designers and the music composer can start to work on a near-final episode.

The final visual stage is compositing, where the multiple render layers are assembled, the visual effects are mixed in, the shots are post processed and color corrected to enhance the visuals. This post process will really set the final mood of the scene. Small improvements can make a major difference here.

The last creative step is the mix session where we try to balance the image, music and sound together so that they tell a bigger story than each of these separate elements.

Marvel.com: Were you familiar with Iron Man when you came to the project?

Philippe Guyenne: Actually I grew up reading X-Men, Spider-Man and, of course, Iron Man. The Marvel super heroes are one of the main influences that made me want to paint and draw as a kid. At the time, I was a huge fan of [Chris] Claremont, [John] Byrne and [Terry] Austin’s work on X-Men, but I also have some old Iron Man comics from 1977-85.

One of my favorite issues at the time was the one featuring Black Knight and [Doctor] Doom, by [Bill] Mantlo, [George] Tuska, and [Mike] Esposito--I think it was called “Dreadknight And The Daughter Of Creation.” (Iron Man, Vol.1, #102)  And of course all the [David] Michelinie, [Bob] Layton, and [John] Romita, Jr. [issues]. I read the infamous “Demon in the Bottle” and “Armor Wars” back then, so it was really a great honor to have scripts written by Michelinie and Layton on Armored Adventures.

Marvel.com: What outside resources or comics did you turn to as inspiration for the look you brought to the show?

Season 2 concept art of Hammer Tower from "Iron Man: Armored Adventures"

Philippe Guyenne: While we didn’t specifically look for inspiration elsewhere, there’s obviously an eastern animation/manga influence in “Iron Man: Armored Adventures,” even if the end result if not that close to an anime. I could cite Blue Submarine 6, Karas and most of the giant robot series [such as] Gundam or Macross. Also Method Animation and DQE have previously worked together on another cell-shaded series called Skyland, featuring some similar looks and technology.

 For the rhythm of the action and fight scenes, I really like the way they stage and edit action scenes in Hong Kong action movies. There’s usually a lot of attention and details put into the choreography.

Marvel.com: Did you single-handedly design the characters yourself, or did you have a team that helped you bring these characters to life?

Philippe Guyenne: On Season 2, I’ve designed some characters myself but it was mostly a collaborative effort with Alexandre Grynagier on Doctor Doom, Iron Monger, Titanium Man, and Rescue. On Season 1, the main characters were designed by Bertrand Gatignol with additional characters and villains made by Duster Chantarah, Ivan Gomez and myself. But again, after the initial design stage, all the character are then modeled in 3D, textured and rigged, so the final characters that we see are really the result of a team effort.

To design a character, we usually start by analyzing the character traits and personality, and his narrative role. Is he good? Evil? Fast? Eccentric? Calm? Is he a boss or a nobody? Then we will translate these concepts in terms of shapes, which in turn should combine into an interesting silhouette. The silhouette is very important to establish a character. If it works as a silhouette, the subsequent details will add even more reality to it. On the [other hand], details will not often help a bad silhouette work better.

Marvel.com: Which of the characters did you find yourself drawn to the most, and why?

Philippe Guyenne: I like most of the villains of “Iron Man: Armored Adventures” because it was really interesting and challenging to re-design and re-think all these classic characters. On some occasions, I think we managed to create some very interesting alternatives, for instance with Whiplash and Mandarin.

In terms of storytelling, Gene Khan is one of my favorite characters. I like the complexity of his personality, the balance between good and evil. He also kind of looks a bit like me, except for the yellow pants and the malicious grin…

And of course [Doctor] Doom. Just because he is Doom.

Marvel.com: Do you have any favorite designs from any of the specific episodes? If so, which ones?

Philippe Guyenne: We had a lot of great environment designs by Alfred Frazzani, who is a former architect and who has also worked on feature films. I especially like all the Makluan environments he did for episodes 24, 25, and 26 of Season 2, and the design of the Hammer Tower. It’s also a good display of the range of the series, hi-tech with a blend of sci-fi and fantasy.

For characters, I like the design of the War Machine and the Titanium Man armors. It was fun to come up with designs that retained some part of the Iron Man technology but with their own twist.

Marvel.com: As a director of “Iron Man: Armored Adventures,” what were some of the major obstacles you encountered and how did you overcome them?

Philippe Guyenne: As in most animation projects, time & budget are the biggest constraints. Fortunately, we had great teams on this project in France, Luxembourg, and India, with talented people who are really dedicated to delivering the best show possible. On many occasions, that helped save the day. It was also really nice to work with Nicktoons and Marvel on this project, their feedback was always very useful and supportive.

Story wise, the biggest challenge was to create a believable teenage Tony Stark; a hero that is de-aged but not watered down. I know some people never really got past the teen-Tony concept, but I really think that the writers did an awesome job and that we managed to keep the core traits of Tony Stark and Iron Man. At the end, this was probably the major obstacle we encountered, the initial rejection by some hard-core Shellhead fans based on the assumption that a teen Tony couldn’t make a good series. Hopefully, some of them changed their minds after watching some episodes.

Marvel.com: While directing the series, did you have an all-time favorite episode (in either season) to work on? If so, which one and why?

Philippe Guyenne: The two-part Season 2 finale, because of its epic scale. Right from the start, we knew this was a very complex and challenging episode that was actually more like a little movie than two distinct episodes.

We get spaceships, massive battles, heroes who must unite to defeat a massive alien invasion--who doesn’t like to work on that? As a director, you have a lot of interesting things to play with and to experiment with, in terms of storytelling as well as in visual aspects. It was really interesting to compose shots in the alien spaceship with its unusual geometry, and we had a lot of action scenes, [which is] something I’ve always liked to work on in “Iron Man: Armored Adventures.”

There was a lot of work dedicated to this finale but I think it was worth it. To me, it’s a very gratifying episode. It’s action packed, it ties things together, and it answers most of the plots. All the major characters have evolved during these two seasons, and it’s a nice conclusion.

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It would be great if this season 2 in HD was released on iTunes or Amazon. Season 1 was recently pulled from iTunes and have no clue why, thankfully I purchased it before it was gone.