While accepting his Academy Award on Sunday evening, production designer Colin Gibson announced that the number of people it takes to make him look competent never ceases to annoy him.¬†For the crew of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, the week began with a string of Oscar wins for their spectacular vision: Best Costume Design, Production Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Film Editing, and Sound Mixing and Editing.
As Gibson, set decorator Lisa Thompson and costume designer, Jenny Beavan collected their golden statues on stage, ‘thank you’s to their teams rolled across the screen. Gibson went on to mention the “multitudes of Australians, New Zealanders, Brits, Americans, South Africans, Namibians, who all came together under George‚Äôs vision to bring you a tale about a man with mental health issues, an amputee Amazon and five runaway sex slaves…”
A cinematic marvel, and production feat, Fury Road¬†relied on a talented and dedicated crew working in the deserts of Namibia to be realised.¬†Weeks before shooting was due to commence on location in Australia, heavy rains meant the once-barren landscape became green, and so the post-apocalyptic production was moved to the vast, dusty landscapes of Namibia in 2012 with local company Moonlighting Films. South African Props Master, Andrew Orlando, and on set costume supervisor, Joanne Walter, let us know what it was like working on the monumental production which imagines a distant future.
Andrew: The main brief was that everything should be a found item that has been turned into something else. It‚Äôs a post-apocalyptic world, full of junk, and the only items that survive are things that take decades to degrade ‚Äì rubber, plastic, steel. So we would go to rubbish dumps, junk shops and 2nd hand shops to buy items, take them apart and use the parts to make new items. So weapons were made up of car parts, bicycle cogs etc.
Joanne:¬†We received, along with the script, a full storyboarded version of the movie, illustrated with the correct costumes used. George (Miller) kept to the storyboard so accurately that when I first saw the movie, it was as if I had already seen it. The most memorable visual reference I had was the original Mad Max costume, worn by Mel Gibson in The¬†Road Warrior. It was brought from Australia as reference for the new costumes made for Tom (Hardy). Jenny (Beavan) also kept all visual references and materials and fabrics out and available for anyone in our department to feast our eyes on and to be inspired by.
Andrew: A film that is full of stunts from start to finish is really intense to prop. I had to work closely with the stunt department as we required a lot of ‚Äòsoft weapons‚Äô first for the rehearsal and then for shooting. You have to manufacture a hero item, then mold and create ‘softs’ in large amounts as they get damaged during rehearsals, and while shooting. The thundersticks were also challenging. We had 24 thundersticks on the War Rig alone. The chain that Tom Hardy gets dragged around with for a lot of the film had to be soft so he didn’t get hurt. We would cast silicon links and by the end of the film we had cast 150 metres of chain, in single links.
Joanne:¬†The long travelling hours to the locations every day was exhausting.¬† Up to 3 hours a day, 6 days a week and a 12 hour shooting day added to that, for 6 months. Production was wise enough to have us shoot there in the Winter, so we were saved from the Namibian Summer heat, just not from the desert’s freezing conditions in the early mornings and nights!
“It became a daily ritual to empty the cast’s boots of buckets full of sand every evening.”
Andrew: Working 6 days a week for 45 weeks in the desert was hard. You kind of go a bit crazy after a while and start behaving like a War Boy! Also living in a world with no colour for 45 weeks was hard. Everything sepia. No green, no trees, no water.
Joanne:¬†The mornings were really cold and misty. But it was the sandstorms that were the most difficult to deal with. Some mornings you just couldn‚Äôt work without your goggles on. I couldn‚Äôt think of a more perfect place to set Fury Road! All the beautiful locations were real and actually exist. No VFX needed, and the light in Namibia is surreal too.¬† It became a daily ritual to empty the cast’s boots of buckets full of sand every evening.
“I had a view from my costume trailer directly towards Charlize‚Äôs trailer and found it very entertaining when her Mom came to visit and would braai her lunch for her.”
Andrew: When you have a great leader, it is a lot easier to carry their vision through. Colin Gibson has so much energy, and I have only worked with a few designers in 23 years like this. He had his finger on the pulse with everything: no matter how small. I really admire him. You would get these amazing briefs, really funny stories, explaining the history of each prop and the character to give you inspiration. If you get a great brief, a prop is a lot easier to create.¬†He also gave us a lot of freedom, so everyone in the workshop could come up with these crazy ideas, run them past Colin and he would give you the go ahead.
Joanne:¬†I have a huge amount of respect for George, Colin, Lesley (Vanderwalt) and Jenny‚Äôs vision. Their work was so unbelievably collaborative which is why I think they made such a winning creative movie. During pre-production we did a huge number of fittings of stunts and cast. I was deeply committed to get what their vision was all about.¬† It wasn‚Äôt easy and I clearly remember Jenny‚Äôs joy the day we finally got a stunt War Boy fitting correct, as she imagined it. Ultimately, Jenny took it upon herself to immerse herself into George‚Äôs mind and see things the way he did.¬† Once she got it, it was up to us to do the same by immersing ourselves into her mind.
Jenny is a gentle soul with a big heart and huge amounts of talent. She was our matriarch.¬†She has a quiet but strong way of getting her point of view across.
Andrew:¬†Getting up every morning, going to set and seeing the most insane cars you have ever seen in your life warming up for the day’s work. Creating props that have never been on screen before.
Joanne:¬†I had a view from my costume trailer directly towards Charlize Theron‚Äôs trailer and found it very entertaining when her Mom came to visit and would braai (barbeque) her lunch for her, with Jackson looking on intently!¬† Braaiing is a very South African tradition and I was happy to see that Charlize still had that in her. ¬†Conversing with her in her native Afrikaans was also an entertaining pleasure.
Special thanks to Moonlighting Films.