Talks of the twisted metal and high octane vehicles that would populate “Mad Max: Fury Road” began when director George Miller showed production designer Colin Gibson three walls filled with storyboards of the film 15 years ago.
“He said, ‘One day this could all be yours,’” Gibson recalls to Business Insider of what Miller presented him. Gibson just didn’t realize how far away that “one day” would be.
Gibson began building the cars to be featured in the film as far back as 2003, when it was originally going to be shot in South Africa with Mel Gibson returning as Max, a loner in a post-apocalyptic world who navigates through the different gasoline-starved tribes in order to survive.
But the plug was pulled on the film leading up to the Iraq War, and the project lingered in development hell until four years ago.
The final version is an action-adventure film starring Tom Hardy as Max and Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa. Responsible for driving the massive “War Rig” to replenish her village’s gasoline needs, Furiosa goes rogue and dashes in the truck to parts unknown in hopes of freedom, picking up Max along the way. The village’s evil ruler, Immortal Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) unleashes his “War Boys” and their gonzo fleet of vehicles to hunt them down.
Built over 11 months before production began in late 2011, the close to 200 vehicles Gibson created range from a sedan with massive metal spikes sticking out of it to a giant truck covered with stereo speakers.
Below, Gibson breaks down some of the most memorable vehicles.
The iconic vehicle from the “Mad Max” franchise is Max’s 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT. The super-charged car made its first appearance in "Mad Max" in 1979 when Max was chasing down bad guys with it while he was still a cop. It returned in “The Road Warrior” (1981) where Max used it to escape the clutches of the evil forces who want to take it from him for the gasoline.
Gibson knew the importance of the car, so he didn’t make many changes to its look. “All we had to do with it was make it another 45 years older,” he said. “More rust. More rattle. Less original parts.” But with Hardy now as Max, Gibson also saw the car as a passing of the torch. “When we changed Maxes, it becomes even more important that we have that particular handoff.”
The War Rig:
Like in “The Road Warrior,” much of the action in "Fury Road" is on a massive 18-wheeler. But like all things in the movie, it’s unlike any you’ve ever seen. With two V8 engines, and modified cabins throughout, Gibson created a vehicle that the audience wouldn’t get tired of looking at half-way through the movie.
“War Rig was one built more to a prescription than an imagination,” he explains. “It was such an important part of the story that George and the storyboard artists had come to a greater consensus of what was required.” Gibson points out that there are up to 13 different characters inside the rig at any one time through the movie. Gibson said the classic John Wayne western, “Stagecoach,” was an inspiration for creating a moving location where the drama plays out over a long stretch of time.
For Immorten Joe’s vehicle Gibson thought of a creation that would suit a crazed post-apocalyptic leader. What he came up with, he says, is his favorite of the vehicles. Stacked with two 1959 Cadillac Coupe De Villes on top of massive tires, Gibson’s thinking was “in a world where there was barely one of everything, it seemed the only person liable to have a pair would be the lead villain.”
To create this porcupine on wheels, Gibson took inspiration from the tribe that would drive them, the Buzzards. “George saw the Buzzards as the lowest common denominator,” he said.
The first group to go after The War Rig after Furiosa tries to escape, Gibson said they are the “scrap merchants” of the tribes and was allowed to use the rustiest of materials for their vehicles. “We used bent and battered steel panels,” he said. “All the spikes and panels were built out of old cars. But the stunt guys expressed some concern about rolling them at high speeds into rocks, so I had to replicate a couple where the steel spikes were stiffened goat skin which buckled and were less dangerous.”
The Doof Wagon:
Perhaps the most challenging vehicle, for all involved in the film, was the bandwagon that follows Immortal Joe’s armada of twisted vehicles into battle. “George said every army has a little drummer boy and ours was Spinal Tap on acid,” said Gibson.
The Doof Wagon is a big rig strapped with massive drums in the rear, endless speakers in front of it, and a stage where the blind and disfigured Coma the Doof Warrior rocks out on his flam-throwing guitar. Gibson said it was the most difficult vehicle to run as its six foot wheels (which they took from old mining tractors) would get buried in the sand. And then there was the noise. “George Miller has very expansive tastes so everything has to be real,” said Gibson. That means the speakers blared music all the time. “Some of the actors could barely hear themselves act,” he said. But Gibson made the error of when creating the flame-throwing guitar that it did not also play. “I foolishly built it as a prototype,” he said. “George was most emphatic that the guitarist had to be able to play, so we went back to the drawing board and made something that could play and shoot flames.”
With a decade-worth of storyboards for the film, Gibson said the main thing he had to do to get an idea of how to make the vehicles was to write some backstory.
“After conversations with George about the different tribes, I put together this bible of looks and from that we drew the inspiration for each vehicle,” Gibson tells Business Insider.
Some of the cars and trucks created came from scrap material Gibson’s team found in junk yards throughout Australia. But mainly what was used came from what Aussie’s call the “paddock.”
“It’s at the back of your house where you drop off two cars that you intend to work on one day,” Gibson described. “So we were out searching for other people’s passions that hadn’t come to pass.”