09 Mad Max Fury Road — A Legend Roars Back To Life, Part 5
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“It is by my hand you will rise from the ashes of this world.”– Immortan Joe

The War Boys also wear a panoply of masks, each more terrifying than the last, and largely shaped from leather and wire by Beavan and her teams in Africa and Australia. Their masks also served a dual purpose: both venerating the Immortan and allowing the stunt performers who played them to change identities in various stunt capacities, including riding atop arcing poles as the Polecats. They also wear white body paint, powder and clay to honor the Immortan’s pallor, with the makeup department ultimately using 61 different skin tones. Vanderwalt and her team also adorned the War Boys’ body canvas with inks, stick-on tattoos and scarifications, and custom‐made tattoo T‐shirts.

In brainstorming the War Boys’ modes of attack, Miller remembered seeing street performers balancing on poles, which fired his imagination. “When ‘Fury Road’ came around, I thought, ‘What if we put those poles on a moving vehicle?’ The War Boys have to attack the War Rig from every side, and if they couldn’t get around the wheels or around the spikes, the Polecats could swing over and attack from above, like pirates.”

As much as he fell in love with the idea, he knew that odds were slim that even his skilled and trusted team could safely pull it off. “When you have real humans on a moving vehicle, if even one thing goes wrong, you’ve got a serious accident,” he says.

Norris, Gibson and Oliver hunkered down for months, brainstorming about everything from bamboo poles to pole vaulting equipment to hydraulics, to no avail. Just as Miller was coming to grips with the idea of making the Polecats happen digitally, the team hit pay dirt—they developed an upside-down metronome rig that could do the job smoothly, safely and consistently. Reaching as high as 30 feet, the pole was counterweighted with an engine block at the base, positioned at the fulcrum point, which could be adjusted for different performers and moves. The device allowed the Polecats to glide through the air by coordinating their moves with the stunt team positioned on the vehicle, pushing and pulling the weighted block for leverage.

“We could then swing the pole back and forth literally all the way to down to the ground at ninety degrees,” Norris offers. “The guys were in constant communication with earpieces, and could increase their timing to swing all the way to the ground at ninety degrees, or land on top of a tank or even a motorcycle. Once we got the physics down, there was never any danger of the poles tipping over.”

Norris sent Miller a link to their test footage, with just a brief note saying he had a surprise for the director. “There were half-a-dozen Polecats coming around a vehicle in this beautiful balletic movement, and Guy was up on one of the poles, filming it all,” Miller smiles. “When I saw this footage, it brought tears to my eyes. I thought anything we tried would be way too unsafe to do it for real, but those guys were completely safe up there. They could stay up there all day. It was wonderful.”

Norris next reached out to longtime friend and former Cirque du Soleil performer Stephen Bland to help him assemble a team of Polecats, who then rehearsed extensively to fine-tune their timing and symmetry. “This allowed George the freedom not to have to stop and adjust during a sequence,” Norris relates. “He could shoot the War Rig racing across the desert, with Polecats surrounding and attacking in coordinating moves, and more of them swarming from behind—all on speeding vehicles.”

In the torrent of stunts that rage across the Wasteland, as many as 150 stunt performers could be on set on any given day, but Norris’s 65-strong core stunt team would embody the Immortan’s army throughout the film. The job was unique in that they were not doubling another actor, but actually taking on their War Boy roles for the entirety of the shoot. “In the film, you can track a War Boy right from the Citadel into the armada chase right through to his death,” Norris explains. “They all had glorious deaths, but there was always a bit of competition for who could have the best death as a War Boy.”

Over the length of prep and throughout production, the performers immersed themselves in their characters and in the cult of the Immortan in group sessions involving intense physical and fight training, interposed with dramaturgy workshops with Lathouris and his associate Nadia Townsend, and frequent rallies with Keays-Byrne. The sessions were also attended by Australian actor, musician, actor and playwright iOTA, who plays the Doof Warrior—the Citadel armada’s “little drummer boy.”

Josh Helman, who plays opposite Hoult as Nux’s lancer, Slit, remembers, “Hugh would show up as Immortan Joe, and iOTA would just improvise on the spot, which was amazing. The whole thing completely set up the cultish environment of the War Boys.”

iOTA wrote and recorded his own war themes for the Doof Warrior to play on his double- necked electric guitar / flamethrower as the frontman for the Road War’s demented house band. During production, location sound recordist Ben Osmo would broadcast this music to earpieces worn by the Doof Wagon’s bank of Taiko drummers, which enabled them to maintain the thumping tempo amid the din of thundering V-8 engines and road combat.

The People Eater and the Bullet Farmer, played by John Howard and Richard Carter, respectively, lead their gangs into the Road War in a hurricane of fire and hail of bullets. Designed by McCarthy, the People Eater embodies bulk excess and the worst qualities of civilized man. “I did a sketch of a very large man in a raggedy capitalist’s pinstripe suit. He has a bad case of nose leprosy, so he wears a false nose to cover it,” McCarthy relates. “He was quite creepy, so George aptly christened him the People Eater.”

In his ammo-laden trench coat and headpiece made entirely of Bullets, McCarthy saw the Bullet Farmer as “an absurdist weapons manufacturer and dealer gone insane.”

The quest to find the staging ground for the film’s Road War was nearly as epic as the production itself. The team had some basic requirements for a location—flat, sand, scant vegetation, and canyons—as well as a base that could support an infrastructure for a shooting unit. Voeten and Gibson circled the planet looking for that magic combination throughout South America, Africa and the Middle East, but ultimately decided to return to Broken Hill in the sprawling Australian Outback, what Voeten calls “the spiritual home of Mad Max.” “When George scouted it, it was his first time back there since making ‘The Road Warrior,’” he recalls.

But after two years of record rainfalls, the locations no longer existed in Australia. “We needed to find a shooting location where it never rains,” Miller says. “And that’s Namibia.”

Near the southern tip of Africa, Namibia stands at the crosswinds of icy currents from Antarctica and heat radiating out of the African desert, which provided the unique climate needed for a Wasteland. Swakopmund, on the Skeleton Coast, was an appropriate hub for a large production, and the sprawling Namib Desert offered the filmmakers a variety of looks and a limitless staging ground for a Road War. “There’s nothing,” Miller states. “It’s just one big, wonderful landscape, which was perfect for the world we were trying to create.”

The company then set about breaking down, packing up, and shipping out every component of the massive production, including 150 vehicles, from the east coast of Australia to the west coast of Africa.

While the Wasteland would be forged in Namibia, Gibson realized the Citadel through a network of sets built in Namibia, Sydney and Cape Town, South Africa. “Historically there have always been Citadels,” he says. “There’s always been that last bastion, so we had a chance to organize it into a vertically aligned society of fascist feudalism.”

The termite mound-style towers of the Citadel and surrounding vistas were created digitally by visual effects supervisor Jackson and his team. “The rock walls are based on the Blue Mountains, just west of Sydney,” Jackson reveals. “We flew a helicopter very close to these massive cliffs and took a lot of highly detailed, high-resolution stills.

Then, using PhotoScan software, we turned the stills into big CG wall elements, which we could cut up and bend into the shape of the Citadel. That gave us a very photographic and realistic result.”

The base of the Citadel was partially constructed of faux stone and real sand, with deep pools and walls, and roads and ridges, landscaped to tie into the CG environment. The entire three-towered rock caldera was then designed and dropped into a digital Wasteland by visual effects art director David Nelson.

The interior Citadel sets represented different areas and levels of importance to the society, from workers’ areas to the Immortan’s own eyrie and hideaway, the BioDome, as well as the antechamber and overhang where he dispenses the occasional burst of Aqua Cola to the masses. The Immortan’s symbol—a skull encased in a burning steering wheel, merging the car and death—was developed by Peter Pound, and became a recurring symbol in the War Rig, the Nux Car and the Doof Wagon, as he developed early designs for each of these vehicles. That yawning maw, swallowing all before it, has even been carved into the Citadel balcony to make the Immortan’s appearances much more imposing.

Where it’s most ubiquitous is the steering wheels—the ‘keys’ to the Immortan’s armada—that formed the Altar set, created as both a shrine to the Immortan and an homage to those who’ve died in glorious battle. Adjacent to the Altar is the Blood Bank, a combination ad- hoc hospital, holding pen for Blood Bags, and workshop, where War Boys make tools and weapons.

Additional sets included the Mechanics Workshop, the Ponnix gardens, the Drain, the Milkers’ Room, and the Winch Room—epic in scale and steel, with enormous human-powered drums that winch up to safety the trucks, armory and salvage from the surrounding Wasteland. The warren of tunnels and catacombs where Max makes his desperate flight and recapture was also built, beginning at the Cell, a blacksmith’s nightmare of torture and body art.

When the action pushes outside the sphere of the Citadel, the design team had the opportunity to shape three tribes that have adapted to the harsh environs of the Wasteland, the first of which churns out from beneath its surface. Hunters of carrion trawling the wastes for metal scraps and ordnance, the Buzzards are mummy-like specters in bandages, mouth screens and goggles.

Raining death from above rather than below are the Rock Riders, who stalk the foreboding canyon through which the War Rig must pass, found at Namibia’s Swakop River Valley. Here, the masked “hyenas on motorbikes,” as Gibson calls them, strike from across and atop the steep canyon walls on customized off-road motorcycles. Gibson and his art department built ramps and rollercoasters to augment the tribe’s maneuvers practically, and Jackson’s visual effects department built out the canyon walls to make them even more imposing. “The Rock Riders’ system of attack derives from living high and being able to move up and down the canyon walls with gravity-defying skill,” he notes.

To find a team that could perform the Rock Riders’ virtuoso maneuvers, Norris reached outside the stunt community to enlist five-time Australian Motocross Champion and leading freestyle coach Stephen Gall to help gather a skilled team of freestylers. Says Norris, “We wanted to create action that’s never been seen before, and Stephen has his fingers on the pulse of all the best Motocross racers and freestylers out there. And what his guys did on this film was just above and beyond. It was amazing.”

Mitchell adds that all the film’s motorcycle action was made possible through the skill of rigging coordinator and second unit stunt coordinator Keir Beck. “These motorcyclists had to launch themselves through some precipitous areas, but Keir laid down nets to make sure everyone would be safe.”

Motorcycles are also the vehicle of choice of the Vuvalini, a badass tribe of warrior women eking out an existence on an arid dunescape at the edge of the known world, which the production found between Namibia’s Swakop River and Walvis Bay. In stark contrast to the status-projecting ensembles found at the Citadel, the Vuvalini wear clothes made for the harsh existence they experience in the wastes. “They have an outfit that covers them, but part of it is stretched over fishing pole frames that turn into shade for driving in the desert or shelter for night,” Gibson offers.

The last remaining vestiges of a matriarchal society, the Vuvalini are brought to life by Megan Gale as The Valkyrie and Melissa Jaffer as the Keeper of the Seeds, along with Melita Jurisic, Gillian Jones, Joy Smithers, Antoinette Kellerman and Christina Koch. Lathouris calls the Vuvalini “the people who are most capable of bringing any kind of sanity to the world.”

For Theron, the introduction of a tribe like the Vuvalini illuminates Miller’s layered presentation of women in “Mad Max: Fury Road.” “George has set up a fascinating dynamic with the women in this film,” she says. “Having these young girls escape with Furiosa and meet up with women in their sixties, seventies, eighties—who rage into the Road War on motorbikes— he’s really exploring women in this world at every age, and that’s not always how it goes down in a wall-to-wall action movie.”

Over the course of events, they too will pit their bikes and their will against the vast armada unleashed by the Immortan Joe…

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