Creating realities: behind the scenes of Mad Max: Fury Road

Published:  June 18, 2015
Issac Teh

Mad Max: Fury Road is George Miller’s foray back into his wildly successful franchise. It is 120 minutes of heart-thumping action in a post-apocalyptic world that is so meticulously conceived you almost believe it’s real. 

To date, it has raked in more than $330 million worldwide – a figure that will surely grow. The film is quintessentially Australian, even more so with the participation of lead visual effects (VFX) studio Iloura

The studio completed nearly 1,979 VFX shots, of which 1,695 were included in the final cut.

desktop spoke with Dan Bethell, Iloura’s CG sequence supervisor and 2nd unit VFX supervisor for Fury Road on location in Namibia.

Congratulations on the success of Fury Road. You worked on this for almost three years. What’s it like finally showing the work to the world?

We’re all very proud with the final result. It’s a passionate mix of creativity and technology; part vision, part implementation. Movies are a collaborative process, there are a lot of departments involved and for the VFX to play such an important role in producing this immersive world, to tell a story and keep people on the edge of their seats, it means we’ve really done our jobs.

There are a couple of scenes in the movie that are obviously computer generated; they’re impossible any other way. But a lot of the visual effects are invisible. People wouldn’t even know they were there, but they serve to keep that suspension of disbelief and keep the viewer in the movie. That’s one of my personal proudest achievements, the fact that there are thousands of visual effects in this movie, but people are focused on the story, the excitement, the adrenaline’s flowing and they feel like they are in Mad Max’s world.

You had quite a special role in this project as you were on location for the movie in Namibia…

That’s right, I was lucky enough to have two jobs on this film. In production I was the 2nd unit visual effects supervisor on location in Namibia and South Africa. Then I joined the team in post-production on the visual effects at Iloura through to the completion of the film. It was really nice for me to see the life cycle of a shot from inception to working with the director, 2nd unit director and the directors of photography on set to create these shots. Then to see them through post-production and be able to work on shots myself was a once in a lifetime experience.

You’ve had to create many different environments for George’s vision in the movie, such as the Citadel and the Canyon. How did you approach this aspect of the project?

Even though so many of these environments are completely crazy, in order for them to be believable it’s important to have everything grounded in some kind of reality. Through reference photography we took on set in Africa as well as around Sydney we were able to construct these environments by using textures and geometry from real world environments. We used photogrammetry to convert textures into rock decals and we constructed these pieces into environments.

The toxic storm sequence is one of the major highlights in Fury Road. Can you take us through what it took to create that epic scene?

That was a very big sequence for us and one of the sequences we started off quite early in the process because we knew it was going to be so big and complex but also important to the story. George had pre-visualised this and we started working with that. So all the previs marked out the actual action in the scene, timings and the layouts of the various twisters. It was really just cones on a large plane. That was a starting point for us. Our VFX Supervisor Tom Wood also had some concept art worked up, to give George some ideas of how the finished scene might look. And then it was really an intuitive process as George was very collaborative. A large number of iterations and lots of research and development went into producing these massive twisters and sand storms.

What was the biggest challenge you encountered as a team whilst working on this movie?

The scope and quality of the work was a challenge. Every shot required something a little bit different and certainly, the toxic storm was a challenge because it was a completely immersive environment with so many layers of grit and sand. As we were producing, we knew it was going to be a very special film and that really helped to make it fun as we went through all the shots.


How was this project different form the other ones Iloura has worked on before, say The Wolverine or A Million Ways to Die in the West?

Iloura has been around for about 18 years and it’s forged a reputation for its exceptional character work and more recently high-end visual effects. I would say the scale and complexity of the work was new for us. A lot of the 3D work that had been done on projects in the past was built upon. It was also a chance for us to grow our Sydney studio and work with the Melbourne office.

What was the last movie that you saw that had great VFX?

It’s hard because a lot of movies these days are reliant on visual effects. One of the reasons why I think Fury Road has done so well is because VFX is a supportive part of the film. I really liked the work on Interstellar, even though it wasn’t invisible, it never felt heavy-handed, it always served the story, it is probably the most notable VFX achievement in recent years.

Photo Credits: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
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