15 Surprising Facts About the Making of Oscar Winner Mad Max: Fury Road

Oh, what a lovely film!

Mad Max Facts
Warner Bros.

Last night Mad Max: Fury Road snagged 6 statuettes, for Best Costume Design, Production Design, Makeup & Hairstyling, Film Editing, Sound Mixing and Editing, all well earned. While George Miller’s explosive, V-8-powered sprint through arid wastelands has garnered cinematic acclaim, getting there was a labor of love to say the least. The production statistics defy belief: it took 14 years to get the movie made; approximately 3,500 storyboards were used in lieu of a traditional script; more than 1,700 crew members were employed; on average, 1,000 people were on set at any given moment; designers built more than 150 cars from scratch—of those, half were wrecked; the raw footage totaled 480 hours.

In hindsight, that the movie was made at all seems unfathomable. We rounded up the most incredible tidbits, facts and facets from behind the lens.

1. A custom camera rig had to be built to capture the most breathtaking shots.

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Miller credits a custom camera rig called the Edge Arm for capturing the most dynamic shots. Perched atop a one-off offroad racing Toyota Tundra with a supercharged V-8, the roof-mounted system features a 24-foot crane toting a gyro-stabilized camera capable of 360 degrees of rotation. The setup allowed the crew to place the lens in places previously unattainable. While a specialized stunt driver manned the wheel, Miller monitored and directed the action from inside the Tundra. He likened the viewing process to being inside an intense video game.

2. September 11th, 2001—and then unexpected plant growth—stalled production for more than a decade.

The project stepped off in 2001 but after the American economy was deflated by 9/11 the enormous budget seemed untenable. Miller diverted his efforts to the family flick Happy Feet, then he waited. Once financing was again squared away, a deluge of heavy rains in the Australian outback caused too much flora to bloom. Miller et al waited more than a year for the flowers to die out, but they persisted. The entire shoot was shifted to Namibia where rain wouldn’t be an issue.

3. They chased single shots as far as 25 miles

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Action unit director and stunt coordinator Guy Norris had one shot that required the sun to work. After cloud cover came in hard, Norris had trouble aligning the lens with the sun. Miller recalls hearing Norris radioing that he was headed inland to find the necessary rays, checking in every so often, though growing more faint over the radio. After 25 miles, Norris’ (barely perceptible) voice crackled through, exuberant that he’d finally nailed it.

4. The storyboard artist received co-writer credit

Miller’s overall vision was to create a film so visual that foreign audiences would understand the plot without subtitles. The plan wasn’t to strip away dialogue but to emphasize the symbolism that transcends culture and languages. Miller tapped artist Brendan McCarthy to pen more than 3,500 incredible storyboard drawings to convey every aspect of the film save timing. The cast was a bit flummoxed being issued drawings instead of a traditional script. (Tom Hardy later apologized to Miller for being so frustrated with the process after he saw the brilliant results.) For his integral role, McCarthy was issued co-writing credit.

5. Snake wranglers were hired to keep the cast and crew fang-free

Included in the 1,500-person crew was a team of snake handlers and experts who worked tirelessly to clear the production’s path of venomous and deadly reptiles that could halt production.

6. Only world-renowned stuntmen could step on set

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Since most Mad Max stunts happened in one take the riggers and performers had to perform under serious pressure. Producers tapped the crew that orchestrated flying performers for both the Sydney and Beijing Olympics's opening ceremonies—venues that also offered one shot at glory. The polecat performers trained for months to fly around on the top of the rods.

7. The scariest stunt could have easily killed Tom Hardy

Charlize Theron told Yahoo! that she was terrified to hold Hardy’s head inches from the ground as her War Rig thundered along at 50 mph. Hardy’s son also voiced concerns about the thin wires keeping Hardy’s dome from being scalped, and asked Miller what might happen if the wires snapped. “Well, I suppose he’d go under the wheels,” came Miller’s reply.

8. The movie invented a new method for safely flipping cars

For a sequence that called for a spectacular inversion of the Interceptor, Max’s Falcon XB, the crew sought the safest way to get the Ford coupe airborne. Ultimately, they affixed a flat blade of steel to the chassis; this slapped the ground and immediately retracted, giving the driver more control over when the flip happens. It worked exceedingly well, with Norris managing eight-and-a-half rotations during testing. Had it been filmed, it would’ve been a world record.

9. Miller told vehicle designer Colin Gibson to make the fleet “cool or I’ll kill you”

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The death threat was enough motivation for Gibson, who indeed fashioned an unbelievable crop of custom post-apocalyptic wheeled agents of chaos. Aesthetics were supremely important, though functionality was paramount as all had to hit 80 mph without harming the cast onboard.

10. The cars underpinning the creations were there for a reason

To portray the film’s utilitarian future producers adhered to three tenets when it came to the cars that would have survived: the vehicles had to earn their right to exist; be easily salvageable; and pass a “beauty” benchmark. Anything carbon fiber doesn’t hold up in skirmishes so that was out. Electronic systems render nearly all modern transports useless, unlike a solid V-8 that can be coaxed along with some tape, fabric and gumption. And ugly cars need not apply. Sorry, Prius.

11. Immortan Joe’s GigaHorse was among the more complex builds

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Made from a stacked pair of ‘59 Cadillac Coupe DeVilles, it made sense to Gibson that Immortan Joe would have two Caddys in a world where few people had even one of anything. Working with an engineer and a mechanic, a system was designed by which two Chevy 502 engines could sit side-by-side and connect to the transmission, tail shaft, and rear diff. The engineers didn’t want to hinder any of the gear housing plates, control arms, radius arms, shocks, or bumpstops, so each piece of the vehicle was rendered in 3D to assure fabricators could make it all would work after assembly. The final trick was ensuring the tires didn’t interfere with the chassis. Gibson said it took two months to make the GigaHorse run.

12. The other rides weren’t much easier to create

The exterior of the “Buzzard Excavator,” formerly a M.A.N. 6x6 tractor, was the recipient of 1,757 hand-built spikes. (Not incidentally, the precise number of quills on an Australian anteater.) “Big Foot” is a monster truck based on a 1939 Dodge Fargo pickup fit with 66-inch Goodyear tires and a suspension with four feet of travel. The beast also received a supercharged V-8 with a Turbo 400 automatic tranny mated to axles plucked from military tankers. “Buggy #9” is a C3 Corvette body welded onto a Holden one-ton truck frame a full two feet longer than the ‘Vette. The “FDK” is a Volkswagen Beetle with a V-8 and a bunch of tack-welds; oil barrels along the sides feed fuel to the functional flamethrowers. Bonkers, all.

13. Charlize Theron actually drove the War Rig

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The team made 41 drawings of the War Rig to help coax the 18-wheeled amalgamation to life. A Tatra T 815 truck formed the base with the cabin pushed back to accommodate a second Chevrolet Fleetmaster cabin—plus a Volkswagen Beetle fused atop the whole mess as a turret. A heap of steelwork went into Imperator Furiosa’s ride, as well as a pair of V-8 engines that distributed power to three axles. Theron was initially told she would not be driving but wouldn't be denied the chance to pilot the behemoth at speeds north of 50 mph.

14. Parts from the destroyed vehicles made it all the way to Burning Man

Of more than 150 custom built rides for the film, at least 75 were destroyed. After filming in Africa wrapped a chunk of the crew headed to Burning Man, pilfering whatever scrap metal they could to bring into the California desert. How meta. The remaining drivable vehicles won’t see roads anytime soon; insuring and registering something that’s nine feet tall and powered by three engines would be an arduous process.

15. George Miller does not subscribe to the cult of the V-8

Doing press for the film, Miller shared that his daily driver is a paltry Lexus hybrid. By the rules of Miller’s own fictional universe, that pile of meh should be blown into extinction immediately.