The 360-Degree Edge Arm, In-Camera Stuntwork, and Coaxing John Seale, ASC, ACS, Out of Retirement
It was a lengthy shoot, with principal photography wrapping in 2012 and a reported return to production for another three weeks a year later. But, just when some fans had given up on ever seeing the fourth Mad Max film hit theaters, Warner Bros. started dropping trailers highlighting what look to be jaw-dropping vehicular action sequences in the finest Mad Max tradition. Is it a return to action-packed form for director George Miller—lately better known for fare like Happy Feet and Babe: Pig in the City? Reviews are under embargo until a few days before the May 15 release. But after perusing the film's production notes and reading up on reports from the original shoot, here's the most interesting intel we found about shooting Mad Max: Fury Road.
Watch the video to see footage of the Edge Arm and the film's stunt team in action.
Director George Miller hired comic book artist Brendan McCarthy to develop conceptual art for the movie, then hired him as co-writer. The first draft of the film was a 3500-panel storyboard. Producer Doug Mitchell called that original storyboard "the Magna Carta at every stage of realizing Fury Road." Source: Warner Bros. Official Production Notes
The show shot for almost six months in the Namibian desert, on Blanky Flats near Henties Bay. (The area was also a location for the 2004 film Flight of the Phoenix, and films including Dust Devil and The King Is Alive were shot in nearby Kolmanskop.) The production moved from its planned Australian locations after heavy rainfall led to wildflowers blooming across the landscape, adding too much life to the barren landscape Miller was seeking. (Some ecologists claimed that the production damaged the environment, charges the Namibia Film Commission disputed.) Source: Wired, Warner Bros. Official Production Notes
John Seale on set. Image via Codex.
Coming Out of Retirement to Go Digital
This was the first digital shoot for cinematographer John Seale, ASC, ACS. The DP, who had worked with Miller on 1992's Lorenzo's Oil, was plucked from retirement for the project. "It was Mad Max, and it was George, after all. So it didn't take too long to decide," he recalled. "I love working with George. He's the loveliest man. You're in the desert, the camera's rolling, the truck's rolling over or blowing up, the weather does not match, and he puts his hand on your shoulder and says, 'Don't worry, Johnny, I'll take care of you—we'll fix it in post." Source: Warner Bros. Official Production Notes
You're Never Too Old
Seale even operated his own camera — a little number with an 11x zoom lens that let him sneak close-ups from a distance. Director George Miller called it Seale's "paparazzi camera." Source: Warner Bros. Official Production Notes
George Miller on location.
An Arsenal of ARRI Alexas and More
Relying on a 37-person strong camera department, the production shot with as many as four ARRI Alexa Plus cameras and another three to four ARRI Ms running simultaneously on any given day. The Alexas recorded ARRIRAW to Codex Onboard recorders. Four Canon 5D Mark IIs and eight Olympus OM-D E-M5 crash cameras also figured in the mix—and George Miller can be seen in promotional footage (above) with a Nikon DSLR. In a note published in Australian Cinematographer, Seale described the camera-testing process, noting "most of the cameras can be bought at the local photo store. However, they are proving that in a fast edited film, their quality is certainly reasonable." Source: Australian Cinematographer issue 55, ACS NSW E-News Dec. 17 2012, Codex, Warner Bros. Official Production Notes
Livin' on the Edge
Key to the production's success was the Edge Arm. LA Motorsports stunt driver and stunt coordinator Dean Bailey outfitted the production with two offroad racing trucks—one for the main unit and one for the action unit—sporting roof-mounted, gyro-stabilized, 24-foot camera cranes that could rotate through 360 degrees of motion. George Miller directed scenes from inside the camera car—actually a 5.6-litre Toyota Tundra with desert tires—watching the action on split video monitors. Video was transmitted from the Alexa units via RF, and Miller could create rough assemblies of the action scenes to determine his need for coverage before finishing a given shoot. "We could put our cameras where they wouldn't go in the past," Miller said, "and weave them through the armada with the wonderful Edge Arm system." Source: Australian Cinematographer issue 55, Warner Bros. Official Production Notes
Leave It to the Truggies
Two radio-controlled truggies (truck/buggy hybrids) carried remote-controlled cameras on Libra heads, keeping crew members out of fast vehicles when possible. Source: Warner Bros. Official Production Notes
Miller has been around long enough that he wanted to capture the action on location and in camera rather than resorting to green-screen shoots on soundstages and CG composites in the final film. But one stunt seemed to be too difficult to shoot practically—Miller wanted the attacking "war boys" to use long poles that would swing them overhead, their trajectory arcing down toward other vehicles. The stunt team finally developed an upside-down metronome rig–basically a 30-foot pole counterbalanced by an engine block attached at the base, underneath a fulcrum. The stunt team pushed and pulled the block, coordinating their movements with the performers on the poles, who stayed in touch via earpieces. "When I saw this footage, it brought tears to my eyes," Miller said. "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." Source: Warner Bros. Official Production Notes
Going Day-for-Night by Overexposing
John Seale said he took a note from on-set VFX supervisor Andrew Jackson, who suggested that he capture a day-for-night scene by overexposing, not underexposing, his footage by two stops. "Printed down, it got us down a darker look, without a lot of noise in the shadow areas, and gave us a beautiful, moonlit effect," Seale explained. Source: Warner Bros. Official Production Notes
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