The VFX Oscar nom for "Mad Max: Fury Road" is a testament to the continuing power of George Miller’s post-apocalyptic storytelling, only more polished and immersive. It’s essentially one long desert chase in the War Rig, with 75 vehicles, captured mostly in camera, utilizing the invaluable Edge camera rig.
But VFX touched everything, from the spectacular stunts, to the Citadel extension and crowd work, to the CG Toxic Storm, to the removal of Charlize Theron’s arm, to the stylized look of the DI.
"When I first talked to George about the film, he was very clear about wanting the randomness of the real world to play out," recalled Andrew Jackson ("300"), the production VFX supervisor based in Sydney, Australia. "That’s exactly what I like to do because my background is in special effects and model making. And my first thought is always how much of it can we shoot in live-action. So it was wonderful working with George right from the start because we’re both fans of that idea."
Naturally, there was a lot of hand-held action shot inside the War Rig (courtesy of Oscar-nominated cinematographer John Seale). But the vehicle with the Edge crane was so effective that they used it for both static and moving shots.
It all comes together in the scene where Furiosa (Theron) bears down on a flame throwing VW, chased by gang members who have emerged from a burning fuel truck on the end of 20-foot pendulum poles attached to moving vehicles.
"One of my jobs on set was always to remind people to keep everything moving because as soon as the vehicle stops, everything dies," Jackson explained. So it was important for the vehicle that the camera is mounted on to be rocked by the grips. And in post that was one of the big lessons. Whenever one of the vehicles and the cameras weren’t moving, they were some of the hardest visual effects shots to make convincing."
One of the most important decisions, however, was the creation of a postvis department, which provided basic tracking and roto and helped define the edit. "You have a watchable version of the film early on and can help it be much tighter before you turn it over to visual effects," Jackson continued. "Because of the style of this film, a lot of the shots are less than one second long, so it’s really good to know what they are. You don’t want to be adding 12-frame handles to a 10-frame shot."
The most prominent use of CG was the otherworldly looking Toxic Storm (a particle sim done in Houdini), created by Australian-based Iloura."It took a lot of work to make that look convincing and we referenced the biggest tornadoes that we could find that split up into multiple twisters," Jackson said. "But it’s unlike any storm you’ve ever seen. We never did specify what the gasses were but whatever it was made of, this was not a good place to be."
The three-tower Citadel provided Iloura with another VFX task."We shot all of the action on the ground near the base of the towers in Sydney, but the rock walls themselves were a CG environment," Jackson suggested. "We built them from a ridge just west of Sydney called The Blue Mountain. And there are huge cliffs there about 600 feet tall. We went out in a helicopter and flew very close and photographed high-resolution textures, and then using photogrammetry software we built 3D sections from those cliffs and then wrapped them into the shapes of the towers."
Finally, the postvis team did a major section in a canyon where the War Rig pulls off. "A lot of the extension work in that part of the film we called Fury Effects in the end," Jackson revealed. "Although we went to an amazing canyon location, we still had to do a lot of work and there are a couple of shots where they blow up the side of the wall and dropped a lot of rocks to block the passage."