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How They Designed the Characters and Sounds for the Oscar-Nominated ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

How They Designed the Characters and Sounds for the Oscar-Nominated 'Mad Max: Fury Road'

For costume designer Jenny Beavan and the makeup & hairstyling team of Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega, and Damian Martin, the journey of “Mad Max: Fury Road” was all about figuring out a day in the life of the wasteland survivors: Max (Tom Hardy), Furiosa (Charlize Theron), Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his wives, and the War Boys.

Beavan looked at George Miller’s graphic novel and early concepts, which had an S&M look, and made the costume design more masculine. She also found inspiration in Namibia, where they shot Miller’s post-apocalyptic return. The African ethos of recycling and re-purposing became important to the aesthetic, where dressing for necessity took precedence. And Miller stressed finding beauty in the ordinary objects that get thrown away.

WATCH: “How Best Director Contender George Miller Made Oscar-Nominated ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (EXCLUSIVE)”

“They do it extraordinarily, from the beautiful animals they make out of old Coke cans and the things they do with wires and coat hangers and beads,” Beavan explained. “Everybody wore bits and pieces to keep them alive. Furiosa, with a prosthetic arm and a harness, needed something to base it on. I originally gave her a jacket but that was discarded because she didn’t have the freedom to take it on and off.” 

Two highlights were Rictus Erectus (Nathan Jones), with his dolls head necklace (which took her back to her early prop and model-making days), and the Five Wives who are totally under dressed for a road trip with shawls, sarong wraps, bikini tops, and mini-skirts. “They were like a mirage in the desert,” Beavan said. 

The makeup and hairstyling for the War Boys were based on the looks of various tribes. “We all talked about what these people would do with their days and weeks, what they would have available to them,” added Vanderwalt.

The War Boys liked to paint their skin white and etch parts of their cars into their skin and Nux (Nicholas Hoult) has a V-8 engine drawing scarified on his chest, as well as scars on his face and lips. “He also had beautiful scarifications on his teeth to make them look like skulls because they’re all dying and they knew they only had half a life,” recalled Wardega. “So they weren’t totally attached to the world, which is why they could go ahead and do the kamikaze spray paint to kill themselves for the cause.”

Furiosa had be tough right along with the men and her war paint-like look, with black grease around her head, came from one of the tribes as well. Two days before flying to Namibia, Theron called to ask permission to shave her head, which thrilled the makeup/hair team.

“Fury Road” was also a special journey for the sound team. Originally, Miller wanted no dialogue; then, no music. Eventually, though, he decided on a sonic vision more akin to an animated movie, with a fully-layered, intrinsic soundscape of dialogue, music (composed by Tom Holkenborg), and background effects. Even Furiosa’s breathing became an integral part of the fabric. And the framing of cinematographer John Seale (Oscar winner for “The English Patient” and nominated for “Fury Road”) enabled them to pan the dialogue in all directions for an immersive Atmos experience.

READ MORE: “How They Edited the Oscar-Nominated ‘Mad Max: Fury Road'” 

Sound editor Mark Mangini revealed that that the sonic design was always character-driven. “In the opening, Max jumps into his Ford Intrepid, drives off into the distance, and, as he comes toward camera, they blow it up and then he rolls over and gets out of the car. There’s a very subtle beat that is the sound of the Intrepid. The sound team chose to make that a spluttery, de-tuned engine specifically to convey how down on his luck Max is.”

“Moby Dick” even became an allegorical reference, with the War Rig as the white whale and Immorten Joe as Ahab. “And we used that as a literary reference to make some very basic sonic decisions like when the harpoons hit the War Rig, we used the sounds of whale blow holes for the milk and the water spewing forth out of the tanker. And when it does get hit, we anthropomorphized the War Rig with whale groans as if it’s in pain.”

According to re-recording mixer Chris Jenkins, Miller wanted the vehicles to have their own distinctive sounds. “These are living creatures,” he said. “The outside of a truck sounds like a roaring beast but as they move through the wasteland they sound more tortured and inside the cab it’s like a womb with no engine sound.”

There were many obstacles to overcome on location (they rigged a 4×4 vehicle dubbed “Osmotron” for their extensive audio gear), where the atmosphere betrayed the performances. Therefore, most of the sound, including dialogue, was re-recorded in post several times. “The performances were made and remade and reshaped by George in the cutting room,” Jenkins concluded.

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