Colin Gibson wasn't even sure he wanted to tackle the production design for "Mad Max: Fury Road," but it certainly worked out for the Art Directors Guild award-winner and Oscar frontrunner. He re-imagined a fresh and arresting return to the post-apocalyptic wasteland that George Miller made famous.
"The greatest fear when it was offered to me was it's all been done before," Gibson admitted. "But I was fortunate enough in that I had a fair amount of time and there was no script. So I got to sit down with George and talk and then try to write a bible. We actually started from the premise that we were looking back at this time as a sort of history man slightly further in the future than the time the story took place. And that gave me the chance to reinvent the anthropology."
Gibson took all of the storyboards and "stepped back and did a philosophy, a history, a longing and a desire to each and every one of the characters. But the first priority was finding the right black desert landscape for the wasteland and a location that was also vehicle-friendly for racing.
After visiting all of the "postcard-poor places in the universe that nobody else wanted to go," the Australian production designer found what he wanted in Namibia, which contained several flavors of desert all in one: riverbed canyons, large orange-and-pink dunescapes, a nearby mountainous ridge, and "empty, open nothingness for 360 degrees."
"The landscapes were a help but it needed a lot of work," Gibson continued. "We rebuilt some of the canyons, we extended walls and we built more than 300 fake rocks to cover everything from small plants to 50-foot trees.
"Once we decided to flesh out their philosophy and history to give them their own aesthetic, we had to work in that there all that was lost for a feudal fall. It was aberration, wonderment, guilt, longing, and brutality all working toward this new aesthetic."
As a result, the War Rig and the War Boy’s vehicles were conceived as salvage wreckage, but designed as a combo of fetish and beauty. "Maybe no one else finds the 1959 Cadillac Coup De Ville awe-inspiring, but it still works for me."
But if Miller was ahead of the post-apocalyptic curve with "Mad Max," then he's come full-circle with "Fury Road," only he's become a much more accomplished filmmaker, which why he's the Oscar frontrunner for Best Director.
"The timing is great, if a little sad," Gibson observed. "We're all ready and able to be re-focused on the concept of an apocalypse as history circles back round on its own tail. Sad to see we haven't really learned anything yet."