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With a new War Rig and a fleet of motorbikes, 'Furiosa' restarts the motorized mayhem of 'Mad Max'

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows a scene from "Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga." (Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — When it was time to start making “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga,” production designer Colin Gibson went to a garage in Australia to find some old friends.

It had been years since 2015’s “Fury Road” wrapped production. Many of the vehicles seen in the film had been blown up or left to rust in Namibia. But a dozen of them — the “dirty dozen,” Gibson calls them — had been put in storage, including the War Rig, Gigahorse and Duff Wagon.

“They did need a fair amount of cleaning up,” Gibson says a little wistfully. “A lot of the fuel had turned to jelly and the tires sink. And it all seemed so much sadder than you remember.”

Returning to the world of “Mad Max” meant resurrecting the motorized army of “Fury Road,” getting it back into running condition and building an entire new fleet of gas-guzzling, mutant machines of apocalyptic doom.

As terrific as the cast of “Furiosa” is, including Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth, let’s be real. The true stars of any “Mad Max” movie are the vehicles. The characters and actors of “Mad Max” may come and go across the saga’s 45 years, but the marauding mechanized horde keeps chugging.

“In a sense, they’re characters – they’re extensions of the characters,” Miller says. “You see it right through the ‘Mad Max’ films. The V8 Inceptor is an extension of Max. Furiosa ultimately has that vehicle we call the Cranky Black that’s an expression of who she is at the end of the movie.”

“Furiosa,” which opened in theaters Thursday, takes place years ahead of the events of “Fury Road,” so the War Rig and company aren’t called back into duty until the end of the film. But they were a necessary reference point for all the cars and trucks that lead up to that finale. “Furiosa” is a prequel for more than its title character.

“We did use the idea of those other vehicles to build an evolution in,” says Gibson. “So we would drop in vehicles that looked in embryo like some of the vehicles that had since been destroyed or gone to gold or been exploded off in Africa.”

Gibson is a longtime collaborator of Miller’s whose fervor for doing things practically and as realistically as possible is nearly as extreme as the War Boys’ zeal for Valhalla. That was a big part of the kinetic thrill of “Fury Road.” And while that film included CGI in nearly every shot to accomplish its explosive onslaught, “Furiosa” depended on a bit more effects to realize its post-apocalyptic world.

“I don’t like easy,” he says. “We don’t operate very well under easy. It’s one of my ongoing arguments with George. I prefer uneasy, which may be why I’m so annoying.”

Production designers might build the facade of a house or even an entire shell, but they don't have to install working plumbing. Gibson's creations, though, have to move. Most have working engines and when the director says “Action!” they have to move. As he says, “Everything has to be able to do its own stunt.”

“There’s a lot of hidden, unseen effort that goes into that,” Miller says. “It’s a military exercise. Of the shooting crew, there was over a thousand people on set every day, just to keep all that stuff going.”

Gibson, who hadn’t yet seen the film during an interview earlier this month, was still nursing some wounds over the fact that “Furiosa” contains some digital machines, too.

“Unless it’s real, unless the sense of gravity is there, I don’t think you get the hair going up on the back of your neck,” Gibson says. “I think that’s what we achieved with ‘Fury Road,’ and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the CG doesn’t distance us too much in ‘Furiosa.’”

“It is slightly different,” sighs Gibson, “and I’m an old-fashioned girl.”

But “Furiosa” also had many more challenges than “Fury Road,” which transpires across a three-day blur. “Furiosa,” spanning decades, needed more locations. (Here, Gas Town and Bullet Farm are visited.) And a more sprawling array of characters meant a lot more rides.

Dementus (Hemsworth) is a new villain whom the filmmakers styled after a fusion of Roman emperor and Genghis Khan. Early in “Furiosa,” he rides a chariot pulled by three motorcycles. Later, he pilots a six-wheeled monster truck.

The War Rig, the central semi-truck of “Fury Road,” also needed an earlier iteration for “Furiosa.” Whereas the “Fury Road” War Rig was more weathered and beaten up, “Furiosa” finds Immortan Joe’s Citadel at the height of its power.

“So this is Louis the Sun King,” says Gibson. “This is the Palace of Versailles. This is a shiny, mirrored, godlike object racing out into the desert and reflecting all the nothing that’s coming back but also emblazoned with the legend of the Immortan as he sees it himself.”

It’s upon that rig that “Furiosa” has its most lengthy and blistering sequence. And while Taylor-Joy feels a particular bond with the War Rig she spent 78 days crawling across, the thoughtful features of the Cranky Black roadster were more revelatory to her.

“I love the fact there are all these details in the filmmaking that you don’t even see as an audience member,” Taylor-Joy says. “Like, the Cranky Black has human teeth all along the inside, which is so cool.”

But the defining vehicle of “Furiosa” may be the motorbike. Two-wheelers star in the movie’s frenetic start and they only populate from there, eventually filling the desert like a swarm of locusts.

“George had the idea that by the time Dementus arrived at the Citadel, there might have been 2- or 3- or 4- or 6,000 motorbikes,” Gibson says. “I looked at how long it would take me to build that many. Do you know how hard it is to make one motorbike look different from another? They’re basically two wheels and a seat.”

That meant, to Gibson’s horror, the necessity of CGI. But that didn’t stop him from building some 100 characterized motorbikes, along with doubles for about half of them.

“Of all the vehicles, you always love the ones that start with nothing,” Gibson says. “We were fortunate that BMW, Harley Davidson and Yamaha all came to the party and gave us generously of their beautiful machines knowing that there was no exclusivity and that by the time I got through with them, their mother wouldn’t recognize them.”

One bike has particular meaning to Gibson. He built it from an old 1940s Triumph kneeler, the kind used for racing. His mother — “a bit of a devil-may-care Sheila in her youth,” he says — had once worked at a speedway around such motorcycles. Gibson lavished his with detail and texture as a kind of ode to her.

“If I could hang it on a key ring,” Gibson says, “that’s probably the one I’d keep.”


Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle at:

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