Immortan Joe and his crew within the Citadel in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Furiosa

Academy award winning visual effects studio Framestore returns to George Miller’s post-apocalyptic desert for Mad Max prequel, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.  

Almost a decade after providing visual effects for Mad Max: Fury Road, Framestore’s Melbourne studio revisited the stark desert landscape to build a new story, exploring the origins of Furiosa (Anya Taylor-Joy). Packed with high-speed chases and intricate environments, Visual Effects Supervisor Josh Simmonds and our artists across Melbourne and Mumbai delivered over 200 shots of adrenaline filled action. The film marks the first feature to be completed in Melbourne on Framestore’s VFX pipeline, following the integration of Method Studios in 2020. 

Hot Pursuit

Furiosa’s origin story commences with her being kidnapped from her home, the Green Place, by members of a gang. Her mother, Mary Jabassa, pursues the riders across the desert, encountering a dust storm. The Namibian desert of Fury Road established a clear look for the teams to replicate in Furiosa, reuniting the audience with a familiar landscape. A barren environment seems like a simple thing to produce, and yet the bare desert contained its own challenge - using subtle natural elements to help form a narrative. “Because the environment is very sparse, we used the tiniest details to aid in the storytelling - faded tyre tracks to show if other riders have passed by - how many, and how long ago, for example” says Visual Effects Supervisor Josh Simmonds. “The Director (George Miller) was very specific about wanting to see the landscape change over the course of the chase; from whiter, pristine sand near the Green Place, to redder, hard baked sand as the sequence progressed.” Miller’s extensive sand-filled body of work best placed him to advise. “George Miller knows his deserts - he knows how the sand should look, move, and react, so we worked closely with him to execute his vision of the Wasteland.”

 

In the tension-filled third act, an adult Furiosa pursues Dementus and his lieutenants through the desert, seeking revenge. The stylised ‘desert-punk’ vehicles race across the sand, side-swiping each other, generating complex interactions for the visual effects teams. “The car chases were an ever evolving process, with editorial and post-vis making rough comps of different takes to really hone the dynamic nature of the sequences,” explains Simmonds. “Safety of the actors and stunt performers is paramount, so many of the more dangerous shots were CG takeovers, and in some cases entirely CG shots.”

 

All of the desert exterior scenes were shot on vacant land in Kurnell, a southern suburb of Sydney, however the environment presented its own obstacles.  “Unfortunately the shoot coincided with some pretty inclement weather, so many vehicles were shot static inside a studio (or tent!), to which we then added suspension and spinning wheels. A key challenge was trying to work with the artificial set lighting to create a natural composite with the bright exterior sunshine.” explains Simmonds. “It also meant that the interaction between the sand, the actors and vehicle wheels wasn’t quite right, as the rain changed the consistency of the ground, so we had to do a lot of careful replacement for anything in contact with the wheels and feet.” 

 

“Given that much of the environment for these shots was created by our team in CG, we tried to use the live-action vehicles and actors wherever possible to lend as much realism as we could. Our vehicle rigging team did a great job of emulating the suspension and tyre squash detail, while our animators worked with a heap of shoot reference to find the right weight for the vehicles, especially the Cranky Black.”

The Storm

During one of the dynamic pursuit sequences, Furiosa and her adversaries encounter a toxic dust storm. The team were given the brief to recreate the iconic dust storm from Mad Max: Fury Road, but for it to be less developed, as the film takes place earlier in the Mad Max timeline. “We worked up the look of the storm in shot as early as possible, as its look depended heavily on the vantage point, and the camera perspectives also dictated the extent of the effect,” explains Simmonds. “We also had some specific storyline points that set the pace and timing, helping us determine the size and speed of the stormfront for each shot.”

 

The effect itself was initially modelled as a simple smooth surface. The team simulated eruptive cloud elements in isolation as tiles, which were then deformed to the smooth surface and overlapped slightly to build up the complete stormfront. Foreground billowing ground dust with suspended sand was simulated as elements to be placed and timed to sweep through the frame as needed. Finally, the artists simulated the protruding "feet" of the storm, to give the effect added depth in frame, introducing some parallax and tying the foreground elements to the background wall of dust.

The Gift

The film also sees the return of Fury Road villain Immortan Joe, as a young Furiosa finds herself in his citadel. Despite featuring in Mad Mad: Fury Road, the citadel’s throne room interior extensions had to be recreated from scratch, using LiDAR from the set-build as a base.

“Immortan's chamber was purpose built for Furiosa; whilst it was similar in many ways to Fury Road, the practical set build changed considerably” comments Simmonds. “Given the events of Furiosa happened some years before Fury Road, there was a sense that it could look a little different while maintaining continuity. Our set had a pathway leading back to a much larger interior lake, with a lot more foliage growing amongst the pump machinery.”

A Sinking Feeling

One of the perils presented by the desert environment is a large sinkhole. “This was a particularly challenging sequence of shots as we had to replace the on-set sinkhole environment entirely in CG,” says Simmonds. “We started by building up a static sinkhole first, with the idea that the sand funnel is dormant until the impact of Smeg's chariot. The level of detail required for the sand simulation was incredibly high given the camera's proximity, and there were no live-action element plates to work with.”


The FX team, led by Steve Oakley, broke up the sinkhole into component parts: interactive sand that moves with Smeg, generic sand falling from other sections, along with a waterfall of sand coming from the Cranky Black at the edge of the sinkhole. This was all simulated in Houdini with quite high particle counts, and then filled out with billions of interpolated grains at render time to get the density needed.


Furiosa premiered in theatres on 24th May 2024. 

Mary Jabassa sits on a motorcycle on top of a sand dune

Credits

Director
George Miller
VFX Supervisor
Executive VFX Producer
Julian Dimsey
CG Supervisor
Nathan Ortiz
Compositing Supervisor
Thijs Noij
Head of Assets
Kiersten Casey
Lead Animator
Matt Weaver
Lead Environment Artist
Cedric Moens De Hase
Head of FX
Alex Whyte
Lead FX Artist
Steve Oakley
Lead LookDev Artist
Sandro Grassetti
Lead Lighting TD
Jonathan Ossitt
Lead Prep Artist
Eric Hawksley
Head of Compositing
Ravi Pareek
Lead Compositor
Darcy George
Lead Compositor
Sagar Doiphode
Head of CG
John-Peter Li
Head of Tracking
Rohit Agrawal
Tracking Lead
Abuzar Hasib
Roto Supervisor
Sagar Adokar
Paint Supervisor
Sagar Ghadge