The Inverse Interview

How to Build a War Rig

The art director of Furiosa reveals how they pulled off that intense War Rig parachute heist, and more.

Warner Bros.
The Inverse Interview

What do the Logos of The Matrix, Anakin Skywalker’s speeder in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, and the War Rig in Mad Max: Fury Road have in common? They were all designed by Jacinta Leong, the creator of some of the most iconic vehicles in modern sci-fi cinema. She returns to the Mad Max franchise to lend her expertise to the jaw-dropping designs of Fury Road prequel Furiosa, but there’s a certain degree of irony to the fact that Leong’s name has become synonymous with badass sci-fi cars.

“I am not a gearhead in real life,” the art director tells Inverse with a laugh. “I think I do have an interest in those things. I think I am drawn to some sci-fi and futurism, not only as a designer but as a viewer. But that said, in design, we just do anything.”

Design may be one of the industry’s most exacting disciplines. It crosses over with so many other departments, and largely lives in a film’s unspoken themes, but it makes a huge impression either way. That goes double for something as involved as Furiosa, the prequel to one of the most visually stunning films ever made.

Jacinta Leong was one of the crew members who returned after working on 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road.

Warner Bros.

Leong herself never imagined working on a film that could top Fury Road. During production on the 2015 film, Leong would walk through the workshop, which housed the designs and builds of dozens of vehicles, and think, Gosh, this is amazing. Enjoy this moment. You won’t get another chance to do something like this.

Back then, the idea of Furiosa was little more than a rumor, a dream that Miller was still tinkering with. Leong caught glimpses of story ideas while working on Fury Road, but it still came as a surprise to hear about it again 10 years later.

When Colin Gibson, the production designer Leong worked with on Fury Road, asked her to return as art director, she experienced that archetypal “pinch me” moment. “I was thrilled,” Leong says, but there was an element of apprehension there, too. “It comes with the nature of these projects,” she adds. Fury Road is now unofficially regarded as one of the greatest action films of all time. The struggles behind the scenes have become similarly infamous, with its production delays and on-set feuds fueling nonstop curiosity. Either way you slice it, it’d be a tough act to follow.

Returning to the Fury Road

Jacinta Leong and George Miller discuss a design element for Furiosa.

Laurie Faen/Warner Bros.

The scope of Furiosa was also much larger than Fury Road. The film follows Furiosa’s quest to return to her childhood home, the Green Place of Many Mothers, in the 15 years leading up to the 2015 film. “I remember getting a chart and it tracked Furiosa’s timeline and who was where in those moments,” Leong says. Printed out, the chart was at least 4 feet wide — but Leong wasn’t that daunted. Questions of continuity aside, she and the art team still had plenty of room to explore new ideas. In the end, their goal wasn’t to surpass Fury Road, but to supplement its story and visuals and epitomize Miller’s vision.

“We met with George every week on Furiosa,” says Leong. The department heads would share updates on designs and pitch new concepts, either at Miller’s offices in a repurposed movie theater, or in the Furiosa workshop, where multiple teams would collaborate and construct the film’s many gnarly vehicles.

Jacinta Leong designing the vehicles of Furiosa.


“We worked with stunts and action teams at a computer,” Leong explains. “I would be modeling sets and vehicles. Then I would send it to them so that they could create their stunt viz [with] an Unreal Engine.” Swaths of sequences were mapped out beforehand, from the abduction of young Furiosa (Alyla Browne) at the beginning of the film to one action sequence that famously took 70-plus days to shoot.

Crafting the Grueling 70-Day Action Sequence of Furiosa

The Octoboss’ (Goran D. Kleut) attack on the War Rig makes for the central set piece of Furiosa — and one of the most thrilling action sequences of the year.

Warner Bros.

The “stowaway sequence” is the lynchpin of Furiosa. It reintroduces the heroine (now played by Anya Taylor-Joy) as a capable and ruthless fighter, pairs her up with the stalwart Imperator Jack (Tom Burke), and finally unleashes the War Rig across miles of open road. When the vehicle is attacked by the Octoboss and his own splinter gang, Miller finally gets to show us what his newer, chrome-ier Rig can really do.

Leong and her team took inspiration from Stagecoach, the 1939 Western directed by John Ford. The film follows a group of strangers on a trek through the Wild West, and each threat they faced — from drunken bandits to Apache warriors — helped inspire some facet of Furiosa.

“Everything that happened in or around or close to that vehicle, that was a reference point for the War Rig,” Leong adds. It also helped inspire the “Motorflyers,” the motorcycle gang that answer directly to the Octoboss. Their use of paragliders and skis allows them to attack the Rig from the air, as well as the road, in a sequence that easily could be the best of the year.

That sort of action was difficult to coordinate, and Leong spent a lot of time tweaking the design with Colin Gibson. The team considered every type of ski: some worked on grass, others in snow. They even considered using the mud guards that cover motorcycle wheels. For the parachutes that would support the Motorflyers, Gibson found champion paragliders to hold demonstrations for the team. “There’s all these things you have to do to land at one result,” Leong says. Still, all that work definitely paid off. This sequence was arguably the most involved, but the Furiosa team put in enough work to make it look effortless.

“Tricking Out” the Updated War Rig

Jacinta Leong working on the War Rig for Furiosa.

Laurie Faen/Warner Bros.

Building the Rig itself — gaudier, heavier, and “tricked out” with new methods of defense — was another hurdle. “Having worked on the War Rig in Fury Road, it came flooding back pretty quickly,” Leong admits. It helped that the old tanker used for the Rig was still around: It’d been sitting in storage for 10 years. But Leong and her team still had to update the Rig for the world of Furiosa.

A Kenworth prime mover served as the skeleton for the Rig, and the Furiosa team used three separate trucks for different sequences. “There were many things to consider with those differences to make them look the same,” Leong says. One truck notably had a manual transmission, while the rest were automatic. “On the manual prime mover, there was a spinning universal joint where [Furiosa] was meant to be hiding.” That limited Furiosa’s coverage to the automatic trucks, which had to be fitted with a false stick shift and clutch.

At the end of the day, though, three trucks are much better than one. With the bulk of Furiosa’s action sequences shooting on Australia’s open road, the team had to prepare for anything. “After all, we can’t just call roadside assistance,” Leong adds, laughing.

For all its technicalities, the War Rig turned out to be Leong’s proudest achievement. “It occupied so much of my time and thought, and I loved it,” she explains. “I just enjoy working on this machine for every detail … even designing or creating spaces to fit gear that you’re not meant to see.”

The structure for Gas Town in Furiosa.

Laurie Faen/Warner Bros.

It helped that every department seemed to share Leong’s enthusiasm. If nothing else, the Furiosa team was united by one mantra. “‘Reusing and repurposing the Wasteland’ was one of the principles that defined much of our design work,” Leong explains. “Each design had to have a recognizable precursor, and when you put all these components together, they had to come together with grace.”

Apart from Westerns, Leong and her collaborators drew as much as they could from the real world and art history. The Serra Pelada gold mines of Brazil — and the haunting black-and-white photographs by Sebastião Salgado — served as inspiration for Bullet Farm. A key set in Gas Town borrowed more literally from a famous John William Waterhouse painting, “Hylas and the Nymphs”: The first Guardian of Gas Town (Peter Stephens) is seen recreating the painting in mural form, and it’s just one of Furiosa’s allusions to myth. Years later, once Dementus takes over, that same mural is scratched up and smattered with blood. Those two shots encapsulate Dementus’ instinct “to take and overtake”; they’re a subtle but widely effective example of design used to convey character.

“It really is a true collaboration, isn’t it?” Leong muses. Multiple departments had a hand in bringing that moment to fruition, and countless other moments throughout Furiosa. Even Leong was impressed by the finished product. “From the moment the script is written to when it’s been edited, it involves so many departments … seeing it on the screen is the essence of these moments.”

Furiosa is available to purchase on Digital now.

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