Australian Made — The Cars Of Mad Max: Fury Road

Interview & Photography: Luke Ray

Monday morning, right after a full-on week for Mark Natoli. Mad: Max Fury Road had opened in Sydney on the Thursday prior, the world premiere of the film. Various Fury Road vehicles had been shipped in for the premiere and extensive marketing exercises leading up to it. Having worked on the vehicles, it’s safe to say that week was a fairly crazy one for Mark. Then there we were, standing in a quiet industrial estate in the Sydney ‘burbs, looking at a couple of the star cars parked right in front of us. In a matter of minutes they were about to be picked up and whisked off to wherever movie cars go. A perfect time for me to catch up with Mark and find out what the whole Mad Max experience was like.

Who are you and what part did you play in the builds? 

My name’s Mark Natoli, I have a business in Sydney called Natoli Panel Creations. My specialty is hand forming body panels from sheet metal. I ran the panel fabrication shop where the Mad Max: Fury Road vehicles were created. Collectively, with all the talented people we had across various departments, from design through to fabrication, we built up and modified the vehicles to match the design brief. We also offered up a few of our own artistic ideas during the process.

How did you get involved in building the Fury Road vehicles?

I was approached in 2002 by Colin Gibson, the Fury Road production designer when the first pre-production builds were due to start in Namibia. It was a great opportunity. This is the second movie for which I have been approached to run a panel shop, and to be doing it in Africa was really cool.

At that stage, the plan was to build everything in Africa, close to where filming would take place. The Namibia workshop had already started, and I was due to go out there to start working on the project. I’d even sent out a container of my tools in advance. Unfortunately just a couple of days before I was due to leave (and I’d had a big party!)  the project was postponed for various economic and logistical reasons. [Director] George Miller took a break from the project to make some other films, and some time later things started ramping up again. By that time, the decision had been made to bring the fabrication work for the vehicles to Australia and we started up on the project again in 2011.

On which other films were your fabrication skills required?

My first film jobs were in the special effects department for ‘Matrix’ II and III. I was hired to build multiple light gauge panels for vehicles that self imploded and folded up at the flick of a switch. It was during that period I was asked to do Mad Max. When Fury Road was shelved, I joined Action Vehicles Department working on Stealth, Superman Returns, Baz Luhrmann's Australia, Wolverine and The Great Gatsby, to name a few.

Where was the workshop for the Fury Road cars, and how many people were working on the vehicles?

We were located in Villawood, western Sydney, and we had 150 talented people in there collectively building approximately 150 vehicles including motorcycles, cars and trucks. That number made up various departments. Design,special effects, construction, mechanics, engineers, vehicle cosmetics, paint and panel and roll cage fabrication, we all worked together. So, after the designers supplied the drawings, we would all collectively work on turning the sketches in to real vehicles.

After the development and fabrication stage at Villawood, what happened next?

After Villawood, everything was taken to Broken Hill, New South Wales, as that’s where the filming was scheduled to take place. However, when rehearsals started, it rained heavily and the landscape started to turn green. This turned out to be a problem for the filming as green wasn’t what they were after, so filming was put on hold again. Around twelve months after that, things started up again.

So the vehicles were finished, but had to sit tight for a year in storage?

That’s exactly right, a new location was found in Alexandria, Sydney and they were all moved to there. They weren’t completely finished at that stage. Filming was moved back to Africa again, and so at this point all the vehicles were shipped over there to get started. I was just finishing up some work on ‘The Great Gatsby’ movie at that time, but as soon as that finished I travelled to Namibia to spend six months there assisting with finishing the vehicles and preparing them for filming, amongst other necessary jobs.

Was there a set number of duplicates built for each vehicle?

Yes, many of them had doubles. The ‘hero’ vehicles that were filmed more than others, they had doubles built, some of them more. There were three of Nux’s car, plus a camera platform rig for it which was used for shooting different angles and positions. There were three War Rigs and a couple of Gigahorses.

How did the vehicle designers communicate with you to get the designs made?

There were sketches and drawings provided. We were working with mechanics and engineers who had structurally made vehicles to work and perform. Our direct job was to fabricate these into vehicles that fitted the designers’ visions and ideas.

Would there need to be changes made along the way?

Sure, there are always changes and developments. We tried to get as much of that done in the concept stage as possible. But, practical things always come up. Such as the stunts guys needing things to be done a slightly different way for added safety, or when Nux (Nicholas Hoult) arrived on set, he didn’t fit into the car right so we had to adjust the Nux cars for more head clearance. Also bear in mind that on a shoot like Fury Road, things get damaged and broken, so there was always plenty of work to be done on that side of things.

We also made all kinds of other items, such as props, weapons, all built using from junk in the automotive boneyard that we had onsite. Custom steering wheels were created as well as items in the backgrounds of scenes, things that weren’t vehicles but all needed to be fabricated for the sets.

Was there a purpose-built workshop made in Namibia to work on all of this?

Yes, there was a huge complex made up of a big factory as well as the location crew combined with added containers where all the work was done. We had our guys working alongside a large number of locals. It was actually really good for the local economy as so many locals were employed on the film. It was a massive team effort, and was all extremely well organised. It’s by far the best job I’ve ever worked on.

What can you tell us about these two vehicles in front of us; the Razor Cola and the Nux Car?

They worked… they’ve been through the desert and they survived!  Safety was absolutely paramount, so there were roll cages fitted to all the vehicles.

The premise of Razor Cola was to be Max’s Interceptor reborn after it rolls in the desert and Max is captured at the start of the film. We were asked for the whole car to change to a polished metal finish, which brought with it its own challenges. The black Interceptor from the start of the film had many fibreglass parts on it such as bumpers, flares, spoilers and other bodywork. All of that then had to be re-made in metal to give the desired finish, and then duplicated for the second car. We also had to make it look like all the vehicles were made in a post-apocalyptic world, so they do have that distinctive appearance.

The Nux car is powered by a blown 350 Chev with twin turbos. These cars were real goers! The exhausts were a big design feature for the Nux, shooting flames and rising up in a dramatic way. That, and the crucifix on the front where Max (Tom Hardy) is strapped for a long action scene. As I said, there were four Nux Cars made, three for stunts and one driving buck. They all had to fit the criteria for the required shots, such as driving backwards, the sunroof being ripped off, etc.

An interesting part of the Nux process was an accident that turned into a feature of the vehicles. There were two 1934 Chevrolet five window coupes brought in originally, and then there was a two door sedan also. So we were asked if the sedan could be made to look like the coupes. We did the job, welded it all up but we were concerned about all the exposed metal welds on the body. When George [Miller] and the team came in to have a look, we explained that we could rub back the joints and even paint to hide the welds, but as it turns out they loved the look of the exposed welding. So suddenly the two door sedan that had been cut down to look like the other five window coupes was then the design leader, with all the weld marks. So we had to then go back to the five window cars and fabricate in dummy weld joints to give them all a consistent look.

The Nux cars were heavily reinforced. There were lots of stunts performed all over the cars, so there were platforms and strengthened structures and panels added to allow the actors to be all over them during filming. 

Anymore thoughts about the process, Mark?

The main thing is that everything worked, and worked well. The vehicles all drove around the desert, took everything that was thrown at them, and they performed well.

And that it was a massive stunt-fest! Everyone had a great time. We all did our jobs and got on with making the film. They were all amazing people, and it was an experience I’ll never forget. Everyone involved deserves a big pat on the back.

Our thanks go to…

Kennedy Miller Mitchell  Productions and all involved with the making of Mad Max Fury Road.

This article first appeared in Fuel Magazine issue 20.