"Mad Max: Fury Road" is the opposite of subtle. There are massive explosions, hordes of dehydrated mutants, women being literally milked... It's an insane wonderland of brutality and over-the-top visuals. But there is nothing crazier in the entire movie than the Doof Warrior, a blind mutant wearing a red onesie, riding a truck made out of amps and speakers who wields a flame-throwing guitar and never stops playing rock music.
Here's the crazier part: all of it was real. Or at least, the actor/musician wearing the makeup actually did all of that for real... And to find out more about how it all came together, MTV News hopped on the phone with "Fury Road" production designer Colin Gibson.
MTV News: There's a lot of crazy elements in the movie, but every time that guitar guy appears you can't take your eyes off of him... So where did the initial genesis of that look and of that idea come from?
Colin Gibson: Well, the initial genesis I have to say, when I came in -- when I was offered the project -- there wasn’t a script, but there were all the storyboards. And every armada, every battle, every army, has a little drummer boy. Uncle George, being George Miller, imagined the biggest little drummer boy in the world.
So the plan basically was to try to come up with a vehicle, an idea that could be heard over the roar of a couple of hundred amps. And the only way to do that was to build the largest, last Marshall stack at the end of the universe.
Bungee cord included, the best guitarist in the world in front of it -- and then backing with some tiger drummers and basically trying to build the drums more and more. We ended up with an 8-wheel drive, an ex-military rocket launching track to give us enough scale, and then turned the reverberators and built them out of old air conditioning duct steel.
With that and a little stage and a huge PA system -- and then George cast a fantastic singer performer, cabaret artist called iOTA in the role of Coma the Doof warrior. And the Doof machine basically was just that. It was a huge thing that went “Doof, doof, doof,” and gave us the beat of the battle.
MTV: So wait, the whole thing actually worked?
Gibson: You bet your sweet... George -- unfortunately -- doesn’t like things that don’t work. I have in the past built him props that I thought were just supposed to be props, and then he goes, "Okay, plug it in now."
The first version of the guitar which -- I think I put too much into the flame thrower, not enough into the reverb. And yes, the flame throwing guitar did have to operate, did have to play, the PA system did have to work and the drummers... Unfortunately, I did get practice in all positions and I’ve got to tell you, the drumming was very uncomfortable at 70 [kilometers] an hour, eating sand.
MTV: Since it was so uncomfortable, was anybody hopping up on the truck between takes to cheer up the troops? Or were they all like, "Please. Just a moment of quiet."
Gibson: Not between takes, there was far too many during the takes where it was being played -- so no. George actually had the guitarist come over, fairly early on in pre-production in Africa. And so he had a month or six weeks of getting used to it, of actually being able to play at full speed, while bungee jumping and blind.
MTV: Let’s talk about the flame throwing guitar a little bit. Was that in the storyboard as well or was that something that developed along the way?
Gibson: It wasn’t in the story boards per se, it was more a way of punctuating action. It was a bit like a Kiss concert: there needed to be flames. There needed to be fun. And unfortunately, there weren’t too many places on the vehicle to have it done -- and nearly all the other vehicles had flame throwers or machine guns.
And then George wrote in the battle between Max and the Doof warrior as Max makes his way along the single file trail of vehicles, making his way back to the front in the last race. So it was necessary to arm the Doof warrior as well. We had to give the flame thrower to his vehicle.
MTV: I have to imagine there are certain challenges involved to making a playable guitar that also can shoot fire... So how do you fit everything that’s important into that one chassis?
Gibson: Well, I’m short and I’ve spent my life working on those sort of problems. Fitting everything into a small chassis is just part of my lifestyle.
MTV: Fair enough... For the Doof warrior himself, the movie is vibrant -- there’s these incredible oranges and blues throughout -- but the red onesie that this guy is wearing, is very unique and different. Why choose that color in particular for him?
Gibson: The coloration that we chose for the picture was an ongoing gag. George was trying to control what the audience focused on. Usually, directors desire to draw the eye to the right thing, and production wise, we tried to throw makeup on the characters, we tried through the coloration of vehicles and the sets and the weaponry... [We colored] everything back to a sort of beaten metal and black with a slight rust between it, so that people’s flesh tones would pop.
So that our lead heroes, the people we saw in close up, their flesh would pop. But slightly secondary characters like the Doof Warrior had to have a way to make them pop in the frame, but not working on their flesh tones -- and so the easiest thing was to make them red.
MTV: Was there ever a worry about overloading the character with everything going on? Not that the movie is underplayed in any way, it's brilliantly over the top, but was there a concern that a bungee-jumping flame-thrower guitar playing blind mutant in a red onesie riding a car made of amps might be one element too much?
Gibson: Oh no, I don’t think that George is one to worry about going over the top. My job, partly, was as anchor. I’m a bit of a fan of real physics, and so as long as I can make it believable, and logical, as to what they could do, I was happy to go ahead. George will always push things just a little further, because that’s what he does for a living.
MTV: George also came up with this incredible back-story for everyone... I imagine the Doof warrior has a backstory, too?
Gibson: Pretty much everybody had to have a reason for existing. His reason for existing was that he could play the guitar -- and there was sort of a theory of what the social hierarchy and everything was: you were either available to do battle, as a war boy; or you had a higher status than anyone else; or you had a particular skill.
Obviously mechanical was the strongest of those [skills], but this was one, too. And though he was born blind, and ordinarily that would of meant you had nothing, and [they would] break his legs and leave him on the hill, Spartan style. But he had this talent to play the guitar -- so he certainly had earned his place in the pantheon.
"Mad Max: Fury Road" is in theaters now.