Oscars Lookback: Mad Max: Fury Road’s Sweep during the 88th Academy Awards

By February 23, 2022 No Comments

In another addition to our Oscars Lookback, we will be featuring a movie that took home an impressive, SIX awards at the 88th annual Academy Awards in 2016 making it most awarded movie that night. Mad Max: Fury Road swept the technical categories Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and of course, Best Makeup and Hairstyling.

This action film starring Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy is set in a post-apocalyptic world as established in the Mad Max franchise which started in 1979. It follows a female warrior, Furiosa on her adventure to find her homeland, all the while helping a group of women enslaved by a tyrannical ruler and finding an unruly alliance with a man of few words and former captive, Max Rockatansky.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling winners, Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega, and Damian Martin had the challenge of creating looks that fit the dystopian, futuristic wasteland world that director George Miller had envisioned. In order to do this, Vanderwalt and the team watched the first three movies in the franchise as research and to figure out a way to incorporate the old Mad Max aesthetic to today’s modern standards. Vanderwalt also mentioned to Allure magazine that she looked “at oil fields in Angola, the workers of Salgado, the rubbish heaps in the Philippines, and other bleak environments” along with ”African tribal and Indian religious festivals and Polynesian and Maori scarification” for further research in understanding the characters.

“We looked at the background each character came from—what they did with their days, weeks, and months in that toxic environment and what position they held. George and Nico [Lathouris] had written backstories on all the characters, which was a great help”

– Lesley Vanderwalt on where she found inspiration for the film’s makeup during an interview with Allure

Filmed in Namibia, South Africa, Vanderwalt said that the weather was one of the biggest challenges during production. The desert’s fluctuating weather conditions from frosty early morning and nights to scorching sandstorms in the afternoon challenged wig durability and made prosthetics appliances rub off during stunt sequences due to sweat. 

Vanderwalt however, also credited the weather conditions in making the world and characters come to life. When referring to the Five Wives, Vanderwalt understood the gritty nature that the film had to be and didn’t want them to look too editorial. Opting for a “no-makeup makeup” for these characters, Vanderwalt used the natural conditions of the weather to accentuate the looks using dust and dirt as a bit of contour to shape the face and stippling sweat for glow creating an unearthly post apocalyptic beauty.

“When you work with dirt, you use it almost as a shader, sculpting the face with it a bit. You don’t purposefully do it, or it looks very fake. You do a little spot here, or smudge there. Artfully applied dirt, we call it.”

– Lesley Vanderwalt on using natural conditions such as weather to help create dimensions in makeup during an interview with Vogue

The use of more traditional makeup for the Five Wives was intentional. In an interview with Vogue, Vanderwalt said she created these women to appear almost like a mirage in a bleak and desolate world, giving off a sense of fantasy and desire. The movie uses makeup to differentiate the tribes and the alignment of the characters. Protagonist Furiosa, for example, wanted to be respected by the men in this world and therefore had to eliminate feminine features such as Theron’s blonde hair and donning black war-painted eyes almost vigilante-like mask to showcase her heroism in wanting to free the Five Wives.

On the other hand, the antagonists like Immortan Joe and the People Eater had various scars, sores and were dressed up in metal and chains to represent their disturbing and evil nature. Other characters from the War Boys like and Nux along with Miss Giddy had spent 3 to 6 hours in the makeup chair for intricate tattoo and scarring application. The actress for Miss Giddy was revealed to have slept in the makeup the night prior to make the process faster. The film used prosthetics and tattoos to showcase the bleak and toxic environment these characters had lived in and the variety of injuries and diseases they would have had to endure. 

Mad Max: Fury Road’s Oscar sweep for the technical categories is a good demonstration of how important world building is in a production. It shows how a unified vision and good team work can elevate a production into something great. For next week’s Oscar throwback feature, we will be showcasing a movie that proves it’s not easy being green.