Moviegoers and movie critics have come away from "Oblivion" raving about the vavoom vehicles in the box-office hit starring Tom Cruise -- especially lead character Jack's futuristic folding motocross bike.
Known on the set as "Jack's moto bike," the wispy ghost-white bike wheelies its way across a landscape of desert salt flats -- actually, volcanic sand in Iceland -- and transports the hero into and out of trouble throughout director Joseph Kosinski's dystopian film.
The "moto bike," though, was a Honda CRF450X before local motorcycle-fabricator-to-the-stars Justin Kell started transforming it.
Kell, whose Glory Motor Works has built or restored bikes for "The Master," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and "G.I. Joe 2," among many others, said his company built three futuristic motorcycles for Cruise and Kosinski's stunt crews to ride in "Oblivion."
To do that, Kell removed and replaced the Honda's exhaust system, cooling system, fuel tanks and body work, added all-new lighting and electrics -- all in his Glendale facility, where he also does classic motorcycle restoration work -- and slapped on custom carbon fiber wheels.
That made the bike so much lighter and faster -- "a wheelie machine," Kell says -- that he had to rework the gearing to keep the front end on the ground.
Kell says he was serving two masters: director and star.
The look of the machines, he says, "was all Joe Kosinski. He knew how everything had to work."
But the functionality, he says, was all Tom Cruise. "Everything had to be set up a very certain way. The bikes were built exactly to the specs he likes."
That's because Cruise apparently is a real motorcycle rider.
"In every film I've ever done, they tell me the actors all know how to ride," Kell says. "But when we start, nobody knows how to ride. So when they told me, 'Tom can ride,' I thought, 'Well, no, he can't.' But I was shocked. He's one of the best riding actors I've ever worked with. We didn't have to worry about rider error."
One of the three Hondas didn't survive the shoot -- the victim of stunt work. Another of them was presented to Cruise as a birthday present, on the set, from his director.
The third? It's in cold storage -- in part, Kell says, because it might be needed for an "Oblivion" sequel.
For now, the motorcycle man is working on a top-secret cycle for an upcoming Marvel movie. And, "Oblivion" sequel or not, he says he'd be happy to work with Cruise again.
"He could have a very good career as a stuntman," Kell says. "In case the acting thing doesn't work out for him."
And as for the scenes in which the motorcycle is unfolded and removed from a spacecraft? Movie magic. Kell and company built seven different sections of motorcycle to create the transformation from baggage to blast-off, including a scale miniature.
You can still buy a CRF450X, though, and try folding that.
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