The Envelope: Making up the apocalyptic world of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

Sand was an issue on “Mad Max: Fury Road,” with, from left, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton, Zoe Kravitz, Charlize Theron and Riley Keough. Hair and makeup designer Lesley Vanderwalt said “major exfoliation” was required.

(Jasin Boland / Warner Bros.)

If the hair and makeup from the post-apocalyptic science-fiction film “Mad Max: Fury Road” looks out of this world, it very well might be. That’s because hair and makeup designer Lesley Vanderwalt grew up in a faraway land known as New Zealand.

“In those days, we were far removed,” she said. “They’d ship everything over, so you’d get magazines like four months after they’d been released in the United States and Europe, so we were always quite a way behind the trends. But Kiwis are really innovative people, and we try to make up a lot of our own things.”

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After launching her career in New Zealand, Vanderwalt moved to Australia to work with director George Miller on 1981’s “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.” Since then, she has become both a longtime resident of Australia and a frequent collaborator on Miller’s films, having worked with him on 1998’s “Babe: Pig in the City,” 2006’s “Happy Feet” and, most recently, 2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road.”


What were the challenges of filming in a Namibian desert?

It was extreme temperatures, extreme conditions. We were doing white makeup and white clothes and pale girls and all that. Because the dust coming off the desert was this incredible red color, we’d dust them all off, clean them all up, hopefully get them white again. And then some days you’d have sandstorms out there, so a major exfoliation that would just remove everything. And the hair lace of the wigs, all the sand would get stuck in it. So it was constant maintenance and constant laundering of everything that turned red during the day with the desert dust.

Was it difficult to convince Charlize Theron to shave her head to play Imperator Furiosa?

We didn’t even have to push her. She did it. [Furiosa] was a female living in this men’s world. And to me, it would be quite a violent men’s world. So she would have had to be better than any of the men. She would have had to be the best mechanic, the best driver, the best fighter. She would not have had hair that would have made her look more like a female.


How did you come up with her black makeup?

There was a tribe of African women that wear clay across the top of their foreheads from the eyes up. And one of them was a chalky brown color, which I ended up using on the War Boys. But originally, we had that on Furiosa. And before we got to Charlize and Namibia, I did it on lots of stand-ins and extras, and we played with it and played with it. And then we went over into black. And then I was going, “That could be the grease from the engines.” So I just mixed a bit of bronze and a bit of silver together that could have come from metal shavings when they were filing things, and rubbed that on in the center of these foreheads to give a bit of illumination and light. So that’s where the black came from, the black foreheads.

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What was your inspiration for the War Boys’ scarification?

They’d be sitting around for hours and hours on end with nothing to do. There are no books left in this world. There are no references, no art. So all they know is their cars. So they carve out car pieces on themselves and tools that they might use. That’s their art form.

Miss Giddy had a few tattoos.

Basically, we did a scan of her body and made a model of her body and put acetate paper over it, and we got encyclopedias and actually wrote the history of the world all over this dummy body. And then we sent those off to the States to Tinsley [Transfers], who made the tattoo sheets up. We’d spend nearly five hours applying all those tattoos to her body: her chest, her back, her arms, her neck, her face, her ears, her legs sometimes. And then she’d go home with a pair of silk pajamas and a silk pillowslip and silk sheets, and she would sleep in these tattoos. And then come back the next morning, and we’d finish the makeup, put the wig on. And that would take another two hours. So she was literally a seven-hour makeup, the longest. But then we could keep the tattoos on for three days in a row.

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