Friday, June 19, 2015

DSLR Insider on Mad Max Fury Road

Getting Furious with DSLRs and Mad Max

How they really used DSLRs and Redrock Rigs on Mad Mad: Fury Road

In summer of 2012 Redrock was contacted by a South African production company who wanted to outfit some 5D MK IIs for a feature film. They mentioned Mad Max.

(Original Mad Max Road Warrior starring Mel Gibson)
Mad Max, as in "Mel Gibson Mad Max"? We knew the original franchise well, some of our favorite movies! But it had been twenty vie years since Beyond Thunderdome, and even longer since the original Road Warrior. TWENTY FIVE years, that's a quarter century!

16 Years in the Making 

Was this a fan film, a documentary, or possibly an homage? Turns out, they were serious about rebooting the franchise, and we were all treated to the awesome thrill ride that came to be Mad Max Fury Road. (It also turns out this movie was in planning stages as early as 1999. But that is another story)

The Furious (Re)Birth of Mad Max

Fast forward to 2015, as behind the scenes clips and videos started to leak online, we started to get some insights into how DSLRs were incorporated into high end feature film production, including the Redrock gear used to rig them (check out the Fury Rig details at the end of this post).

In context of the movie, the action itself was in many ways the real star of the film, and you might consider the plethora of deadly cars the ‘lead actors’. Shooting this kind of unrelenting action required constant and varied close up action scenes.

DSLRs Deliver the Action, Literally

Looking at the types of shots they needed to achieve, close up and pov action was a big part of the thrill ride. DSLRs are often dismissed as legitimate filmmaking tools, but in the right circumstances and in the right hands, they can really serve a story at any production level. (Other major feature films that have used DSLRs include The Avengers and Iron Man among others)

Insights on How DSLRs Were Outfitted, Rigged, and (ab)Used

Studying the behind-the-scenes pictures and videos of the DSLR operators, and applying a little production and rigging knowledge, here’s what we can surmise. Keep in mind production started some years ago, approximately 2012, so things have certainly changed since then, and the crew would almost certainly have made different choices if shot today.

  1. There were at least four DSLR rigs. Three Canon 5D MKIIs used by the stunt/action team, and a Nikon D800 used by George Miller. While there is some debate (4) as to how the Nikon DSLR was used during production, based on the above still from the bts video it appears Mr. Miller is using it as a director’s viewfinder. You can also see him using the Nikon DSLR with wireless video to an iPad (likely a Teradek Cube ) – probably to give direction to the operator on how he wants that shot framed. Great use of DSLR and wireless iPad video.  

  2. In addition to the DSLRs the Olympus OM-D and Blackmagic cinema camera were also mentioned in passing on the IMDB page (5). For purposes of this article, we will only focus on the DSLRs that were for on-screen production shooting, namely the Canon 5D MKII.
  3. For the rigging, we definitely see action cam style - the DSLR camera ops were well prepared to strap in to cars, on towers, pretty much anywhere they wanted a great action insert or angle of view that would otherwise be impractical or too time consuming to setup with an A or B camera (ARRI Alexa with those huge Panavision primo zooms). Rigs from Redrock Micro were exclusively used with the canon 5D MKII to fit this style, each slightly customized to each operator’s liking.

  4. On these rigs, there are no evidence of external recorders, the camera rigs were small and compact, and clearly not tethered, so likely recording to internal CF cards. Back then (waaaay back, like 2012) external recorders weren’t as prevalent, so it would have been interesting to see if they would use them if the movie were shot today. Our guess is due to the intensely physical aspects of the shot, plus a better 5D MKIII available, they probably would have stuck with internal recording.
  5. For operator monitoring, use of camera-top displays (looks like two different types of monitors, Marshall and smallHD. Elsewhere it appears SmallHD was big on the set). Monitors were powered with Canon LP-E6 or Sony camcorder style, depending on the monitor. In some cases there were HDMI video goggles used. Look like an off-brand, similar to Zeiss Cinemizers.

  6. The Canon EF 16-35 f/2.8L II USM seems to be a favored lens (you can see the tell-tale flower petal lens shade)

  7. Also appears to be prevalent use of screw-in style polarizer, ND, or (most likely) vari-ND filters. Shooting in mid-day sun in the desert would have made ND filtration a necessity.
  8. An interesting addition on one of the camera lenses is what appears to be a gobo-style lens filter that would have footage looking like it was shot POV style through a cage or grate. Very cool and interesting idea, great way to get visual impact with a low cost practical (note the use of video goggles again on this shot).

  9.  Rigs were personalized by each operator, but you see certain things in common. Minimal setup, Two handgrips positioned front and back, maximize stability. Some use the body brace against the chest or rotating 90 degrees and placed on top of forearm as an alternate support.

  10. The rigs were designed to be super lightweight, focus heavily on grip placement and customizability, and included the microBrace bodypad for added stability. The microBrace was also used as a forearm stabilizer when rotated 90 degrees and placed on top of arm.
  11. Why the Canon EOS 5D Mark II? “A number of Canon 5Ds were used as crash cams during the action sequences – as “semi-disposable stunt cameras”. The DSLR was chosen as a proven work-horse crash-cam even though it was released way back in 2008. The 5Ds provide extra cut-away point of view angles during action sequences – the cutaways are so short you don’t notice the changes in image quality.” (3.)
We’re hoping to get additional details from the production crew, so stay tuned!
Other articles and sources mentioned or quoted:

UPDATE: since the release of the movie and huge number of questions we’ve received, Redrock has announced availability of the Fury Rig, the rig inspired by Mad Max Fury Road and the rigs used, and now updated for use with DSLRs, Canon EOS Cinema cameras, and Blackmagic Cinema Cameras.

You can find more details and configure your rig here: 

handheld cinema camera rig

UPDATE 2: there is a great and not well known "making of mad max: fury road" presentation at the ACS with John Seale and David Burr. Highlights on the DSLR side of things (details on the DSLRs starting around 26:30). 

  • They originally started with Olympus bodies (due to the in-body stabilizer), but they had a tendency to shut down on impact,overheat, and when they broke they lost the footage as well
  • they switched to Canon 5D MKIIs as a result, 10 total. 
  • in addition to the operators, they tucked the DSLRs in to various places like exhaust grills and others
  • confirmed 16-35mm EF lens was the lens of choice!
Watch the whole thing, it's a great presentation of the whole film and brilliant commentary on the production and camerawork.


  1. An amazing piece of genre filmmaking, and, frankly speaking, 90% of the Hollywood action film community just got schooled by a 70-year-old veteran.

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