With a string of impressive credentials under her belt, including The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge and Australia, Lesley Vanderwalt was Mad Max’s makeup and hair designer, responsible for ensuring the film had a seamless look to portray the post-apocalyptic wasteland setting, working alongside and in collaboration with director George Miller, costume designer Jenny Beavan and production designer Colin Gibson to achieve it.
In 2012 Lesley was drafted in to oversee the whole hair, makeup and SFX makeup area on Mad Max, and she employed Damian Martin to join her as the prosthetic supervisor. Together they brought in crew from around the globe. Lesley says: “A lot of people were not interested in coming away to a country they had never heard of for seven months, but a brave lot jumped on board for the ride. Nadine Prigge from South Africa came on as my supervisor, I had worked with her 10 years earlier on Beyond Borders in Namibia, and Ailie Smith from UK agreed to come on board as my crowd room supervisor, and Kerstin Weller also from the UK came as wig mistress.
“I brought six Australians with me; Anita Morgan, Elka Wardega, Brydie Stone, Tess Natoli, Troy Follington, Paul Pattison, and Audrey Doyle and Catherine Biggs from Ireland. Most of these people were skilled in wigs, hair, makeup and prosthetics as I knew we would all have to be versatile and cover anything that was thrown at us.
“Nadine then helped me crew another 11 artists with varying experience from South Africa, two from Namibia and hairdresser from the States. Damian crewed the prosthetics team of eight including himself from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.”
In total the makeup, hair and special effects personnel were a 35 strong crew. A lot of the sculpts took place in Sydney throughout pre-production, but Lesley lets us in on what life was like on set: “A typical day started with us travelling for 45mins to an hour from town to base camp on location in vans.
“Every day we would do 60-120 of the background ‘War Boys’, mainly stuntmen, and about 8-10 close-up War Boys in prosthetics in the tent. We would allow 2.5-3 hours for prosthetics and two hours for the background boys, stunt doubles and picture doubles, which Ailie would oversee.
“George wanted them to each be involved as much as possible with this process so they did their own eyes and mouths to individualise their looks. The main cast and sometimes doubles would be done in the trucks by their artists. When these artists were not doing their main cast member they would also help out in the tent. We really had to be all rounders.
“From unit base we would usually head out in vans to where they were shooting each day. I would check George was happy and leave Ailie and Nadine to run the set. I would get an iPad loaded up with dailies (footage from pervious day’s filming) from the editors everyday. Sometimes there were hours of them and I had to be selective with what I watched. I used the travel time for this.
“About six of us would head back to town to refill the moulds and prep for the next day. We’d also turnaround and repair wigs, do tests on cast coming in, order stock and so on. At about 3pm we would get a list from the ADs of War Boys that would be coming into close-up the next day and we would prepare boxes of their prosthetics to be taken out at first call.
“I would start working on the call sheet with the 2nd AD, working out who would have to be where at what time and how they would get there and what wigs and crew were required on what unit. We would then work out who would have to wrap early to come back early the next day, staggering the crew so they got some rest.
“On wrap the cast wigs would come back to base to be cleaned and blocked and they would go out with the prosthetics on the first run in the morning. We averaged about an 70-80 hour week.”
Lesley details more about the biggest challenges she found on set, including finding a crew that could handle the desert location and its difficulties: “It wasn’t for the fainthearted.” She also lists her main challenges as getting final approval for designs, keeping the makeup secure in the cold, heat, sandstorms and against the props and huge vehicles. Oh, and trying to stick to a budget!
Some of the challenges faced were also what Lesley loved most about the experience too. She said her favourite things were: “George, the cars, working with Jenny and Colin, the desert, my crew who hung in there and supported me.”
Lesley says she’s not surprised that the movie has received such a fantastic response since its release: “I always thought it would be amazing. Everything I have done with George always has been. His attention to detail and the fact he will never let go of his vision astounds me and all I could say after seeing it in its entirety was ‘wow, wow, wow! I have been very lucky in my career to work on some wonderful projects and all very different, but this journey is rated among the best.”
And how would Lesley sum up making Mad Max in five words?: “ONE HELL OF A RIDE!”
>>Read our other interview with Mad Max’s costume designer Jenny Beavan here.