Monster Maker

Film production designer Colin Gibson converts vehicles into wondrous machines for the big screen.

By Reed Jackson

When production designer Colin Gibson goes shopping, he has certain criteria. It has to be weird, it has to be wonderful—and it has to accommodate his accessories.

“This one would be great with a flamethrower on the back,” he recalls saying on one of his recent spending sprees. “This one would be good but unfortunately there’s nowhere for the harpoonist to sit!”

Of course, Gibson isn’t just shopping for himself. Usually, he’s seeking out vehicles to chop up, rebuild and monster-ize for the silver screen. Over his two-decades-plus career working on big-budget films, he’s turned numerous cars into wondrous mechanisms of metal, including a number of Fords. His most recent work can be seen in this past summer’s Mad Max: Fury Road, a film where the cars had as much screen time as the actors. In it, three Ford vehicles were used, including an iconic rust-sheened V8 Interceptor (shown above), driven by Max himself.

When selecting cars for films, Gibson approaches it almost like an audition. The cars have to have durable chassis and powerful engines—a main reason he works with Ford vehicles, he says. But they also have to be able to transform and take on character.
Gibson sits down with a mechanic, a steelworker and someone he calls a “salvage artist” to conjure up a background for each vehicle. “You just sort of riff, like a piece of jazz, off the story lines ,” he says. Once the vehicle has an identity, then its exterior can start
taking shape.

For Fury Road, more than 80 cars were designed, which the film’s characters depended on and held more dearly than anything else. A world where no one cares about anything except their revved-up cars—Gibson’s brain livens up at the idea. “The most simple mechanism is what everyone [is] clinging to at the edge of the world.”

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