There are very few opportunities for filmmaking teams to work within the same universe for over a decade, but if you're lucky enough to be part of the Mad Max series from mastermind George Miller, then you've spent a good chunk of your life on the Fury Road.

That's the case for art director Jacinta Leong, who worked on both Fury Road and the recent release Furiosa, helping the team design and build those wild vehincles and flesh out the story's key environments. Art directors are the "get stuff done" part of the crew. They help conceptualize and make sure that concept makes it into reality.

On the day I spoke with Leong, she was about to head to another set to pour a concrete slab, but she graciously spent time on Zoom talking about Furiosa's fancy new war rig, how the wastelanders source their parts, and more. Strap in for a ride with Leong and Furiosa!


Editor's note: The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

No Film School: How did you get into art direction?

Jacinta Leong: For as long as I can remember, I think I've been drawn to structure and shape and color. And when I was 6, my parents bought me a set of 24 coloring in pencils. It was a memorable moment. We were also, my sisters and I, we were put into violin and piano lessons, which I think is standard issue for Asian kids.

I thought that I would have a career on stage performing, because I enjoyed theater. But my parents, I think they put a spell on us that we would always go to tertiary education, which might be something of that generation, as well. So I was in a play called the King and I. I was quite struck by the set designer and it turns out that the set designer was an architect, and I thought, "Oh, I could do that like she did." I could study architecture, be a theater set designer, but also have that uni degree.

So I actually did that. I went to uni and studied architecture, and throughout that course I became more interested in film design than theater design. When I graduated, I started writing to studios and production designers and art directors. This is in the days of writing a letter, putting a stamp on it, putting it in the post box or faxing it. And from there I did get a response or two out of many letters, and started in the industry soon after that.

NFS: Furiosa is a return to a world that a lot of us know and love. What elements or settings were you most excited to explore in a new way in this film?

Leong: The new environments that were inta were not only the Citadel, which we saw in Fury Road, but we also got to see the other two trading hubs, which were Gastown and the Bullet Farm. So fleshing out that part of the story, that was another exciting and challenging design project within the project.

And it was good to see these hubs to get the whole story about bartering in the wasteland. The Citadel had produce and water and mother's milk. Gastown had gas and oil. And Bullet Farm had metal and bullets. It was a mine.

So it was lovely. I can't describe it. I think it was a completion of that story and that environment in the wasteland to see those other two hubs.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga\u200bFuriosa: A Mad Max SagaCourtesy of Warner Bros.

NFS: As I was mentioning to you, I am pretty obsessed with this new war rig. So can you tell us how you and the team landed on the look of that and any little tidbits in its creation?

Leong: Actually, it was George Miller's idea to have it chrome. In Fury Road where they spray their mouths with chrome, so that they can enter Valhalla shiny and chrome, that was a design thing with the war rig. It was Immortan Joe's vehicle, the Citadel vehicle that takes the produce to trade, and it is like a flagship. It's a very important vehicle that has to look good too.

How we designed it, after knowing that it's chrome, we needed a real-live prime mover [truck] that could do the moves. In the the stowaway sequence as well as where we see it also at Gastown and the bullet farm, we had Kenworth prime movers.

We had to play as one vehicle. We had three prime movers and they were two automatics and one manual. The tanker itself, we made from the tanker from Fury Road, the war rig of Fury Road. We put bigger tires on it.

And that's another interesting thing with how far do you go with the design? With the Kenworth prime movers, we ordered them with the axle spaces a longer distance to accommodate the larger tires. We extended it by about half a meter for starters. The new ones were delivered to us with this customized axle spacing. And with the manual, which we bought secondhand, we extended it with our very clever team of mechanics and steel workers.

The excavator arms that you see on the prime mover—our mechanic, Mark McKinley, who I worked with on Fury Road as well, he found these excavator arms. I think he looked online for a wrecking site. I'd love to show you photos of how they were delivered to us. They were rusted and yellow and the controls had seized up, but we sand-blasted them and polished them to get them all shiny and chrome. It was like a mirror with beautiful imperfections, is how I would describe it.

And then we added, instead of just the bucket, we had different claws on them for the sequence where the Mortiflyers attack, those excavator arms were hydraulically powered, and that was installed by special effects. They have to make things move safely in camera.

Other fun behind-the-scenes logistics. We had a generator in that large tank that's supposed to be delivering produce and then being filled with "guzzoline." We had a generator in there to make the arms work. Yeah, there's a lot behind the scenes. When you see something and see it work, it's like the tip of the iceberg for all the decisions and all design moments that lead up to that.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga\u200bFuriosa: A Mad Max SagaCourtesy of Warner Bros.

NFS: The other thing that I would love to explore is the various locations that we are exploring up close for the first time. There are also all these different factions and vehicles. I'm wondering if you have a favorite one.

Leong: Oh, wow. Oh, so much to say about this, Jo. But I suppose I can really comment more solidly on the ones that I worked on, which were the Citadel war rigs.

There were two of them, the shiny juggernaut, but also we see for a moment War Rig A, which Dementus is looking at from afar as War Rig A leaves Gastown. And that's when they converge on it, hijack it, and then dress themselves up as War Boys to pretend to return to the Gastown.

That war rig also was fun to work on, even though it only appears in that scene. It was a Mack truck. And to illustrate reuse and repurpose in the wasteland and Dementus' way of taking things, he's reused that Mack truck hood for his six-wheeled monster truck.

NFS: Just thinking about the practical things that you did in this film to reflect on characters in their environment is one reason I just love these movies so much. The worldbuilding feels so expansive.

Leong: And that's how I felt when I read the script. Actually, Jo, when I started on Furiosa, I thought, "Well, how do you top Fury Road? What's next?" And then I read the script, and I went, "Ah, that's how. All these backstories, all these characters, Furiosa and her childhood." That's a really interesting timeline to explore as well. I love how everything's connected. Costumes, sets, vehicles, environments, all being guided by this script, which itself is a distilled document from thousands of other words, other ideas all put into this one script.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga\u200bFuriosa: A Mad Max SagaCourtesy of Warner Bros.

NFS: I know that art departments can be very difficult to get into. Do you have any advice for someone who wants to get into an art department?

Leong: It's advice which worked for me, so I don't want to say that this is the surefire way to get in and do what you want. Everyone's experience will be different.

However, I think the first and main thing is you, and what you want to do. If you have the willingness to do it, you'll get there. You'll chase things and get into it because you want to.
The more you make contact, the better. As I said before, I sent out letters to production designers, and studios. Don't worry at all about rejections, it's just send them out there.

Speaking of No Film School, can I just say I didn't go to film school? I actually applied to get in, and I didn't get in. And that rejection lasted only a few seconds. I read this letter saying you didn't get in, and I thought, "That's fine. Instead of three more years studying after architecture, I'll get that job."

Either path would be fine. If you want to go to film school, absolutely apply and get in there. That is definitely a way to get in. You'll have your contemporaries. If you are studying production design, I think you get to work on a film together with cinematographers, writers, lighting, all your peers, your fellow students, and then when you graduate, quite often, the films take interns. So that is another way to get in.
So if not online, join a guild, go to their functions, read up about it on the website, No Film School, and the more you involve yourself in it, the bigger the chance you'll get of finding yourself where you want to be and you will get there.

NFS: Is there anything else about the film that you want to highlight in terms of your work?

Leong: It was fantastic to be involved in the project. You have an apocalyptic world set two weeks from next Thursday, so you have the Citadel, Gastown, the Bullet Farm, and all their associated vehicles, and it is a wonderful world to explore.

You can't go just nuts going, "Oh yes, we can have anything we want." You do have constraints, which lead you to the design. It was a great project to be involved in. I was on Fury Road 10 years before, and I met new faces, but also had again got to work with Mark Gatt in steel, Mark McKinley, mechanic, Mark Natoli, the sheet metal worker. So it was a reunion, and I didn't think I'd get another chance to work on a Mad Max movie. I worked two years on Furiosa and over one year on Fury Road, and I think in my 30-plus year time in the industry, it's taken up 10% of my work in life. And that is a highlight not only in my career, but also in my life.