Movies written, produced and shot in Australia is something of a rarity. Movies featuring four wheel drives instead of sports cars are uncommon, but those showing them in action off road can almost be counted on one hand. A movie with both of those features is something that should be celebrated, and unfortunately in this instance it is sort of hidden in the sidelines for most people.
Yes, I understand I am one of the few people that enjoy taking my 4wd off road, and yes, I know this is a radio control website, but stay with me here! In movie making in major movies before computer graphics miniatures were often used to make scenes realistic, and Rough Stuff was no exception using radio control four wheel drives to shoot or supplement many scenes. We decided our readers needed to know about this so we asked the Director (and Writer) of Rough Stuff, Jonathan Adams, a few questions about the movie and the miniatures that they used.
ARN: Thankyou for answering some questions about the Rough Stuff movie and the miniatures used during filming. Can you give us an overview of what the movie is about and how the movies production came to be?
JA: I had always wanted to do an honest-to-god adventure film which harkened back to the serials and jungle adventures of the 30s,40s, and 50s like “King Kong”, “The Lost World”, “The African Queen”, and “Jason and the Argonauts”. I’m also a huge fan of classic pulp adventure authors like Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Jules Verne. So that kind of “journey into the unknown” genre just happens to float my boat in a big way.
At some point the idea of doing a kind of Australian “Indiana Jones” collided with my love of offroad adventure in what I felt was a compelling way – that I could substitute the Canoes from “The Lost World” or the venture from “King Kong” with 4WDs. Its also a bit of a “Western on wheels”. They become integral to the fabric of the story, and I thought that would be a really fun way of modernising the genre and grounding it in something I can relate to. So once I had that, I started to think what I could call the characters who drive these rigs, and I conceived something between a cowboy and a pirate in the Australian Outback. That got me very excited for the possibilities.
ARN: Why miniatures, was there a specific reason to shooting some of the action in miniature rather than full size?
JA: Absolutely – we needed to use VFX of some sort to create sequences that would be far too dangerous or costly achieve with the 1:1 vehicles. For the climax of the film I wanted to see the two rival vehicles face off in a final challenge – a daring climb up a mountainside. I wanted to see the vehicles climbing a mountainside without tracks, and I wanted the vehicles to be tiny compared to the scale of the mountain. Showing the scale of this sequence without VFX would have been impossible at any budget.
Of course, RC fans will be able to spot the vehicles, but the vast majority of audiences actually can’t tell. I’d wager our miniatures are more effective than any CGI vehicle that’s ever been used. We all know when we see a visual effect shot, but that’s kinda part of the fun.
ARN: Once you had decided on using the miniatures, how did you go about finding a suitable model, and what led you to RC4WD, did somebody on the crew already have experience with their vehicles?
JA: There’s a bit of chicken and egg here, because I was aware that lifelike RC scale vehicles existed, and I had a sense that if we got the technique right in terms of how we photographed them, we could make them look very close to the real thing. So it was a matter of keeping that in the back of my mind, and then when it came time to get serious it was a matter of doing a lot of googling and visiting hobby stores and just generally trying to get a sense of what was out there, and how much legwork has already been done that we could build on. I can’t remember if it was Andrew or myself who found RC4WD, but when we did it was obvious they were ahead of the game in terms of scale realism. And it wasn’t just the bodies and the mechanics, it was all the accessories, like the branded ARB accessories and the Mickey Thompson tyres. I figured those were things Andrew would have to mould himself, or 3D print them, but RC4WD had already done a lot of that work for us. So, it made perfect sense for us to go with them.
ARN: Did your choice of real world vehicles hinge on the availability of small scale ones at all?
JA: Not at all actually – I didn’t want to put too many limits on the hero vehicles, because they had to have an sense of identity and represent the characters who drove them, so it was always a case of hoping somehow or other we could manufacture the shell’s we needed.
ARN: So which models did you use in the end, did they need much modification?
JA: There are only two RC miniatures that appear in the movie – the Toyota FJ40 driven by the The Ranger, and the Nissan Patrol GQ driven by the hero Buzz.
ARN: Was much of the footage shot in miniature make the final cut of the movie?
JA: Shooting miniature footage is actually very time-consuming and fiddly. Because we shoot them in slow motion (most footage in the movie is shot at 60fps) and at a very tight aperture (usually f15 or above) we need a lot of light, so we can only shoot in broad sunny daylight. So we didn’t shoot a great deal of stuff that didn’t make the cut. There was one sequence we did some testing for, which was a Man from Snowy River-inspired high-speed descent down a mountainside.
ARN: I have seen photos of a patrol ute model that looks amazing and came all the way from Italy, how did you make contact with the model maker there?
ARN: It wasn’t just the models that were made in miniature, but sets too, was it hard to find a matching place to build the sets, and then to make them look believable at the right scale?
JA: In a word, yes. I made the decision to shoot outside with real light with real bush backgrounds, with the belief that with the high speed and with some creative editing the scale wouldn’t really be noticeable in context. Then to fill it out Andrew added some scale trees and foliage detail to really sell it. I think it works really well. It just looks they’re driving through a forest of big trees, which is fine! The hardest thing was probably having to rake up all the leaves and create field of fine dirt. If you look carefully, you night see a few stray leaves still in a few shots!
ARN: What was the biggest advantage, as well as the biggest challenge, while doing the shoots with miniatures?
JA: The biggest advantage was that we could perform action without endangering people or the 1:1 vehicles. We didn’t have duplicate vehicles, so we didn’t have the option of rolling them or putting them in really precarious situations. So the miniatures allowed us more flexibility and to push the action into more epic and exciting places.
ARN: Do you think the movie would have had the same look and feel if you had not been able to shoot some scenes in small scale?JA: No, definitely not. As realistic as the miniatures look, I do think they contribute somewhat to “old fashioned” appeal of the movie. Miniatures were a major feature of the movies I loved growing up, like Star Wars, Aliens, Indiana Jones and many others. Having miniatures in Rough Stuff just helps place it alongside those films in style and texture.
ARN: What was your favourite scene in the movie, and favourite miniature scene?
JA: The miniature scene I think works the best is actually the GQ Patrol rollover in the opening scene. Almost no-one, even dedicated RC enthusiasts as wheelers, know its a miniature. So we’re really proud of that one. Fun fact, that rollover was shot by me and my friend Gabe – just the two of us, two idiots sitting outside in the dirt playing with toy cars. And there it is, in the movie, completely convincing.
ARN: For those who are interested, where can you see Rough Stuff the movie?
JA: Head to roughstuffmovie.com/how-to-watch to see all the options.
It is currently only available in Australia, but it will be released in the US soon (hopefully before the end of the year) and the rest of the world soon after again. Its a long road!
For more visit Rough Stuff’s website, Youtube channel and Facebook page as linked below.