The Fallout show’s Wasteland looks so good in part because it’s real: Some of it was shot in the same desert as Mad Max: Fury Road

The Vault sets for Amazon's Fallout show were built in a New York soundstage, but when Lucy steps into the Wasteland, the actors and crew ventured outdoors to shoot some of the scenes on location in a genuine ghost town and coastal desert.

Ironically, the desert in question is nowhere near Southern California. The joke about Hollywood pretending the whole world looks like LA wouldn't have applied to Fallout, which is actually set in the remains of California, but instead of using the state's real geography, the production spent multiple days filming in the Namib Desert on the coast of Southern Africa.

Specifically, several scenes were shot in and around Kolmanskop, a former diamond mining town that was abandoned in the middle of the last century. One of the locations they used, according to Maximus actor Aaron Moten via a set of production notes provided by Amazon, was “a bombed diamond mine that is now a hyenas' den.” 

Executive producer Jonathan Nolan says that while shooting at “an abandoned diamond refinery right on the coast” of Namibia, he was told that no one else had ever filmed in that particular location. He also mentions hyenas.

“I've never shot somewhere so remote, where literally the only things there are hyenas,” Nolan said. “It's an incredibly beautiful and strange place.”

Lucy actor Ella Purnell recalls taking a five hour helicopter ride to film at an abandoned shipwreck. “I think I will remember that for as long as I live, it was truly one of the most beautiful things I've ever experienced,” she said.

The Fallout show might've been the first production to shoot at those particular hyena dens, but the ancient Namib Desert has been seen in other big productions. Most notably, Mad Max: Fury Road spent a year shooting its post-apocalyptic car chase in Namibia. The result was stunning, but not without controversy—the Mad Max filmmakers were accused of being reckless with the desert ecology, something Namibia's film commission denied.

A behind-the-scenes photo of Jonathan Nolan and Ella Purnell. (Image credit: Amazon)

If you've watched the Fallout show, you'll recognize the bits that were filmed in Kolmanskop and on the coast of Namibia. The shipwreck is seen at the start of episode two, and whenever the characters wind up in the sand-filled interior of a ruined home, the architecture is noticeably of Kolmanskop, which was built by German settlers in the early 1900s. 

Hollywood's ability to make it look like actors are somewhere they aren't has become remarkably good, but I wince a little whenever I see photos of Marvel actors posing in front of green screens. It would be hard to shoot on location in Asgard, to be fair, but I might prefer the foam rocks and matte paintings of old Star Trek sets to the incorporeal, Unreal Engine tech demo look.

One of the Fallout show's best qualities, I think, is that it looks like the Fallout games without looking like a cutscene from the Fallout games. I'm sure I have no idea how much compositing and CG was involved in making it work, but the locations, sets, and props are at least partially responsible for grounding the goofy videogame logic of the Vaults and Wasteland in physical reality—with the exception of a few scenes where I suppose they couldn't find any giant craters or ruined skyscrapers to film.


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