How’d They Do That? – The Back To The Future Trilogy

Welcome back to How’d They Do That? Each week, we check out behind the scenes stills and video from the making of some of cinema’s greatest! This week, our fearless Editor in Chief celebrated 30 years on planet Earth with a Back to the Future themed extravaganza, so to celebrate I thought it would be interesting to have a look at the entire Back to the Future trilogy. Back to the Future is as perfect as a time-travelling adventure comedy ever could be. The film’s cast and spot-on script is supported by a wide variety of visual and practical effects across all 3 films.

Below, one of the first few money shots that showed up in a lot of the promotional material. As a kid I always thought they matte’d the flames between Marty (Michael J Fox) and Doc’s (Christopher Lloyd) feet, but as it turns out, Marty and Doc were shot against blue screen and placed over the practical flame effect.firebluescreenNot an effect, but the below shot is an important part of the making of Back to the Future. Although Michael J. Fox is beyond perfect as Marty McFly, and was the first choice for the role, he wasn’t the first actor to be cast in the part. Unable to get Fox out of his Family Ties contract, director Robert Zemeckis cast Eric Stolz as Marty. 4 weeks into filming, Zemeckis felt that whilst Stolz was giving a strong performance, it was a “terrifically dramatic performance” and ultimately wasn’t working for the film. Stolz was let go, Fox’s schedule opened up and the rest is cinematic history. Below we see Stolz and Christopher Lloyd filming the sequence in the Twin Pines Mall parking lot at the start of the film.

If history tells us everything, it’s that all good conversations should happen on the bonnet of a Delorean. Below we see Zemeckis, Fox and Producer Steven Spielberg chatting between takes on the Universal backlot.


Moving on to 1989’s Back to the Future Part II, the films plot allowed for a wider array of visual effects as Marty and Doc travel forward to the futuristic year of 2015. Below is a great example of the amount of work that goes into such simple effects. Each of the crew laying out of shot below Fox is operating a cable to ultimately provide the ‘size adjusting’ feature of the Jacket.


Of course, the breakout star of Back to the Future Part II wasn’t any of the actors, just a pink plastic hoverboard that flew off the screen and on the Christmas wishlist of every kid and adult. Using a combination of wirework and post production digital effects, the Hoverboards blew audiences away. Check out the below test shots of the various Hoverboards.

Below, an Industrial Light and Magic crew member makes some adjustment to the flying Delorean model.


More magic from ILM, the crew shoots the flying Delorean miniature (including real-estate flags hanging from the car) for the finale of Back to the Future part 2. The model is ‘flying’ thanks to the help of a gimble rig allowing the crew to move and tilt the car for its confrontation with the great lightning storm of 1955.

bttf2endflying car

For the finale of the famed trilogy, a complete change of scenery was in order. 1990’s Back to the Future Part III swapped the Universal backlot for Monument Valley and various locations around California to provide the western landscape of 1885 Hill Valley. Amazing, the Hill Valley set was completely built from scratch for filming. Part 2 and Part 3 were filmed back to back, over 11 months. This schedule was especially hectic for Zemeckis when Part 2 was in its editing stage. Zemeckis would fly from set, back to Hollywood, each night to work on the Part 2 edit, and then fly back out to set for Part 3 each morning.

Below, the Delorean is pulled along next to a crew car during the sequence when Doc and Marty test the speed of a horse drawn Delorean.


Model Train geeks, get excited! Check out this wonderful shot of the scaled down version of the Delorean and the ill-fated locomotive used to get the car up to 88 MPH during the final sequence.


Doc looks petrified as he carries Clara on the hoverboard off the train. Shot against a blue screen, Doc is attached to a rig to provide the illusion of ‘hovering’.

The last visual effect of the trilogy – Docs time travelling train. Here, the ILM crew make some last minute adjustments before filming the training flying out of camera in the last few seconds of the trilogy.
Its always wonderful to re-visit a classic and Back to the Future has always been a favourite. I hope you enjoyed this look back at the future (get it!) and Happy Birthday to our fearless leader Ryan – who continues to inspire and drive the future of this site every day!

Got a favourite memory from the Back to the Future? Feel free to drop us a line on the comments below! Until next time, keep watching and asking How’d They Do That!