In 1989, Back to the Future Part II was released in theaters, to the delight of sci-fi geeks and general audiences across the country. BTTF II would feature the fictional city of Hill Valley, California 30 years into the future, in the year 2015. To help create the futuristic Hill Valley, director Robert Zemeckis turned to a long-time collaborator, special effects supervisor Michael Lantieri.
In a new interview, Lantieri took a break from working with Zemeckis on the film Flight to discuss how they made hover boards and the flying DeLorean.
It would be much easier today, we had to fly around on piano wire old school and had to hide it. A lot of help from director of photography Dean Cundey and production designer Rick Carter. Designs of the sets with lines and things like that to blend wire. Basically everything was done live action. A simple one was out over the water, the board was just on a piece of mirror that was sitting out there with Michael standing there hovering over the water, it was just reflecting the water.
The hoverboard sequences in BTTF II are really effective. Even to a modern audience, the scenes are believable and exciting. Lantieri and his team are responsible for generations of kids (and adults) wanting their very own hover boards. Even though the film is 23 years old, the special effects are not dated in the slightest, even though they are practically made instead of CGI.
One of the best sequences in the entire BTTF trilogy is the locomotive pushing the DeLorean time machine at the end of BTTF III. This sequence contained a lot of special effects considering it involved a train engine, a DeLorean on train tracks, a hoverboard, and a thrilling rescue. Lantieri explains how difficult it was to bring these elements together for an exciting and memorable action sequence:
One of the things that was a huge huge concern of mine was the DeLorean in front of the train popping a wheelie. I was really afraid of not so much the car but a person in it with the train shoving it. Should something go wrong that train it will go right over top of the car. It was a really dangerous stunt to do. I talked Zemeckis into shooting that scene backwards. It was all in reverse, even to the point we had the hover board on little safety wires that would jiggle it and Michael picked it up pulled it into the car instead of throwing it out.
The Back to the Future Trilogy is one of the best movie trilogies of all-time. It continues to capture the imaginations of anyone who watches it, for the 600th time or the first time. There’s something magical and fresh about a flying DeLorean time machine.