When Wes Ball finished reading The Maze Runner, the first book in James Dashner’s hugely popular trilogy about a group of teenage boys mysteriously imprisoned by the sky-high walls of a seemingly impossible-to-crack maze, his mind started spinning as he began to think about what Dashner’s world would look like. He hadn’t even signed on to direct the movie yet, but, with a background in VFX it just seemed natural.
“I went and pulled up some of the 3D assets I made for Ruin,” Ball says of his arresting 2012 short about a post-apocalyptic universe. “This one image was kind of my way into the story: This little concept image of this kid standing back-lit against the sun with these huge towering walls behind him. It was like Lord of the Flies. It’s dark and edgy and messy.”
For the uninitiated, Lord of the Flies is perhaps the best way to think of this particular story about a group of boys living in the Glade in the center of a hostile maze that’s teeming with deadly, Alien-like creatures called Grievers. The guys, who welcome a fellow prisoner every month, have created a tenuously stable society. When the rebellious Thomas (Teen Wolf‘s Dylan O’Brien) arrives, however, the once-predictable maze starts behaving erratically, and the hunt for answers as to why they’re all trapped there becomes even more urgent.
As $100+ million production budgets become standard for young adult adaptations, the teams behind smaller movies like The Maze Runner need to really work to stand out, especially when designing a world this elaborately imagined. Here’s how Ball and his F/X team brought the tricky geography of Dashner’s world to the screen.