Creating the Time Machine

When Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale first wrote the script for Back to the Future in 1981, their concept for the time machine was originally set to be a refrigerator. Fearing that children would imitate the film and get trapped inside, they decided that not only should the time machine be mobile, but it should be a car.

It was during the writing process that the DeLorean DMC-12 was gaining worldwide media attention, being one of the most anticipated new vehicles of the decade. Zemeckis and Gale soon decided on the DeLorean for its futuristic look, notably for the scene where Marty McFly crashes the DeLorean into the Peabody barn in 1955; the gullwing doors made the car look like a UFO.

 

Future Facts:

For the first film, three DeLorean automobiles were purchased for modification into the now-famous time machine. An additional three vehicles were purchased for the two sequels, and a full-sized fiberglass DeLorean replica was built for the flying scenes in Back to the Future Part II.

The time machine was designed Ron Cobb, Andrew Probert, and Michael Scheffe.

Kevin Pike's special effects company Filmtrix built the first three DeLorean time machines in just ten weeks.

Many of the props on the time machines were electrical industrial surplus. However, two iconic props were off-the-shelf items: the nuclear reactor was made from a Dodge Polaris hubcap, and the "Mr. Fusion" unit was created from a Krups coffee grinder.

During filming when the time machine's doors were iced-down, the doors would suddenly fall and hit the actors in the head. Special effects crews had to heat the gullwing door struts with hair dryers between takes in order to keep the doors up.

For Back to the Future Part III, two Deloreans were outfitted with special dune buggy chassis and high performance Volkswagen engines for scenes filmed in the Western terrain.

During the scenes where the 1880's locomotive had to push the DeLorean up to 88 miles per hour, a number of these shots were filmed in reverse to keep the actors and stuntmen safe.

During the scene when the time machine crashes into the Peabody barn, the digital speedometer starts to count upwards at the last moment. This is because of the design of the electrical circuit.

During the filming of Back to the Future Part II, the fiberglass DeLorean was accidentally dropped close to Michael J. Fox, who was standing nearby.

The DeLoreans used in Back to the Future retained the original V6 motor. The sound effects artists changed the sound of the engine to a Porsche 928 V8.

The sound of the DeLorean gullwing door opening was created from a car window regulator. It is the same sound used at the beginning of the film with Doc's automatic dog feeder.

The original time machines had numeric time circuit displays only. Director Robert Zemeckis decided to change them to alpha-numeric displays during filming. Due to the time and expense involved, lithographic negatives were created from an LED display catalog. The "A" and "B" car throughout filming kept the numeric only displays (which can still be seen with a keen eye for detail).

The filmmakers emphasized the homemade look of the DeLorean time machine so that viewers could believe that Doc Brown actually built the car in his garage. They didn't want it to look too sleek like Knight Rider's KITT or the helicopter from Airwolf. (Interesting enough, KITT was designed by Michael Scheffe, and Airwolf was designed by Andrew Probert.)

Industrial Light & Magic created a flying DeLorean time machine for the end of the first movie. For the second film, ILM modified the same model by adding an interior and miniature figures of Doc Brown and Marty McFly.

The "B" stunt car from all three films was rigged with explosives and hit by the train when Marty returned to 1985 at the end of Back to the Future Part III.

Numerous fans have spent years building and recreating their own Back to the Future time machine replicas.

 
 

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