'Back to the Future': How the Opening Sequence Was Created

Back to the Future Still - H 2014
<p>Back to the Future Still - H 2014</p>   |   Courtesy Everett Collection
When is a torch needed to get dog food out of a can?

Next year marks the 30th anniversary of Robert Zemeckis’ finest hour, Back to the Future — as well as, finally, the arrival of the year that Marty and Doc visit in Back to the Future Part II, despite what the Internet will try to tell you at any given opportunity. (They arrive on Oct. 21, 2015.)

To mark the occasion, filmmaker Jamie Benning is working on a retrospective of the creation of the movie, which he described as taking “the form of some ‘painted’ interviews with those involved with the film.” First up, Kevin Pike, the special effects supervisor for the movie, who talked about the creation of the elaborate opening sequence.

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The long shot of Doc Brown’s workshop didn’t just require multiple clocks to be set to the same time — although that took around 20 people to make happen, it turns out. “If you watch the pan move, when we do the coffee and pan spill and come back, there’s no smoke, but when the toast pops up, there’s smoke. We had guys under camera, putting in smoke pellets to make the smoke come up timely and not give away what was coming up,” Pike remembered. “The dog food machine, we made a dog food machine that opened up cans of dog food. … We literally had a torch underneath, heating up the cans, so that the dog food would pour out and flop into the bowl in the comedic fashion that Bob designed.”

Pike’s explanation forms a fun commentary to the scene, and is sure to deepen the appreciation for what was already a pretty Rube Goldberg machine-esque opening. If all this work went into just three minutes that most people didn’t really focus on, think how difficult it must have been to create a working time machine, especially having to fit it inside a DeLorean.

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