‘Back To The Future II’s Art Director Tells Us How They Developed The Film’s Somewhat Misguided Predictions

We have been waiting for 2015 since 1989, when Back to the Future Part II revealed to the world great expectations of our future. With 2015 just a month away, anticipation for a new year is at an all time high. In under a year will we have hoverboards? Canisters of fruit that can be called down from a ceiling? Houses that say, “Welcome home Jennifer”? Possibly.

I spoke with John Bell, the visual effects art director of the film, about BTTF’s predictions for the future that is now the present. Bell, who works for Industrial Light Magic, designed many aspects of our future, from the hoverboard to the nostalgic eatery — Cafe ’80s. When Bell was asked to work on the film, the producers, he said, presented it to him as such: “We don’t have a script. All we know is they go 30 years in the future and there’s something called hoverboards. So come up with some stuff.”

He adds: “My take for the future of Hill Valley, I thought it would always be very colorful and optimistic. I thought these big city movies like Blade Runner, they all seemed so dark and grim…[production designer] Rick [Carter] immediately jumped on the optimism of it. He loved the optimism, and the color, the feeling, and the textures.”

Here are some predictions from the movie — as told by Bell — and how they compare to present time:


The product from the future that people get most jazzed about is the hoverboard. “The early designs for those hoverboards were much bigger,” Bell says. “More like wake boards and they had a lot more power devices on them, a lot of personalization that [Griff’s] gang would have done to them. They were much more elaborate. But they kept evolving and whittling back till it became the minimal boards.”

Over the past 25 years there have been attempts at building this coveted device. There is a device called The Hendo Hoverboard invented by Greg and Jill Henderson, which currently has a KickStarter campaign. New York Times journalist Conor Dougherty says it “only works on special surfaces, and the battery life is only a few minutes long. And it’s tough to ride. So no, I do not feel like Marty McFly.”

Fax Machines

Marty owns at least four fax machines that all eject faxes in that dulled ’80s ink we all know and love. The kind you would definitely find on some paper with perforated holey edges. Bell, who designed the 2015 fax machine says, “I think at the time faxes were kind of new and gaining a lot of popularity, so I ran with that.”

Double-Ties and Inside Out Jeans

The fashion of Hill Valley citizens is very ’80s sportswear. A popular trend is wearing two ties, and/or a transparent tie. And, as Doc explains in the film, “In the future all the kids wear their pants inside out.”

“I believe that fashion runs in 30 year cycles,” Bell says, “So when I started doing the early sketches back in ’86 I was looking back at what people were wearing 30 years ago…when [costume designer] Joanna [Johnston] saw those drawings along with all the other ones, she just took her English sensibility and twisted it even further.”

Dog Walker

“It got little air time but there was a nice scene of a dog walking across the street and the leash attaches to a floating device,” says Bell. “I like that the sketch that I did had a great dane with a floating drone behind it. And they actually went with the great dane for that.” A great idea, although dogs are still being walked by humans.

Cafe ‘80s

Nostalgia for the ’80s has been around since 1990. So the idea of there being a Cafe ’80s is not far-fetched. There is a Cafe ‘80s in Prague and a restaurant in Bellflower, California called New Wave Bar that serves Marty McFries.

“There’s a lot of little things that didn’t get shown,” Bell says of the Cafe ‘80s he designed. “There were these little table tops and each one in the cafe had a different theme. There was one about the Cold War, there was one about Princess Di’s wedding, and there was a Baby on Board tabletop.”


The world is perhaps not as cheerful as Hill Valley’s 2015, although it’s not quite a corrupt 1985 Hell Valley either. Bell says,I grew up as a kid in the ’60s and all the images of the future back then were optimistic. We’re going to be having jet packs and cars and city under bubbles and there would be peace and no bigotry. A lot of wonderful things and a lot of that hasn’t happened.”

Jaws 19 in Holomax

Jaws: The Revenge (1987), was the fourth and last Jaws of the series. Writers of BTTF were humorously optimistic that the franchise would live on for years and years. As for the look of the shark hologram, Bell says, “Ken Ralston [visual effects supervisor] at the time was very averse to anything CG. When the CG department showed us a rough test of that shark, they had a big disclaimer—it’s kind of a work in progress but we’ll have you take a look at it. And they brought us this big animated pixilated shark. Ken and I both cracked up and said ‘That’s it. Don’t fix it, don’t do anything else.’ And that’s the way it ended up on the screen. They wanted to put full skin in and animate it properly and all this stuff. And Ken liked the fact that it was all messed up.”


It didn’t make it into the final cut of the film, but Bell said in the early sketches he made of Hill Valley 2015: “I had all these innocuous background surveillance cameras. I thought, I’m going to paint all this colorful optimistic image of Hill Valley but in the background I would place these chrome spheres, but they’re actually little surveillance cameras that I wanted to have as ominous background layering. Sadly I think that has reached today’s society where you can’t go out in public without being on camera.”