By Lindsey Bahr
Updated August 15, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT

On its surface, the Glade looks like the best summer camp ever, with sky-high trees, makeshift huts, and gardens galore. But in The Maze Runner, it’s home to a motley crew of teenage boys imprisoned by the 150-foot concrete walls of a seemingly impossible-to-crack maze that’s teeming with hostile Alien-like creatures called Grievers. The guys, who welcome a new 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.

To adapt James Dashner’s hugely popular book trilogy, first-time director Wes Ball hoped to avoid the trappings of the standard YA dystopia — even if one Fox exec told him in no uncertain terms that the studio desired another Hunger Games. ”It’s more Lord of the Flies, especially in tone,” says Ball. ”We wanted to make it anti-young adult.” Here’s how Ball and his F/X team brought the tricky geography of Dashner’s world to the screen.

High Times
Director Wes Ball had lofty ambitions for the maze design. ”In the book, the walls are 400 feet high,” he says. That didn’t work. ”If they were 400 feet, you couldn’t fit them in the frame.”

Concrete Dreams
To shoot on real concrete in natural light, Ball used a demolished hotel foundation near Baton Rouge, La. ”I wanted to make it feel believable,” he says.

Labyrinth Rat
Ball drew this version of the maze himself from James Dashner’s book. ”James had described it as a bunch of boxes arranged like a square,” says Ball. ”I had this idea of mirroring a clock that would count down.”

Adventure in Stages
Ball’s maze looks different the farther the boys go. Closer to the Glade at the center, he says, ”everything’s very overgrown and concrete; then it starts to become a little more metal. Then you get to the edges and you really find the sci-fi.”