Sunday
Aug212011

Moon: The Rubbish Looking CG Version

I thought I'd take the opportunity to show you a bit more about how we worked out what we were going to do with the vehicle VFX and lunar exterior shots in Moon. Particularly regarding the practicalities of actually getting them on film, as I ended up doing a lot of setup work to ensure the shooting went smoothly and it's not something you'll be hearing about anywhere else. I'm in a weird position in regard to Moon, as I have so much data from the film sat on my hard-drives at home that just doesn't exist anywhere else. When I found these folders containing all these files I thought that an insight into this process might be of interest to any of you potential filmmakers out there.

As we were predictably under-resourced I took it upon myself to block out as much of the film as I could in CG so that we could be more prepared for shooting. Shooting requires a plan and shooting VFX requires more of a plan. Until I'd got all this sorted I couldn't be 100% confident that it was all going to work, so I sacrificed yet more of my already minimal sleep and boshed through it night after night whilst we still had the models under construction. This all ended up being a bit rough and ready but I'd gotten used to this being normal Moon operating tempo by now and I was in the zone and able to stay awake on 2-3 hours per night. I really needed to be comfortable that we had a plan going into the model shoot as we only had eight days in there so this became preferable to lying unconscious wrapped up in my lovely warm duvet having my hair stroked in dream-world by a robot unicorn. Given that the first day of the model shoot was actually a test day, we really only had seven. Over this period we had to shoot a hundred and forty three setups with all kinds of combinations of models and all on a rostrum 32x24 feet that needed to be re-dressed frequently including ripping our Sarang set in and out of the middle of the table. Just thinking about all this now makes me want to have a word with myself and go put myself to bed.

Below are the original animatic block out frames that I did for scene 145 where we see Sam 2 take a dying Sam 1 back to the Rover crash site so that when the "rescue" team arrive they find the dead space-clone they were expecting. You might notice that in these original block outs things are a bit different from the way they appear in the film. This is because we were moving forwards at such a rapid rate and my work was covering so many areas that I didn't have time to keep everything 100% up-to-date. You can see the original Rover 1 under the Harvester whilst the two Sams pull up alongside in a more advanced design of Rover 3. Also, you'll notice the crashed Rover 1 is on its' side and the access is simply kneeling down and poking your behelmeted head through the hatch.

You'll see that a lot of the frames have a weirdy looking green version underneath them. This is an accompanying VFX animatic and is intended to show the crew exactly what we'll need to have ready on the set before we start shooting. They turned out to be a really good way to communicate clearly with the set-builders, as they tend to not get too deep into the technical side of VFX. They were also good for the rest of the crew to get a general understanding of what was going on. I would pin these up on a board in the sound stage at the start of every day, as they were really useful in establishing our running order. When you have your shots printed out nice and big and pinned up on the wall like this they are very easy to get an overview of and group into similar setups. This can speed you up quite a bit over the course of a days shooting.

Moon was an effects heavy production and I always find it preferable if the people I'll be working with on-set have an understanding of why I am asking for things to be done a certain way. Some people see VFX as spooky magic made of gossamer and spiders dreams but I find that if you can engage with people a bit and make them understand why they're painting these things green, etc, they'll generally get that extra bit more interested in what they are doing and give you that extra bit more. These green-screen block outs were really useful in showing stagehands and crew what we needed built, where the divides were between green-painted props and "real" bits and pieces, the kind of range of movement and weight they need to bear, etc. These things might sound obvious but they are exactly the kind of thing that will get misinterpreted and you'll turn up on stage with the rover hatch painted bright green when it needed to be realistic which will stop you from shooting that shot. Or the rover-roof won't be safe to bear a persons' weight, as the construction crew didn't think anybody would be standing there. Stuff like that. Even framing up a green-screen shot can be hard if there's nothing to go on, but with these simple references we knew where we needed to put the camera and also how much floor-space we needed, something that can be easily misunderstood without a visual reference. Working like this is a really good way of maximising your time and getting a lot of value out of a few cosy nights snuggled up with a cup of tea and your favourite computer.

The motion sequence above is how the animatic sequence for the body-replacing scene was as we went into shooting. As you can see, it's been tweaked quite a bit and has updated designs added and is generally a nicer piece. I tried to get as much time with the animatics as I could so I could spend time positioning cameras and setting up the shots to make sure they were right. This development work was pretty fraught as we didn't have much time and there was only me covering it, but you can see how closely the final animatic resembles the end-filmed result. Preparation win.

A few things changed as we were moving along. Duncan and I were both concerned about the crash sequence, as we didn't have any budget to produce models that would be doing anything specific. Our miniatures, lovely as they are, are basically toy cars with some lights on that we pulled along a big tabletop with wire. We knew we'd likely be relying on cuts in the edit to make the crash sequence work. As it was it almost didn't.

When we were shooting the miniatures, if we needed anything extra that wasn't on the call-sheet, I'd wait until we were shooting something similar and then jump in with a quick request. As we'd be al set up for shooting something similar it kept setup times down to a minimum and we grabbed quite a few extra bits and pieces we really needed to get some of our scenes working. With the Rover crash we fed the wire that pulled Sams' vehicle through a part of the side of the Harvester wheel mechanism and back out the other side at an angle. This way we could pull the rover into the side of the Harvester even though it wasn't designed to do so. I knew it would only be used for half a second or so and we grabbed it as an extra shot. It only slowed us down by perhaps twenty minutes, which, in this case was totally worth it. We got the shot of the Rover heading into the Harvester tracks and hitting it from above and behind which really helped the scene to work.

When I was putting the animaitc scenes together, they immediately showed a hole and this was the missing element that the scene needed to work. Creating the new shot in the animatic showed me immediately that the hole had been filled and so I set out to the model shoot with the agenda of grabbing a few extra bits of footage like this. It's all well and good having a plan but you still have to think on your feet and be honest with yourself. When something could be better, get off your arse and make it better. Otherwise it'll get done half-arsed and when you see it up on the screen it's too late to change it and you'll just have to live looking at it forever. Unless you're George Lucas.

The animatics were incredibly useful for these sorts of things. As we were working on minimal budget, we were only shooting things we were sure we needed . We were shooting them as fast as we were able, whilst making sure they were still what we intended and needed for the film. Consequently, we didn't have loads of spare footage lying around and so we were constantly at risk of getting in the edit and not having any options to fix things that weren't working, as we'd have no additional footage to work with. The animatics were great for this as I could put scenes together and tell immediately if they worked or not. I spent quite a few late nights in my bedroom just trying out scenes and moving shots around so I could be happy we had nice sequences and I could get my two hours sleep. Now and again it'd be clear we needed an extra shot to make the sequence work and so I'd just knock it together in 3D and re-cut it and see if it worked. It's kind of like peeking into the future to see if the sequence you intend to film is going to work out or not. When you're making films it's handy being able to save your own arse like this becasue you don't want to be in the edit suite a couple of weeks later realizing you've forgotten to shoot somthing. If you have to go back, it's going to kick you right in the bank account.

The examples below show a random scene in the Rover cockpit and you can see from these angles that the scene will cut together just fine. I was taking into accont camera setups and reset times, as one big trap to fall into with animatics is that you just re-site the camera with every cut. When you get on-set this means that after every shot you'll be moving the camera, light, etc and have perhaps half an hour or more of down time where you're not shooting anything. I was trying to not move the cameras around too much and keep them in a few similar positions, which meant that we would be able to shoot the scenes quickly, and in groups. Moving the camera really is a large part of downtime on a working set. You can see from this sequence that we'd only need to have one side of the rover removed and the camera can stay in roughly the same place whilst we shoot the whole scene. Things like this really help the AD team get the shooting organised and by you understanding what everybody else will be doing on the actual shoot you can really help everybody else out. If you're careful, you can strike the balance of getting just what you want artistically whilst simultaneously building all sorts of timesaving measures into the actual shoot itself. It's quite likely that nobody will ever realize you ever did this as people tend to assume these kind of things happen co-incidentally, so don't expect anybody to say thanks. Just concentrate on making everything better wherever you can and it will all work itself out.

Sometimes VFX issues are also made clear at the animatic stage. The following shot is from the scene where Sam 1 looks up at the jamming tower. It was clear from this that we would be having a big, reflective, shiny shiny helmet right smack bang in the middle of the frame. Not only that but you can get an idea of the kind of distortion that's going to be needed on the fake-reflection of the tower that'll be getting composited in later. So best not get the camera crew in the reflection then. Lots of big black drapes with the camera poking through sorted that one out. You really have to have this sort of thing sorted out in advance or you'll never get through your shooting schedule on time and on budget.

One thing that can always happen with rough art like this is that you might not be there to explain everything. This only happened one time on Moon and the mis-understanding was quite comedy. Have a watch of the clip below.

This shot is from the scene where Sam calls Eve back on earth. He has just hung up on her and starts punching the dashboard of the Rover because he's upset and frustrated. When this appeared on the call-sheet, the description was "Sam is frightened". Of course he is.

The animatics were a really rewarding part of the filmmaking process for me as I got to immerse myself in my computer for a few hours at a time and get some nice sequences together. I'm really happy with the way the whole thing came out and I hope this insight into how this stuff was planned was interesting. I know it's easy to look at it as a body of work and see a load of crudely made CG puppets unconvincingly animating around but for the time and resources we had available they really saved our arses and brought up all kinds of issues that we were able to solve ahead of time and hence get the film made. These little CG stick-men showed us so much of what our film was going to be before we'd even set up a camera. So next time you're at the pub have a drink for stick-man CG Sam, the hardest working pixel-person on the Moon.

 

Sunday
Aug212011

Badass space murderers

When shooting started it was a constant battle to get the motion graphics and monitor footage ready for the next day. For the first three weeks or so of shooting both VFX Editor Barrett Heathcote and myself would be up until 3 or 4 in the morning rendering sequences that were needed for the monitors and burning them onto DVDs for the next day. All the monitor screens were shot in-camera to give us that old-school feel (plus our VFX budget wouldn't stretch to 400-odd composited monitor shots). I had to get the motion graphics sequences ready for Baz to get the disks burnt and we were in this horrible cycle of only being ready around 4am which is only a couple of hours before we had to set off for the studio for the next days shooting. This fatigue got really bad, whilst driving in one morning I actually fell asleep whilst waiting in a queue at some traffic lights on the road down to Shepperton. Woke up with someone behind me beeping their horn. Scared the shit out of me.

One of the nice things about making a film with such tight resources is that a lot of people that work on the film tend to end up being in it. One example of this is the Eliza "Rescue Crew" manifest pictures you see on Sam’s' monitor screen when he gets the message that he is being "rescued". This is of course a corporate euphemism for "chloroformed and thrown in the incinerator". Here's a still from the motion graphics sequence that shows the crew manifest.

There's me on the left as the captain, and we have 1st Assistant Director Mick Ward in the middle and Director of Photography Gary Shaw on the right. Besides being a great DoP and the greatest blagger I've ever met he's also known as "the Reverend Cheesy Loaf". He got himself ordained to marry one of his best friends and bought the official paperwork off the Internet, so Moon was actually shot by an ordained Priest. If you have a look around on the screen you'll see all sorts of bits and pieces of writing and numbers. This is essentially a form of lorem ipsum but most of it features little jokes about my friends. If you look at the top you'll see references to jokes from "Bottom", the UK TV show starring Ade Edmonson and Rick Mayall, albeit slightly twisted around. The numbers under our mug shots are also actual things. The RAP14 under mine is my paintball call sign (The team's called the Raptors and I'm number 14). Micks is a reference to Man United football team as he's from Manchester and he likes his footy. The Cheesy Loafs' is a reference to his jeep, which he calls "the Beast". He got the personalised number plate of DOP1 which we couldn't help taking the piss out of a little bit I've always found the term "DP" to be funny when it's said on film sets because of the porno connotations. He was trying to persuade me to get VFX1 on mine but I think that might have made me look like a bit of a penis driving round the studio with that on my car.

When I was getting the monitor graphics together I was trying to grab people for ten minutes wherever I cold to get them in an orange boiler suit and stick some paper badges or a cap on them to take some mugshots that would work on film. Originally I wanted to put Duncan on this crew manifest but he went all shy so ended up not being in the film. I also took pictures of Nicky Moss who was an assistant producer on Moon. As neither of these two made it into the film you'll not have seen their Eliza crew pics so here you are: Duncan Jones and Nicky Moss (Now Bentham) as a pair of double hard murdering space bastards.

See how tired Duncan looks? Poor little monkey. That's what making a film does to you, we were both in this weird state that's very hard to describe but after a couple of weeks of shooting you could perhaps have labeled us as super-focused zombies. Don't worry though; he's all better now. And on the back end of everything I'm super-delighted that as Eliza Captain I actually get my own spaceship in a Sci-Fi film. Shit yeah.

Sunday
Aug212011

Haircut Sir?

The scene of Gerty cutting Sam’s' hair was really important to the story as Sam is preparing himself to return to Earth and re-integrate himself with his family and former life which he is understandably very anxious about. The scene called for Sam to sit restlessly in his favourite chair stressing out to Gerty about Tess being a bit weird whilst Gerty was cutting his hair like the good robotic companion he is. The original plan was to have Gerty’s small arm operating a pair of scissors. We looked into this and the VFX budget suddenly took a big jump, this one scene was moving into a whole CG animated arm sequence with clumps of CG hair being attached to Sam’s head to be cut and all the associated lighting and animation work. We had an allocation of VFX shots for the entire film and it was a simple case of "use one here, loose one somewhere else".

We were trying our hardest to use them where they counted the most and it weighed up quite simply: If we did the haircut scene in CG we'd be losing another ten or twelve shots elsewhere in the film where we could otherwise have a full CG Gerty somewhere in a beauty shot. As our resources were so tight we felt we really needed to see as many of these other shots as possible so that evening myself and Duncan were going over all the possible options whilst digging around on the internet and he went and found this amazing gadget. It's called a Suck'n'Cut and is basically a series of attachments that fit onto the end of any domestic vacuum cleaner and is designed to be moved across the surface of any hairy thing sucking the hair up and chopping it off. It comes with the most amazing manual, which shows all the practical uses in the form of line drawings of the type of haircuts you could be expected to give your elderly relative, child or dog. I'm sure I've got this lying around somewhere, I'll have to have a dig around and try and find it becasue it's a work of art.

Our amazing Prop master Mr Simon Bailey let me paint his vacuum cleaner orange and put some stickers on it and that became Gertys' hair-cutting device. I did this a lot whilst we were shooting; need a Lunar Industries coffee cup? Just grab one from the kitchen, spray it orange in the car park and put a couple of logos on it. One of the things I love about having a realtively sophisticated robot like Gerty using a Suck'n'Cut is the juxtaposition of new and old technology. In theory it's not actually that bad of an invention, which is, I guess, why they're still able to sell the things. It cuts the hair and sucks up the bits at the same time, which must certainly appeal to lazy bastards. But it does give you a rubbish haircut. I really like the idea of old things coming back into circulation again in the future. I always find the best science fiction tends to have one foot in the future and one foot in the present and that's why things like this are such a nice solution to something that was starting to become a bit of a problem for our budget. Plus, we saved the pretty CG Gerty shots for later. We were always worried about Gerty not being in the film enough as every time the CG robot appeared in a shot, KERCHING, that's another ten thousand quid evaporated from the budget.

Sam wanted to grow a real beard for the start of the film because he's a pro, so Duncan and I grew our hair all over the place in solidarity, which is why in pictures of us shooting Dunc looks like Sergeant Pinback from Dark Star and I look like I've got a crash-helmet on made of hair. Anyway, when the flowbee turned up we were dying to give it a crack and so Mr. Jones thought he's start off with the "recent brain operation" look by just doing a patch on the back of his head. It's actually quite hard to get a decent volume of hair through this thing but I do remember crying laughing when we were doing this. It's an emotional rollercoaster doing stuff like this and breaks in the pressure can set you off in all sorts of ways but there were a lot of comedy moments whilst we were making Moon.

Sunday
Aug212011

Sam Rockwell: The only space-clone you'll ever need

We were asking a lot of Sam throughout the making of Moon. He had to deliver two lead performances in a very demanding VFX environment and a lot of this concerned his physical movements during a take. Watching the film being shot from behind the camera was a strange experience as VFX heavy shoots often are. Sam would pace around and talk to fresh air, Duncan would call "cut" and we'd be moving on to the next setup or a makeup change without knowing for certain if we had what we needed to make the shot work. We knew we had a few Visual Effects techniques that would help us out such as stretching the timings here and there in either of the two performances to get them to fit together properly but to be honest the main reason the clone VFX works so well in Moon is Sam Rockwell. He had a lot of technical considerations to consider during his performance including his eye lines, timings and physical location in space. 

When we were filming a shot that required two Sam Rockwells, we would choose one of the clones to "drive" the performance and shoot that first. We'd then leave the camera in position and get Sam up to make-up as quickly as possible so he could get back on-set as the alternate Sam and we could shoot the other half of the shot. We'd then move onto a new setup that was driven by the version of Sam that was ready to go and keep leap-frogging like that to try and get through as much as the day as possible with minimal time spent with Sam off-set in make-up. Our amazing on-set sound-man Patrick (Paddy) Owen came up with the idea of recording the sound from our chosen first take and getting it up to Sam whilst he was in make-up. He'd drop the audio onto Sams' iPod so he could listen to it whilst he was in the make-up chair. When we started production we were assured that there would never be a make-up turnaround of more than 30 minutes but towards the end of the shoot it was taking around an hour and a half. Just another ingredient to add a bit more stress to the day and another factor in the fight against making the call-sheet.

Look at that face-hair. Just look at it. Its magnificent. When Sam returned back on-set to do the other half of his performance he'd have an earpiece in with the audio of his previous performance so he could react to the conversation and make it feel natural. Sam acts using the Miesner technique, which was perfect for this role as Sam Bell. It's a bit hard to explain but if you're interested, you can read up about it a bit more here http://www.completeactorstraining.com/about.html

Whilst I'm on about the sound department I'd just like to mention Toby who was our Boom Operator. Toby is actually in the film, you can see him when Sam is watching a message from Tess early on in the film and she holds up little Eve as a toddler. This little lady was actually Rosie Shaw, Gary Shaw (DoP's) little girl. If you watch the right-hand side of the video message frame you can see the edge of a person. Just for the record they are not meant to be there. This is Toby. Well done Sir, you got in the film. To be honest, as I was doing all the motion graphics I should have spotted this but I was doing so much and was so knackered I somehow missed it so it's my fault really. We didn't miss that much over the breadth of the entire film but we did have a few moments. We had to paint our DoP Gary Shaw out of the reflections in Sam 2's sunglasses when he has Sam 1 lying on the infirmary bed and we also had to "disappear" him from the bathroom mirror in a couple of shots. Probably they worst shot for being outright wrong was when Sam 1 does his search of the base looking for the hatch. There is a shot where we see him cross the befroom and if you pause the dvd you'll see al sorts of stuff in frame. I was sat with Duncan in the grading suite with the film being a couple of weeks from finished when we both clocked it at the same time. The scene was shot very quickly and as we moved around the Sarang set we'd tuck bits and pieces of filming equipment round the corner from wherever the cameras were pointing. In this particular shot you can see his bedroom is piled high with big brown wardrobe boxes and there's a metal step-ladder with "Walker" painted on the side of it. This belonged to Julian Walker who was our sign-writer on the set and who helped me put all the graphics on the base walls. Congratulations mate, your ladder got in the film. We did what we could by dropping a dark vignette over it to drop it back and we pretty much got away with it but if you look sharply you can see it's stil there. Incidentally, if you look at Sams' videophone when he makes the rover call to Eve, there are two pairs of numbers above the screen in black type. This is mine and Julians birthdays. I put that in there for my Mum and I think I forgot to tell her about it. I'm a terrible son.

So the next time you see Sam Rockwell in anything just consider the fact that he's not only an amazing actor, he's also an amazing VFX robot. He's exactly the kind of actor you need on a VFX shoot. He can dance too. This is the audition film from Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (which is amazing). I love the music in this clip, I wish it would start playing whenever I walk into a room. He does a particularly amazing move at 2:06. I asked him about this and he said it takes months of stretching to be able to pull this off without inverting your anus. Check this shit out.

Sunday
Aug212011

Lunar Industries Hope You Enjoy Your Driving Experience

One of the things that really got me excited about the design aspect of Moon was that I was going to get to design some Moon Buggies. I love moon buggies. I've always been obsessed with vehicles in Sci-Fi films, from the buggies in Silent Running and Space 1999 to Wolfs' Scrambler in Space Hunter to the Light Cycles and Recognizers in Tron to the AT-ATs and Speeder Bikes in the Star Wars films. I wanted to drive around in those excellent looking, cool-sounding vehicles more than anything and when I finally got a ride in an Argo with my Dad on some trip to some safari park somewhere as a little kid I almost pissed all over myself in excitement. This WAS Space 1999. The Argo was even yellow. I remember my Dad even let me have a little go at driving, we did a little assault course thing and splashed through a bit of water and mud. Massive hi-light of my young life. So when we were getting the script for Moon together I kept banging on to Duncan about how most of the best old-school sci-fi has buggies and cool space-cars in that we get to see our hero drive around in. Space-buggies and Robot buddies. That's the sci-fi I like.

When we were first getting the project together it seemed we might be able to get around a quarter of a million pounds to do the film so we were really looking to cut costs as much as possible and get the maximum bang for our buck. I know this sounds a bit clichéd but it's true and there's really no other way to say it which is perhaps why it has become a cliché in the first place. It's very nice having bespoke vehicles made for your production but it's also very expensive. I've always loved the aesthetics of military vehicles and so I had a bit of a think about what cool-looking stuff we could get really cheaply to dress up and use in the film. I've always loved the look of the Alvis Stalwart, which is a military truck that was in service with the UK Armed Forces during the cold war and was originally intended to transport fuel to the tanks up front. It was eventually retired as the job was taken over by helicopters and it became obsolete. It's such a sexy machine, it's a six wheel drive amphibious go anywhere nuclear shock proof cabbed double hard bastard and if it had boobs I'd get it drunk and try and kiss it. I've almost bought one of these bad boys a couple of times but I've not had anywhere to keep it.

One of these days I will own a Stalwart.

I had this truck down as a contender for possibly being dressed up a bit, repainted and pressed into service as our Lunar Rover. Due to the amphibious aspect of its design, it hasn't even got any doors; you have to get in through the roof. I always loved vehicles where you have to jump in through roof-mounted hatches and you'll probably have noticed that I kept this in the final rover design even though it's not really that practical. It just felt more "Lunar" somehow and less like a truck and even though it complicated shooting I reckon it was worth it. I did a quick concept piece to try to get it down but was immediately overtaken by events when we committed to models. I'd been pushing for models for ages so it was actually a relief to bin the Stalwart off as now we were going to be able to get into some bespoke designs in our film and get to do a miniature shoot whilst simultaneously saving an insanely massive amount of money. Kerching! Win for VFX. The CG alternative that was originally tabled broke our budget by over four times our final spend and there was no way we could proceed unless we went with the miniature option. I always loved models as they have certain honesty on film and I was delighted when the production had exhausted other avenues and we were back to my original plan of doing it for real. Also, there was something about doing it old school that made me warm and tingly inside. 

As we were working things out we were both insanely busy so I started off an initial design for Sam’s' Lunar Rover. I used this in the animatic images and as things moved forwards so quickly I never got to refine the design more than this so this image below is as far as we got with the "traditional" sci-fi "buggy" concept. When Duncan and I were working out the mechanics of the base and how things would actually work we had a rover already in there which was really just Sam’s' Lunar Runabout that he'd use to pick up Helium 3 canisters and run them back to base. The original script had the canisters ejected onto the lunar soil behind the harvesters and Sam would just drive up next to the bright orange canister with a beacon on it and load it up onto the side of his little buggy, then drive back to Sarang. We put the docking sequence in to make things more interesting and also to have Sam drive through the debris-cloud on a regular basis, which is, of course, where he crashes the rover and starts the chain of events that really starts the film. It was originally going to be a little buggy and as we had zero cash it needed to be enclosed so we couldn't see him sat in it as this would complicate things in post enormously as there were so many rover shots required for the film. A dummy sat in a miniature open buggy could very easily look awful on-screen and it was clearly best to design this potential pitfall out of the vehicle. I'm almost tempted not to even call this a "design" as it was really just a place-holder that I invested very little thought in and pretty much made up as I went along. I just wanted to include it as the rovers came about very quickly and I pretty much just pulled the design out of fresh air. There really weren’t too many steps that I went through design-wise. Most of the back-and-forth was us collectively settling on the model miniature route as an overall strategy.

As you can see, this as really only a little runabout and the scenes with the two Sam’s in the same rover would have been very cozy in the rover-interior set if we had to match it to fit this design. The orange cylinder on the side is a Helium 3 canister, which I originally had envisaged as larger than appeared in the film and more like a high-tech oil drum. As we kept talking about the base it seemed clear that he would have at least one backup rover and also a maintenance vehicle to help him do jobs such as repairing a thrown track on a harvester, so I wanted to put a some machinery on there and we ended up using a crane. I love a good crane, even to this day, if I'm walking down the street and see a nice crane parked up with its' legs out and its' massive boom extended I'll hang around for a couple of minutes and have a good letch over it. I like this separation in the three rovers with them having different purposes and they came in really useful in the story as we could have more driving around. I always liked the moment in the film where Sam 2 first enters the garage and finds Rover one is missing and it catches him out. Originally this was going to be a full-size set but we didn't have the money and so we had to composite a green-screen Sam over some 12th scale footage of the garage which was actually this big.

The chap behind the camera is Peter Talbot, our miniatures DoP. Bear in mind that he is actually a tiny man and so the models are even smaller than they seem in this picture. Peter was excellent to hang around and chat with. I don't use this term very often at all but I think he might actually be a genius with cameras. He was mightily impressive to watch working and full of amazing advice and knowledge. He did the miniature work on Dark Knight too so another win for team Moon. The other two Rovers also got an initial design work-up for the Animatics. Rover 2 immediately below might look a little bit familiar.


Rover 3 was originally going to be based on another UK military vehicle, the Alvis Saxon. The Saxon's a weird looking thing and when I was chatting to Duncan about the Stalwart we sat down I showed him the models of vehicles we were likely to be able to get hold of relatively easily and he liked the look of the Saxon as a basis for Rover 3. 

I've just got to say this again: Please don't judge me too harshly for these rubbish placeholder designs, they were blocked out in less than an hour and I'm including them to give you an honest account of the design process which sometimes isn't pretty.

Everything changed when we went to the next step in the rover design which came after a break of a couple of weeks whilst we were working on other things. By this point we were committed to a model build and this made things easier for me as I didn't have to worry about dressing an existing vehicle or and all the problems and compromises associated with that; I was back to having free reign. This was great as I just put the kettle on, rolled my sleeves up and finished up the Rover 2 design as it was the one I felt had the most potential. As I was doing this I started to really like the design and suggested we unify the design of the Rovers by having a common base-chassis for all three. Having three individual vehicles was starting to feel a bit scrappy and having a common chassis made it all click a bit and feel more harmonious. I designed in a flatbed type rear quarter making it more of a general utility vehicle. I then decided to put some kit onto the other rovers that would be generally useful to Sam. So, we have the boom-arm on Rover 3 and on Rover 2 I mounted a generator unit that's quite non-descript but is actually a service module for the Harvesters. The idea is that this unit is one of the more common repair jobs that Sam has to deal with so Gerty keeps Rover 2 pre-loaded with the kit so when the unit fails Sam can just jump in the Rover and he's off. I really wanted to put a Gerty arm in the garage to show that he has elements of him in action outside the base but we ran out of money. I loved the idea of robotic arms on rails silently moving around the outside of the base doing things whilst Gerty is simultaneously inside talking to Sam. We did get a hint of this in one of the opening shots where we see a robotic arm working on "Judas" (the "dead" harvester right outside the garage entrance). This shot was put in by a lovely chap called Simon Stanley Clamp who was our key liaison with the Cinesite team. He just dropped it in one time as a little bonus and when Duncan and myself turned up for our bi-weekly VFX review and the shot just appeared in front of us, we were both delighted. Keep.

The Rover design came together very quickly at this point, which was a good thing as we were running out of time. As I was working it up I tried a couple of things moving elements about and looking at potential colour schemes but ended up going back to my original plan. At the start of the project we were going to give the vehicles a kind of race-team aesthetic so Sam’s EVA suit would look a bit "Formula One" and the vehicles would have stripes on them, etc. We soon decided to move away from this as the Sarang base design came together really quickly and drove the design along a certain path that was definitely not Formula One racing. 

Ideally I'd have liked to work these models up further but at least I got to spend more time on them than most other things I did on Moon. I might come back to these at some point and work them up more just for fun as I've got all the 3D models sat on my computer. It's so nice doing concept art in 3D as I was confident that the model build was going to go smoothly as I could even provide the model building team with complete schematics and orthogonal renders (images with no perspective- like blueprints) to help them with the build. Incidentally, in Moon world, an aerospace company would build these rovers and I tried to work some aspects of this into the design. Those of you familiar with Boeing aircraft will see some similar shapes in the rover windows.

So after a couple more days of chipping away in 3D, I had final design renders done and we were ready to go and brief the model-building team. That's where these little beauties (below) came from. I must admit, I did get a bit of a kick walking into Bill Pearson’s workshop and seeing all my designs printed out everywhere, literally covering the workshop walls. If I close my eyes now I can almost smell the glue. No, seriously, it was that strong I still smell of glue.

And that's how the Rovers came about. Almost everything was done in miniature except for a couple of bits of set that we made full-size. We built the rover cab interior of course, and we also built the outside cab roof when Sam is shown getting in and out of the Rover (that's actually me in the space-suit but I'll tell you more about that later). At one point we were going to have a full-size rover built for the garage scenes but in the end we used miniatures and composited them in. Probably a good thing, as I'd have had to take the full-scale rover home with me at the end of the shoot. I always love designing science-fiction hardware and it was so great to be able to put something back out there that lots of people get to see. I was delighted at the reaction we got for using model miniatures rather than CG and there were so many people that worked on the back end of post to bring all these shots to the screen that it was such a relief to get them finished without the design straying. All of my design work in Moon came out true to my original vision and it's genuinely humbling when you consider how many hard-working people were involved making that happen. Cheers guys! You totally fucking rock!