Sunday
Aug212011

Cutting holes in our shiny, new set

When I was originally designing the set and getting the look established, I was keen to have some visible tech in there to bring the base to life. When you're designing a set, it really helps bring it to life on the screen if you can work light sources in there. I wanted to put monitors around the place where we could run looping or bespoke motion graphics sequences so we'd have lots of little blinking lights in the background. We soon came up short on our ambitions of filling the place with monitors as we had so little cash that we were immediately into damage-limitation. In the end, our monitor total ran to twenty-two 7-inch LCD photo-frames, eleven 15-inch screens, seven 19-inch screens, one 28-inch screen and one 40-inch screen. This might sound like a lot, but it really wasn't, the set was pretty big and when you factor in the rover interior too they pretty much disappeared into the space and left the base feeling like it had a lot of blank areas. I decided to get the construction crew to cut me some holes so I could mount transparencies with lights behind them and essentially build a load of light-boxes into the set. That way we could mount colour acetate printouts in the holes and shine as much light through them as we wanted making them illuminate and look like extra monitors pretty much for free. Bargain.

This turned out to be an essential component of the base when you take in the overall aesthetic as this allowed us to put way more illuminated "screens" around the place than we actually had. Also they could be any size and shape I wanted, and all for the cost of a coloured print onto transparent acetate. Win. I'd been moving around the set as it was being built, taking photos and drawing all over the place for shapes to be cut out and screens or light boxes to be mounted.

This is an image of the comms nook where we had some of the holes cut out. Progress on this job was constantly going back and forth with the construction crew as occasionally we'd have a hole cut in the wrong place and have to cover it up. The small blue codes on the image are my own reference to the graphics I was designing to fill the space. There was so much to do that if I stopped to think about it it would seem overwhelming so I just ploughed on through it, telling myself that it would all be worth it in the end.

This is a shot of the Monitor-Tower mid-way through construction. This was actually the last part of the Sarang set to be completed and it was starting to stress us out a bit as it just didn't look right until it was finished. All through construction, as the rest of the base came together; it just looked like a rubbish dark cupboard up the top of some steps. It was a good place to have a sneaky cup of tea though. You can see in this image the original shutters partly open for painting and the hung green-screen through them which we'd use to pull a key to composite in the lunar surface outside. The construction process was incredibly noisy and when I was on-set working I'd often hide up there and use it as a temporary mini-office. You can see from this image how the light-boxes are being sited, there are some long slit-type shapes running across the lateral surfaces. The light-boxes really saved our arses on this part of the set as the tower has naturally low levels of lighting. It was also painted grey so it tended to soak up most of the light that the rest of the set bounced up there. Coupled with the shutters being closed and denying us any external illumination (and saving us VFX budget at the same time), we really needed some extra light to sell the space on film. The light boxes were great for this and totally sorted us out.

The graphics for the light boxes were really fun for me to do as I could put all these little details into them that reinforced the design of the Sarang facility as a whole. When I was doing the 3D concept model for the Base, I worked out how it would function and how all the engineering works. It was great to be able to put some clues to some of this down on the walls. The base has a massive magnetic rail-gun running directly underneath it and this is powered by pairs of magnets. When firing, these fields would produce massive magnetic pulses and in reality they would create effects such as ripping your watch from your wrist and smashing it against the floor, then, as the polarity flips, send the smashed pieces hurtling back at you faster than bullets. It's theoretical to a degree of course as nobody's built a rail gun this powerful (yet-the US Navy is trying), so I'm just going on small-scale versions and theory. If it was real, it's likely the rail would be around two and a half miles long and I really wanted to put this into the miniature model of the base but we ran out of money. I love the idea of this huge rail running off across the lunar surface into the distance, I thought it could look pretty cool. These huge pairs of magnets are the reason there are lots of signs around reading "fields present". If you look down the main corridor of the Sarang set, you'll see grey rectangles on the floor in pairs. These are the access covers for the magnets and they can be accessed for servicing through the floor by removing these panels.

One of the things that I thought would be of major concern to the residents of Sarang was the constant threat of solar flares. Space explorers of the future will have to pay attention to space weather as much as sailors do to the weather here on Earth. Perhaps even more so. A large solar flare could theoretically kill everybody alive in Sarang and also the clones in storage if there was no emergency drill in place. At one point in the early script phases we had a scene where Sam has to take refuge from a flare and his "Panic Room" is the return vehicle/incineration room. It's quite funny when you think of it as he's basically hiding from danger in a coffin.

The base itself would be powered by a pocketsize helium3 cold-fusion reactor about the size of a dustbin. It would be powered by some of the fuel Sam sends back to Earth. A portion of each load being returned would fuel the Sarang reactor and sample it at the same time so that when the return capsule reached Earth, they would also have the report on the purity of the fuel.

A big solar flare would also cause the harvesters to stall and even the base to shut down, requiring a major repair effort to get everything booted back up again. A base like Sarang is not designed to switched on and off, and getting things running again would be way more complicated than just pressing a big red button. 

It seemed reasonable that there would be an emergency boot system that could get some of the base running again from a large battery array. This would enable life support systems to function for a few days and comms kit to be re-booted. It would also allow station crew to evacuate, as all the pressure-doors would have closed automatically and then seized. The emergency doors are actually pneumatic and the rams would be constantly forcing them to stay in the open position. So if anything happened, all the emergency bulkheads would instantly slam shut. This design means they will always perform their function no matter what else happens on the base. I like the hidden threat of this design; as Sam walks round the base, every time he crosses a bulkhead actually he's stepping directly into the path of a guillotine blade weighing several tons that is constantly trying to slam down but is being physically held back by massive pneumatic pistons. He does this routinely every minute of every day and doesn't even think about it. I'd be sprinting and jumping through those bulkheads.

I liked the way these Emergency Cold-Start graphics turned out. Good to have a few orange and black stripes in there without doing them to death.

The graphic above is Sam’s' menu screen from the kitchen area. I like the idea of using chummy language in these signs, even though Lunar Industries are actually a bunch of futuristic-clone-murdering-space-bastards. I like the slightly subversive idea of putting softly phrased terms in there such as point number five in the graphic below. This is actually the first menu screen from Gerties’ manual that I put in there as a little joke and hid it in plain sight in the return-vehicle room.

Besides being one of my favourite films since I was a little egg, Outland was one of those films that we were trying to get Moon to "sit alongside". I put this "Fire Control" map of the base above the comms unit as a little homage to Outland as Sean Connery has a sign in his apartment with the same heading. I imagine a fire in a moon base would be a thoroughly trouser-changing affair. This was the largest transparency we made for the set and it ended up being a bit wrinkly as the hot lights were making it curl at the edges.

The screen below has some secret code in it and is a little joke that I put in there for Duncan.

The top lettering reads "WHTK-GNS" and actually stands for "White Hawk and Guns". Ages ago when we were working together we decided we needed to come up with some new names so we sounded a bit more hard-core. I researched my name on-line to find out the definition and amongst all the usual bollocks I struck gold and discovered that "Gavin" literally means "White Hawk". Duncans' name came up as "Warrior", so we improved this by coming up with a harder sounding name and guns are pretty hard. So we settled on "White Hawk and Guns", which I'm sure you'll agree sounds ace. So that's what "WHTK-GNS" is. There's loads of this sort of stuff going on all through the graphics. You might see JAIC in there quite a bit too. I'm not telling you what this one means.

Sunday
Aug212011

Post-Shoot iMovie VFX Frollicks

I thought I'd share something special with you today and it's definitely something you're not going to be seeing anywhere else, the "first" VFX shot from Moon. We'd wrapped our shooting at Shepperton and Duncan had just gotten a new Mac Book Pro (these lovely little metal machines were used extensively on Moon). We were at home having some sleep and generally trying to get our heads together as we entered post and my life was about to become overtaken by Excel spreadsheets for a week or so as we rooted through all the footage and got underway with the edit. It was exciting being at home and getting footage through on hard-drives and we'd spend a lot of time just looking at what we'd just shot and generally getting familiar with it all.

Duncan decided he couldn't wait for the next few months of postproduction work to be carried out and so we decided to load a random shot into iMovie. At the time neither of us had used this excellent bit of software before and so we thought we'd take it for a spin and see what we could make it do. If you've seen Moon you'll likely be familiar with the shot of Sam driving his Rover. In case you're not, the footage shot in the studio looks similar to the image below.

I'm not sure exactly how funny this is going to come across as but by the time we were adding the sound effects we were both crying and pissing ourselves with laughter. Our first step was to enhance mood, so it had to be noir. He's driving a car so we'll have the car noise in there a few times. The car sound effect sounds a bit exciting so we knew we needed to amp up the motion so we put the earthquake thing on there just to get a bit more of a kinetic feel. And everybody likes monkeys so lets bosh that in there as well. It's basically all you need to make a film like Moon and perhaps we should have done the whole film this way. We'd have been finished in a day and a half, it's very quick to use. The xylophone effect is something that I really don't think you can have enough of. It adds tension and drama. Apparently the new Robocop re-boot is going to be xylophone-heavy. So here it is, the first ever VFX shot completed for Moon by myself and Duncan on his new Mac in about twenty minutes. Piece of piss this post-production business.

 

I know that this stupid little video isn't a huge part of the making of Moon, but the ability to muck about a bit and have a laugh when the rest of your life and career seems to be hanging by a very thin thread cannot be underestimated. We were so exposed on this film both professionally and financially that I'm not going to try and describe the constant pressure and related weird-feelings that we all had as I'm not sure I'd be able to. But at least we could still find times now and again to have a bit of a laugh whilst we were doing it.

Sunday
Aug212011

Spaceman Sam

This is an image that I had to make in five minutes when we were dressing the set of the second Bell residence. We see this posh, expensive house in the background of the videophone call that Sam makes from the Rover cab towards the end of the film. The set itself was a simple three-walled set similar to a TV studio, with the fourth wall exposed for the camera to cover the interior. There was actually a front door built into one side of the set for a deleted ending where we see Sam 2 approach the front door in motorcycle gear. He drops a small present for his daughter on the step, rings the bell and leaves rather quickly. A few moments later we then see Eve open the door, look around and then crouch down to pick up the present. She opens it and it's a tiny little wooden house, which is actually an exact duplicate of the house she is currently living in. The idea was that the original Sam (who sold his DNA to Lunar Industries so they could create their clone army of drawer-sleeping space-miners) had this beautiful house in his head as his vision of his perfect future. The original Sam does the deal and consigns an army of his alternate selves to a (short) life of slavery and untimely death whilst he himself lives in the lap of luxury in his beautiful new house with a hot wife, jetpack and fully automatic tea making robot. So the clone Sam’s are haunted by the vision of this amazing house and so it has become included in the model village. Sam 2 brings this part of the model back as a present for Eve. Personally I would have gone and busted the steering wheel of one of the old 60s Moon Rovers that NASA left up there, but there you go.

The sets for the Bell residences were put together in a matter of a couple of days by Production Designer Tony Noble and his construction team, I think the total budget for these two sets was just over £1000. They were little more than painted walls with some stuff shoved up on them. The other Bell residence is intended to be a cheaper place where Sam and Tess lived together when she was pregnant with Eve, before he did the big moneymaking deal and they moved out into the space-Hamptons. I remember (due to us having no money - recurring theme this), Duncan and I grabbing things from our flat on the way into the studio to dress the set with. The round globe lamps that are lighting that scene are currently lighting my lounge and allowing my girlfriend to see the guitar keys on Beatles Rock Band. Eight quid Ikea lights come good. Can't believe they even ended up in a picture on the back of the DVD box. Mind you, at least it was just the lights and bedclothes this time. If any of you watched "Whistle" (the other short film on the DVD/Blu-Ray), the main character in that is wearing Duncans' clothes the entire way through. Quite glad we managed to talk him out of that one on Moon. Although during shooting we did spend quite a bit of time in the evenings on the sofas in the lounge wearing Selk Suits. They're great, it's like having clothes made of duvet, you can literally just fall asleep anywhere. You just stop moving and you're already in bed. If you value a bit of slobbing around at home hung over on a Sunday afternoon watching DVDs, you should seriously consider investing.  http://www.trendhunter.com/trends/selkbag-the-sleeping-bag-suit

So this image is a five-minute rather badly photoshopped portrait of the amazing Sam Rockwell which was mounted on the wall in the background of the shots of the new house. As the cameras were being set up I was chatting with Duncan and he mentioned it'd be cool to have an Astronaut launch Portrait on the wall. So I rushed off back to my computer in the production office, grabbed a picture of Sam off the net that kind of worked and boshed this together in literally five earth minutes. This is why it's a pretty duff job; it was never intended to be seen up close. I'm not sure if you can even see it in the film, as the coverage in the final cut was limited to Tess' videophone messages. It was intended to be like a graduation picture, when he left on his original 3-year mining mission (to see if he had the chops for the cloning gig), they took a picture just before launch just like NASA does. I know it's a rubbish piece of art but it was cool when Sam saw it on the wall when we were setting up for filming and kept mentioning he liked it. There was so much done on the fly when we were making Moon that I didn't have time to be too proud. Finishing artwork as the camera's being set up is not my working routine of choice but when you're doing all this stuff with incredibly tight resources and zero time, you just have to run at it and hope people don't judge you too harshly. Just for the record I can actually use photoshop. I've even got a degree in drawing pictures.

Sunday
Aug212011

I can see your house from here

The design of the exterior of the Sarang facility was done very much on-the-fly as I had so much to contend with I had to fit the design period in over a couple of afternoons between meetings. I'd sit and chat with Duncan at my computer in my bedroom and just chip away at the design. He had one specific thing in mind with Sarang (or Selene as it was called back then), which was that the base was built into the ground in an excavation and the lunar rubble would be packed into cubes and piled on top of the roof. The logic behind this is that it would be a cost-effective way of shielding the habitants from space weather and radiation from solar flares. Something like this tends to dominate a design as it meant we were probably going to be having a blocky, flat roof. As we already had the interior of the base pretty much set, these two elements came together and gave me a good footprint for the exterior base design.

At the start of the project, before we'd gotten any other work done, I was originally thinking it would be nice to build the base into the recess of a cliff or perhaps inside the wall of a big crater with an access ramp leading up. I used to love the design of Moon base Alpha in Space 1999 and as a kid was obsessed with Matt Irving (the model maker who built it). If you don't recognise this name, Matt was working at the BBC VFX department and kept popping up on TV shows talking about VFX and model building. I used to daydream about one day holding the original Blake’s 7 Liberator model and I would be rudely snapped out of my fantasy to look down and find that I had involuntarily pissed all over myself with excitement. When I was nine or ten I entered what I think was my first ever competition (don't do it much), to win a part of moon base Alpha on Saturday Swap shop. I was gutted when I didn't win and I'm secretly still bitter about it now. So yeah, building a miniature moon base was something I was very much up for. To be honest, looking back at it now after having designed pretty much everything in the film, this is the bit of work that I was least happy with. I often lament the fact that I didn't come out of Moon with an amazing portfolio of images where everything was nicely worked out ahead of time. The truth is that when your artwork has to cover as many areas of responsibility as mine did on Moon quite, a lot of the job becomes very practical and you create functional pieces of artwork. You tend to have to make time to try and squeeze in a bit of nicer, more satisfying artwork in-between more functional pieces whenever you can.

So, rather predictably, I worked up another of my all-too-common incredibly undetailed initial design models in 3DSMax to block it out, which you can see below.

Whilst I was at it, I thought why not try playing around with a couple of lights? These colours are pretty awful and they make me cringe now looking at these images but I just wanted to see what an 'underwater" type lighting scheme might look like.

Then I tried working into it a bit with some other colours to see if I could get things looking kind of polluted. I know this might seem like a moot point on the moon, especially with there being no atmosphere, but I thought if there was something going on at the base that constantly put out a fine rust-coloured mist then it could look like some sort of pollution that we could recognize and subconsciously identify with. Bear in mind that at this point I was still pretty concerned about the moon looking boring and flat and grey in every shot, so I was up for having a play and trying a few things.

After spending an hour or so on this I decided to abandon it as it didn't feel particularly "moony" and also I was concerned it might possibly look a bit weird on-screen. I was generally quite concerned about how we were going to show the lunar dust throughout the film, as no atmosphere and sixth gravity are pretty weird conditions. This was important for the film overall as we see quite a bit of dust as the harvester vehicles are constantly spewing out a plume of lunar muck all over Sam’s face whilst he's driving. In the end we decided to take a bit of a liberty and just eyeball it in until it looked about right. The VFX team at Cinesite were really patient as Duncan and I sat through countless iterations of the harvester shots and kept feeding back "thicker dust and more chunks please". Cheers guys. And thanks for the tea and chocolates too.

This is the original CG model I did as a concept/animatic piece. You can see the dead harvester "Judas" lying outside the base. The vehicle at the left-hand side of the screen is the return vehicle fake rocket burny room, inspired by one of the aborted attempts at a space shuttle replacement called the Delta Clipper. This is a fantastic machine. It does this:

Why the hell would you cancel a program like this? It's things like this that make me consider going into politics, just to get a proper space program going as all this tech is just sitting around on companies' shelves. And every day we get closer to the one where a massive asteroid smashes into the planet. When we were getting the base built, the model team took my design as a starting point and used whatever they had lying around to get as close to it as they could. The final model turned up covered in all sorts of amazing detail and they did a bang-up job, as usual, having pulled apart countless cool models lying around Bills' workshop and re-gluing them back together as Sarang.

This was the final concept piece I did of Sarang, painting over my 3D concept model and generally working into it a bit. You can see from this piece the relative scale, as there's a badly drawn and rushed little space clone in there. Also, you'll notice that on these designs the tower is in a different place. At this point we hadn't started actual set construction and the tower was supposed to be directly above the end of the corridor and match up with the submarine-style deck-crossing ladder that I had in the interior base CG concept pieces. When we started building it became financially impossible to put the tower above the base and do it all as one, continuous set.

We didn't have any studio space available to build the tower anywhere else and so we just put it on scaffold legs and hung it over the end of the main corridor. The costs involved came in making the roof structurally sound to support the weight. The actual roof of the Sarang set wasn't self-supporting and was actually attached to a scaffold rig and hung from chains from the studio ceiling. It used to flex and move and the Gerty rail (which was made of moulded plaster) kept cracking and needed filling. Turning up on-set in the morning and finding cracks in the roof used to piss me right off but there was nothing we could do about it. Gerty hated it too as it kept setting off the atmospheric compromise alarms.

Sunday
Aug212011

Build Your Own Robot The Lunar Industries Way

I was having a bit of a dig around on a couple of my old hard drives recently and I came across this set of images and thought they might be of interest. They're the actual images that I gave to Bill Pearson to enable his team to start the build of our ever-faithful robot Gerty, so they are the actual blueprints. I left these images with an overlaid wireframe to assist with the proportioning and as you can see, the robot came out pretty faithful to my original plans. At the same time I was working up paint schemes and things but I passed these on later as we really needed to get the model build underway and I was juggling so much work it was more like putting out fires.

In the image below you can see Gerty approaching the end of construction with the blueprint laid out behind on the wall. The green blocks on the lower right hand side of the image are the foam blocks that would be carved and used to pad out areas underneath the hot plastic when vacuum-forming. The Vac-Form machine is down in the lower right hand corner of the image and sort of looks like a dangerous old gas oven. Gerty was made of sheets of plastic glued together into boxes and then re-glued together into our stage prop so essentially he's flat-pack. Bill and his team did such an amazing job for us on Moon that it's quite humbling thinking that we got to hire these guys to make our robots and little space-cars. They were always really interesting chaps to talk to and I got such a massive kick out of seeing these skilled craftsmen bringing my CG designs into the real world it's hard to describe.

If you look just to the bottom of the blueprint Gerty stuck on the wall, you can see a vicious red reflection in there. This one of the electric bar heaters that kept the model shop warm and used to make me think I was about to burst into flames whenever I had my back to it.

As well as these orthographic views I also did a couple of perspective renders so the modelling team could get a sense of the overall mass and shape. I was actually quite surprised at how low-tech the model shop was at first as everything was manual. Bill did have an old PC but he hardly ever even checked his email (I think he did it about once a week or so), and none of the model team used computers in any capacity with the model build.

About the most sophisticated bit of technology they had in there (apart from the hypnotic vac-forming machine) was a portable DVD player with a 7-inch screen that could usually be found to contain a DVD of Snow White and the Seven Sexy Dwarves. As we were all based on the Shepperton Studio lot it was a simple matter for me to just pop over and hang out for a bit catching up on what was going on and breathing in a lot of airborne solvents so not being connected by email wasn't a problem and in a sense was perhaps better as it brought us together in the same room much more often than we would have been otherwise.

I also did some renders of the arms, but the heavy lifting arm was the main part of the model that had specific requirements in the script. It had to be able to load the HE3 canisters into the cargo lift that transferred them to the return pods. We went back and forth a bit on this as Bills' team built the arm and cylinders simultaneously. I'd originally envisaged the cylinders to be something like an oil drum but we had to scale them down quite a bit to get them built so they fitted into the set. In the end we don't get to see too much of this action as we ran out of money and so just left it at the opening scene where Sam bangs his arm. The Gerty arm was hollow and had very little mass so Sam wasn't in any actual danger of having any bones crushed. I'm pretty sure that nobody will have noticed this but the rover wheels have the same lifting bar on the inside as the large HE3 canisters. This is because the arms can actually move outside the station into the lunar vacuum and are used to repair and service the rovers in the garage. The heavy-lifting arm is the arm that changes the rover wheels. If you spotted that you might have to win a prize.

In the image below you can see Bill Pearson talking Duncan through the operation of the seven-inch digital photo-frame that was Gertie’s face. I had a series of SD cards with all the face graphics loaded up and had them in my pocket when we were shooting. As we moved on to the next scene, I'd grab the correct Gerty "face" from my pocket and load it into the monitor.

In the end, these screens weren't bright enough and so I made up some transparencies and we fitted a brighter light inside Gerty so it would read better on film. This still didn't crack it 100% and in the end we replaced them all digitally in post. And that's how Gerty, the Ikea flat-pack robot was made out of a few pixels, some electricity and loads of plastic and glue. If you decide to take these plans and build one yourself be sure to send me a photo.

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