Sunday
Aug212011

Saving time with Adobe Photoshop

A very important part of the final look of any film is the colour grading process. This tends to happen at the end of postproduction where the edit is locked, all VFX shots are complete and the films colours are tweaked and finessed to enhance beauty and mood. It's a crucial part of any film and ours was no exception. Anticipating this, I took some frames from the film and used Adobe Photoshop to work up several versions of colour adjustments that we could use as a basis for a grade. This was a really nice bit of work to do as grading tends to be a quite enjoyable as all the hard slog is behind you and you can just sit and polish. However, it's not automatically guaranteed to make everything look brilliant and it does take an eye for tone and colour. The image below is a photograph taken on-set just before we started filming. You can see Sam is sporting his space-trucker look with his mighty beard whilst relaxing with a delicious Lunar Industries cup of space-tea. Sam actually did drink tea as we were filming although brews do tend to get cold pretty fast when you're shooting if they're not in a thermos. I guess sometimes you have to suffer for your art.

You can see that this shot was taken in the Sarang Monitor Tower and at this point we were still intending to have the shutters open and so you can se the green screen through the windows. One of the design details I was excited about seeing on-film was the graphics I put on the glass windows which were basically safety warning about explosive decompression. They're hardly noticeable in the final film. I'll put them in something else in the future and make sure they're nicely in the way of the camera.

Moon was actually shot looking like this and only took on its' final appearance at the last stage of post-production where Duncan and I spent two weeks in the grading suite at Molinare working with the colours to give the film that final polish. Up until that point we were watching version after version of the film with these flat colours and it always used to bother me how ugly it looked. I started on these images whilst we were filming as I was always trying to get ahead a bit to get some pressure off. Not that it ever panned out like this of course. Making Moon was like walking from John o'Groats to Lands End carrying huge pile of heavy books. As you walk, people keep putting more books on and even when you can't see any more and keep stumbling forwards with achey arms more books keep getting piled on. Eventually you finish your journey just before you're about to die, and just collapse and drop all the books over the cliff into the sea. Then a helicopter flown by Michelle Rodriguez comes and picks you up and flies you off to the pub for a burger and chips. Then bed for 32 hours straight sleep. That's what it was like making Moon. Pretty much.

The original version I did was heading towards de-saturated cyans and light blues with some greens in there. I always liked the look of vintage photographs where the darks fade out over time and the whole thing takes on a period look. As we were essentially doing a period piece with this film I was keen to explore anything that could age the end result in case I stumbled across something brilliant. I liked it for about fifteen minutes and then felt it had its' strength washed out a bit and so I tweaked it to put more solidity back in there.

I made the blues stronger to see if it brought a mood to the room and made things look a bit more "night-time" and "computery", but went off this one pretty much straight away. It was all going too blue and so I lowered the saturation and dropped a copy of the original colour back on top to crush the blacks down a bit.

This now felt like it was starting to get somewhere but still had too much of the legacy blues in there which had now given the image a pinky/purplish hue. I quite liked this but didn't like the way it had changed Sam’s' flesh tones so much. So I used this piece as a reference and went back to the original image and came at it again without all these legacy changes I had in the image. I find this can be a useful way to work as it often give you some nice results and in this case I came right in on this version which I was starting to like. When you're grading film, you really need to sort out the skin tones first. Then you can look at the rest of the image. So my major consideration in these images is firstly "what does Sam’s' skin look like?" and secondly "do I like the look of it overall?"

From here I thought that since I was exploring vintage looks and I'd backed away from the blues, I would start moving in on the sepia tones and see what happened.

I quite liked the look of this for a bit but wanted to see if I could put some more drama in there by increasing the contrast.

This left the image in a place that I was really starting to like. We eventually settled on a mid-point between the two images above for most of the film. Although it looks a bit different in some places, this is mainly due to the amount of white in the Sarang set. As I originally had envisaged the monitor room tower with submarine "war-room" type lighting I thought I'd have a go at something along these lines and did this massive headache-inducing nightmare.

Imagine working in this tower all day with this light, it'd make your nose bleed. It's good to try things like this though as, if nothing else, it clears your head so you can put it behind you and get on and get the job finished. I thought the grade on Moon came out really nicely in the end and the prep work was really useful as we could style-match. So when we got into the actual expensive grading suite for out two-week allotted time, we could just rip into it without spending the first couple of days finding our feet. This was really important as it meant we could focus a bit more tightly on the lunch menu.

Sunday
Aug212011

So what's on television in the Sarang Facility?

Early on in the production of Moon we decided to build a complete 360 degree set to shoot in as we wanted to capture the feeling of enclosure and allow the camera to roam around the base without running out of room or suddenly finding itself out round the back of the studio. This added a lot to the experience of shooting as we'd enter the base through the airlock and pretty much stay in there all day. It was especially weird for me having designed and built the base in 3D first as it was like being inside my own mind made solid. Quite strange at times. This fully enclosed set meant that we had to design and dress the entire base which ended up being lots and lots of work, all done with very little time and resources (spot the recurring theme in these posts). It was important to me to get as much detail around the place as possible to try and make it genuinely look and feel like not just a Lunar Mining facility but also Sam’s' home. See how he has loads of scrunched up used tissues around his bed? He didn't have a cold. That was one of Sam’s suggestions.

All together we had 17 active flat panel screens built into the set in various locations to give the place a legitimate "techno-hub" feel, but we were keen to keep the technology "old-school" and keep away from any Minority report data-glove style lightshows which we couldn't afford anyhow. All the monitors protruded from the back of the set and were attached to £20 cheapie domestic DVD players running a bespoke disk for each take. We'd get back from the studio around ten and after shoving some Mexican food into my mouth-hole I'd spend the next few hours getting the next days' graphics ready to arrive at the studio at seven the next morning with a wallet of shiny new DVDs. This led to a few weeks of 2-hours of coma like sleep per night which was hard going but at least I'd got most of the design work done by then and was mostly just refining the vehicles prior to the model build. I remember falling asleep all over the place, grabbing cheeky 15-minute naps whenever I could. There was one instance where we were shooting the scene where Sam 2 puts a very ill Sam 1 to bed and we needed a stand-in to get dressed up and lie in the bed with the hat on whilst the real Sam does his performance as healthy and concerned Sam 2. I must have been looking like I was about to die as Duncan suggested I step in and put myself to bed. So, being happy to help, I got dressed up as poorly Sam 1 and got into bed whilst Sam Rockwell did his thing. As soon as my head hit the pillow I fell into a mild coma and I must have been looking so knackered that when the scene was shot out they left me there whilst Sam went off for a makeup change. The Cheesy Loaf woke me up shouting at me that it was time to go home as they were closing the studio so I blearily shambled out of bed very confused and disoriented to find everybody staring at me and pissing themselves. I had been out cold for two hours and they just left me there whilst they were filming the scene. I remember it being incredibly cosy and nice and I just immediately flaked out, even though there was filming going on right next to my head. If you look in the background of those shots it's actually me fast asleep in there.

When we were shooting any specific shot we'd just look through the DVD wallet (which had hundreds of them in by the end of shooting), put the disk in and press play ten seconds before they were due to call "action". It was all very high-tech as I'm sure you'll agree. Duncan and I chatted about the look and feel of the monitor graphics early on and decided that it would be nice if it kind of looked like the old BBC Micro computer game "Elite", which was a favourite of ours when we were both tiny eggs. I set the style very early on in production and quickly worked up a template of design elements that could be used throughout the sets and anywhere else it might be needed. The choice of Green Mountain/Microstyle font was an easy one because it looks beautiful and has such a nice weight to it. There's a nice mechanical solidity to it that sold us as soon as we tried it out.

One of the functioning screens was located above Sam’s' bed and served as his entertainment suite so he could lie in bed and watch TV. I'm pretty sure none of this is readable on-screen, but here's the graphic that features in the sleeping area showing some of the entertainment options available to him.

I imagine there's a few things you'll recognize in there which I put in as a homage to a selection of things you'll find on my DVD shelf at home (apart from the Flintstones - that was referencing a piece of licensed footage we had available). Just for the record this list features two of the best and most under-rated comedy shows from British Television in the last ten years and both of these feature a Moon cast member. Fifteen Storeys High stars Benedict Wong and Snuff Box stars Matt Berry who collectively feature in Moon as Thompson and Overmeyers. If you haven't seen either of these two shows I'd advise going out right now and buying them on DVD, I promise you won't be disappointed. Here's a bit of Matt showing how to treat a woman properly in Snuff Box;

...and here's a bit of the amazing Benedict Wong as Errol in 15 Storeys;

I had to put "Look around you" on there too as it's one of the best observed and most original comedy shows I've seen in ages and if I was getting shot into space I'd definitely make sure I had both seasons on DVD in my bag. The Judge Dredd reference is to a future version of the film that it always seemed inevitable they would make and now (huge surprise), it's in production so it's sort of like a joke that's ended up coming true. The weird thing is that we had meetings with them at one point and more recently Duncan was offered the script but turned it down. The original Dredd movie was like watching a car crash in slow motion, so this is really just a shout out to all the old-school 2000AD fans out there. Put your hands up!

The other references in there are related to friends of mine and Duncans and a severe beating issued to a trivia machine on a night out in the Phoenix Bar with Mr Stockton, McEvoy and Mr Jones. The trivia machine was cheating and eating all our money and not letting us answer questions we knew the answers to. This is a picture that Julian Stockton took of us just as we were starting to suspect the machine was mocking us. Dodgy touch-screens are not good in a pub when money is at stake as the four of us make a formidable entertainment trivia team and so we administered our own swift brand of justice. Street style. That machine's gone now. Goodbye forever!

Ed and Aaron, if you're reading this, sorry to put you guys in porno films. Actually I'm not sorry; you'd have done the same thing to me.

LUNAR INDUSTRIES HOPE YOU ENJOY YOUR ENTERTAINMENT CHOICE

Sunday
Aug212011

Mexican Wrestler in Sarang

If there was one single scene in Moon that made us the most anxious in the run-up to shooting it, it was the fight scene. We had a few tricks we were hoping would help us out, especially spending some time working with the edit. Before we actually shot it, we weren't 100% sure it was going to work. As with many things on this project we just ran at it and tried our hardest. There were a couple of things that were stressing us out; making sure we could cut together a good looking, convincing sequence, and tipping the model over. We only had one model and the little houses are actually plastic painted up to make them look like wood. They were actually little model railway houses and people and we weren't sure exactly how delicate they were. We knew that when Sam actually tipped the board up with the model on, it would go violently flying all over the place and we were stressed out that the little houses would be destroyed as we needed them later for some close-up shots of him working on them. It all turned out okay in the end as our art department geniuses Hideki Arichi and Andy Proctor filled them with biscuit foam which is kind of like cavity wall insulation but sets rock hard. Cheers lads, nice job!

Sam had a tendency to really get into the anger side of Sam Bell, which gave us a fantastic performance but also left us with a few holes in the set at the end of shooting. On one take in the rover interior he actually punched out the monitor in the cab and smashed the screen in, it was completely knackered. It was a 17-inch flat screen telly and he just put his fist right through it and smashed it to bits. This was when we were filming the scene where he calls Eve Bell and is understandably upset. Mind you, so were the Art Department when they had to change it out double fast as we got setup for the next take. Another bit of set damage came when he does his tour of the base looking for the secret hatch. There was one shot that made the cut where you see him punch a padded bulkhead. These were actually quite delicate, they were Styrofoam blocks cut to shape and covered in a thin layer of plaster and then covered with fabric. When Sam punches it he hit it so hard it actually made a big divot in the Styrofoam. I think we got away with this as it was only a bit of background set dressing but it was pretty beaten up. Sam’s does a lot of boxing training to keep fit and the speedball in the Rec Room was his idea when we started filming. Originally it was black and white but we painted the white bits orange so it would look more "Lunar Industries". Painting a stuffed leather object that's going to get punched is not the easiest thing to do and we gave up re-painting it orange, as whenever Sam was on the speedball he'd actually punch the paint right off the ball. If you look closely at it in the film you'll see it looks pretty dirty, this is the remnants of the orange paint in all the little cracks in the white leather.

Most of the fight scene was using Sam fighting a double, and we were trying to pick shots where you could only see one Sams' face in any one shot. There was an exception to this, which is the shot where Sam2 has Sam1 in a headlock. We shot this using a double and gave him a chroma-key balaclava with some tracking markers on it so that it would help us replace it in post.

The thing about this is that when we were shooting, it looked like a Mexican wrestling match, which was quite funny to watch. The balaclava itself turned out to be a huge pain in the balls for me as the production office initially refused to hand it over to me. I needed to shoot some tests and prep it for the actor/stunt-man and I got into a bit of a barney over it. It was quite an infuriating position to be put in as I even ordered the thing in the first place. The "problem" was something that I've run across before and is inherent in some people when acquiring kit for a production. It's all to do with perceived value that people can understand. Our budget was super-tight and as this balaclava was made from special chroma-key material it happened to cost £80. It was really important for the shoot and so I got it ordered from the production office and that was that. When I needed it a few days later, I checked in with the Wardrobe department and they didn't have it. They told me it had been taken to the production office and so I headed there. I then proceeded to get in a massive barney trying to get it out of a locked drawer and into my hands where it needed to be for the tests. The problem was that the balaclava came as a solid material piece and I had mentioned earlier that I was going to be fitting it to the stunt man, which involved cutting some eyeholes in it. This should have been pretty obvious as it came as a solid hood with no holes, the idea being that you are supposed to modify it to fit a specific individual. Anyhow, the production team weren't having any of it as they didn't understand the process or really what it was for despite my explanations. They just saw an eighty quid balaclava and me standing in front of them with a pair of scissors in my hand saying that I needed to cut some holes into it.

The problem with things like this is that a balaclava costing eighty quid is an easily quantifiable thing. I doubt anybody I know has ever actually spent eighty quid on a balaclava, so this one must obviously register as valuable and hence keeping away from scissors. If I had said I needed a Hassleblad camera body at fifteen grand nobody would have questioned that, as it's unquantifiable to most people. But an eighty quid balaclava isn't. Goddam you, expensive special effects clothes.

A couple of weeks later we shot Sams' head of himself choking as he's being strangled. This looks pretty weird as a clip and you can see this on the Moon DVD Extras where Simon Stanley Clamp talks about it a bit more.

Here's something you'll not have seen before which is a clip of the fight rehearsals. We only rehearsed a couple of bits of the film as our resources were so tight but the fight was one thing that we had to work out before the main event. This was shot in the Sarang set a couple of weeks or so before filming started, you can see that everything's lit by construction lighting and things are still being built and painted. There's no graphics on the walls and the floor is covered in brown paper to try and keep it clean. If you listen you can hear me starting the camera running and 1st AD Mick Ward calling action. Sam is in the green t-shirt and very hairy and his fight-partner in the blue top is Robin Chalk. Robin was Sams' double throughout the film and you see his back quite a lot in the film. The funny thing about a double is that you don't actually want somebody that looks identical, you want somebody that looks identical from the back/side as you're never going to point the camera right in their face. Sorry about the size of the file and thanks for hanging around whilst it loads. I hope it's worth it. Who knows, you might get some tips on pretend-fighting. I'd still like to see a Directors Cut where we keep the original wrestling mask in. That'd be ace.

Sunday
Aug212011

What's For Dinner Gerty?

One of the things we really had fun with in Moon was designing Sam’s' daily living routine on the Sarang facility. Originally we were going to have him eating all his meals in pill form like a proper space-man of the future, but we also wanted to do a shot where we showed a massive amount of stored food, and a cupboard full of pills just isn't that dramatic. We opted to put this into the "clone-room" shot, where. if you look closely, you'll see one side of the corridor is stored Sam clones in drawers and the other side of the corridor is full of stacked food containers stretching off into the distance.

At the start of the shoot we wasted a couple of hours one morning trying to get a shot with the practical Gerty small-robotic arm lifting a box out of the fridge but it looked rubbish as everything was wobbling. My biggest pet peeve in films is wobbly props, I hate them. I absolutely love the film "Starship Troopers" but there's one bit in it that annoys the shit out of me. During the funeral scene where they eject the casket into space, watch the conveyor belt. It's wobbling all over the place and it looks cheap and rubbish and shouldn't be in there. It's supposed to be a dramatic, sombre moment but the "Prisoner Cell-Block H" level of set-building totally ruins the whole scene for me. I really didn't want anything wobbling in Moon and puppeteering the practical Gerty Arms was the main area of risk for this. The arms weren't built to be moved, only positioned and then left alone. We got quite a bit of movement out of these using simple fishing-wire puppetry, but some of the things we tried simply didn't look good and we burnt through quite a bit of time trying to get extra shots out of these prop arms as we couldn't afford any more CG.

In the original script, all of Sam’s' food interactions and eating happened in the rec room. I designed in a pair of food dispensers into the original CG base concept design, which then evolved into the stacked food units which we see in the final film. You can see from this concept image that the kitchenette-area was also different and a bit more sleeker. Bits and pieces of the base were tweaked as we started physically building it but generally you can see the final set was very close to the CG designs.

Duncan and I had a take-away around the corner from where we were living in Chelsea called "Mexicali" which is up on the Fulham road about five minutes walk from the house. It's a little restaurant that does Mexican/Californian food with the idea being you can stuff your face like you're eating Mexican but feel healthy like you're living an "ideal" Californian lifestyle. When this place opened it was a great source of excitement and protein for us and we used to get take-away quesadillas and burritos probably three or four times a week. When we were shooting, we were getting back from the studio very late and as neither of us could be arsed cooking we'd just go to Mexicali. So it quickly turned into a routine where we'd rock up at half nine every night and order the same delicious and actually quite healthy food. Cheese is healthy right? It's full of vitamin C.

The Mexicali takeaway cartons were these nice, cardboard-segmented boxes and Duncan liked the look of them so we started saving them to use in the film. We started making a pile of them in the kitchen to use on the set. They ended up appearing in the two fridge units on the kitchenette area and also downstairs in the clone room. This is the photo I took of the first time I took the boxes we had from home and stacked them in the fridge unit to see what they'd look like.

As we started designing the clone-room set it became clear we were going to need a few hundred of them so we asked the Mexicali guys where we could get some and put in an order. So Sam’s' space food was served in our favourite take-away boxes. When the Mexicali guys asked us what we wanted the boxes for and we explained we were making a film and wanted to use them in it, they were really chuffed and started refusing our money when we went up for food. This was an unexpected turn of events and Duncan and I used to talk about how guilty this made us feel even though we'd just put the money we would have otherwise paid in the tip jar. Funny how people being really nice to you can make you feel a bit weird sometimes. If you find yourself in the area, pop in and say hello to Cesar from me. If you look at the credits at the end of the film you'll see him in there, and this is the reason why.

When I was designing the graphics for the food-modules and boxes, as usual, I was making it all up as I went along. I thought I'd have a bit of a play and put a couple of jokes in there and so these are the labels I designed for the fridge/food storage area. When I was designing the logos for the actual food containers I didn't have much time, and so I used outlines to describe the food. I was happy with the end result as the graphic design language and conventions that I had established around the base tended to use quite simple shapes and so I didn't want to go into too much detail on these little illustrations in case they started to look out-of-place.

I didn't think they'd be especially visible in camera and were mostly intended for background detail but a few things like this around the base got picked up and became easily readable which made me laugh when I see these references come up in trivia forums on the net. As you can see, Sam’s' food is supposed to come in six different flavours. Although if you actually watch him eating in the film you'll notice that he only ever eats beans and trifle. No wonder he's in such a shit state at the beginning of the film. Imagine eating only beans and trifle for three years. It'd be like being stranded at a three year olds birthday party in space and you're the only one that bothered to turn up. We wanted to hint at him being "stuck in a rut", and this is why when Sam 1 is recovering from the fight he's spoiling himself by eating all the trifle. When you're shooting with things like this you have to actually stop the crew from eating things you're going to need for shooting as if you don't keep an eye on them they'll simply vanish. I shouldn't admit this, but I actually had some of the trifle myself. Don't tell anybody. It was raspberry and cream and it was delicious. Space food totally rocks.

We had a brilliant little machine on-set that we used to seal all the food into little packages. It had a kind of transparent plastic pipe that sealed itself into segments with a heating element and we used that to make all the space-food portions. The plastic tubing was quite hard to come by and took a few weeks to get delivered so once we started shooting, if we ran out of it we had a problem as we wouldn't be able to bag any more space-food. We just managed to get the footage we needed, and we used up every last piece of this tubing on takes where we see Sam opening a packet on-camera. It might seem trivial, but this was actually quite stressful as every time Sam opened a packet it felt like another step closer to impending doom. When you make ambitious films on insanely low budgets you'll find that all sorts of seemingly trivial things will become a big deal and start stressing you out. But at least you can always just kick back and put your feet up on the moon base with some delicious beans and trifle.

Sunday
Aug212011

People from the Moon

I'm pretty sure this image hasn't been seen in the wild yet so I'd like to show you the official Moon crew photograph. This picture was taken three or four days before we finished shooting in the Sarang Facility set during a lunch break; if you look closely you'll see Duncan's down the front actually eating his pud. We were both like this all through the shoot; neither of us really got the chance to sit down to eat as we used the hour lunch break to get extra stuff done so we'd always be eating lasagne and chips walking down corridors and bringing random plates of food into meetings. The catering on Moon was actually really good, but there was always the constant, easy allure of lots of chips. I love chips but I don't think it's a particularly bright idea to have a massive plate of them every day for lunch. I was so distracted with the actual making of the film that I was just shoving food into my mouth-hole and I was a bit gutted that I'd got a little potbelly at the end of the shoot. I know going to the gym can be a bit boring but it was great therapy when we finished shooting and got into postproduction. To try and get some time in my own head away from the constant worries of not getting the film finished and running out of money in post, I got into this thing where I'd just get on the treadmill and try and run like Robert Patrick from Terminator 2 into the mirror for as long as I could without showing on my face that I was about to burst. I got pretty good at doing the Terminator 2 run. So be warned; films will try to make you fat. You're stuck on a studio lot with very few options for eating other than what you bring with you or what the production decides to feed to you. And it's going to be with chips. The deserts were amazing though; the catering chap had this special strawberry syrup that he brought over from Spain that was one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten in my life. Wish I'd gotten the name of it. It was so nice, you could actually put it on chips and it'd make them better.

So here are most of the people who made Moon. There's a few faces missing, as we never had everybody in one place. Notable omissions include Bill Pearson, Hideki Arichi, Barrett Heathcote, Matt Berry, Benedict Wong, Kaya Scodelario, Dominique McElligott and Kevin Spacey. Try getting that lot together for a photo on a day when you're not working with them!

It's tempting to start writing about all the individual people in this pic but I'd literally be here all day. We had a great crew on Moon and there was a lot of hard work done for very little money to bring this film to the screen. I was really glad that I made some really good friends over the course of the shoot. One person who was instrumental on getting this film made was the 1st Assistant Director Mick Ward. Mick's the chap in the blue jacket kneeling down at the front of the left hand side. He had an incredibly tough job to do keeping us on track with shooting as at one point we were a day and a half behind schedule and we simply had no wiggle room to make things up at the end. It got really stressful having the feeling of driving your car full speed towards a brick wall. I know this might sound a bit dramatic but that's what it feels like when your shoot starts slipping and clawing it back takes extreme effort and focus of will. Mick was sort of like our big brother as it's the first AD's job to run the set. He did some tough things that really ran the risk of pissing people off which was necessary as he was only doing it for the good of the film. On the third day of shooting he got fed up with everybody asking him what we were doing next and so he called everybody together and told everybody who had a call sheet in their pocket to put their hands up. Three people did. If you're unfamiliar with shooting, a call sheet is an A4 printed document a few sides in length that outlines the proposed days' shooting. It contains a running order of things to be shot and any associated information such as crew details, safety risks, locations, and any specific details that may be occurring on the individual day. They get drawn up the night before and handed out in the morning so all the information on there is current and they only ever cover a single day of shooting. So Mick gave everybody a bit of a bollocking and made sure people were carrying their call sheets and looking at them before they asked a question. This was all on day 3 and we'd already slipped by half a day at this point. Two days later we'd made the half-day back. That's how you get stuff made.

I'm pretty sure there are a couple of people to watch out for in the future amongst this crew but one in particular would be miss Suzy Willett. Suzy is sat right behind Mick and is just peeking her head round his ten-bob cabbage. Suzy was working on Moon as a spark (electrician), and is in the process of transitioning to Director of Photography. Keep an eye on her as she'll doubtless be bringing you things you like in the future. That Sam Rockwell chap too, on the extreme left. I've heard he's pretty good.