Gavin Rothery was the visual effects supervisor for Moon (2009) and his blog is fantastic. In it he chronicles a lot of details behind the designs for the film and the budget constraints they had.
The title of this blog post is based on the movie tagline "The last place you'd ever expect to find yourself."
In case you've never heard of it here's what Wikipedia says:
Moon is a 2009 British science fiction drama film directed by Duncan Jones. The film is about a man who experiences a personal crisis as he nears the end of a three-year solitary stint mining helium-3 on the far side of the Earth's moon. It was the feature debut of director Duncan Jones. Sam Rockwell stars as the employee Sam Bell, and Kevin Spacey voices his robot companion, GERTY.The film is very well received and nominated for two BAFTA Awards, winning Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer for Jones. It also won the prestigious Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form and two British Independent Film Awards including Best British Independent Film (BIFA) winner of the 2009 award for the Best British Independent Film. It was nominated for the Saturn Awards for Best Science Fiction Film and Best Actor for Rockwell.
I've included some of the concept art from his blog along with his quotes about it. Be forewarned there are some spoilers in the descriptions.
One of the most satisfying bits of work I did on Moon was designing the set. I had free reign to come up with a moon base concept that we were actually going to build in it's entirety, so it was an exciting prospect. Duncan and I had been chatting general moon base stuff whilst getting the script together so by the time I started the actual design process I'd already pretty much got it in my head. So I went straight to 3D and started boshing it out. The only thing Duncan really wanted was a main corridor that was kind of shaped like a key so I took this and incorporated a split-level roof. I knew I wanted to have the facility white and lit primarily with bounced light rather than direct light sources. The image below is the first render I did of the Sarang set.
I usually start a design with a key shape or detail and as I had the bulkhead pressure-seals in mind for the entire base it felt like a good place to start. I was lighting the CG set with real-world equivalent lights right from the beginning in an attempt to get a clear idea of what we might eventually end up with in the studio.
The ladder to the Monitor Room was originally supposed to be more of "an event" in the base design but as we ran out of money it ended up being a metal ladder painted orange with tennis racket grips wound round it. I remember when these grips were being applied; the art department was getting pretty down about how tight our resources were. It didn't help that I'd stolen their vacuum cleaner and plaited it orange for the Gerty hair-cutting scene. Everything was getting grabbed and pulled to pieces or being used to dress the set. You can see how with the ladder, I originally went for something much more substantial as I wanted there to be a bit of a climb that was very brightly lit. I liked the idea of this ladder sat in the darkness with a bright light beaming down and framing it in a kind of spotlight.
The nice thing about the design language of the corridor bulkheads are that they translate nicely into tasty-looking pressure doors that are clearly Science Fiction. I love the look of these sorts of things in Sci-Fi. This is the view of the rec room whilst it was just a white space. The main corridor was designed first, then the airlock, infirmary, sleeping quarters and finally the rec room. In the render above it's just a placeholder white box to give the impression of an illuminated space.
Originally I had the return vehicle as a series of silos in the floor that Gerty would use the big arm to load the canisters into. As the rail gun was underneath the base this made sense but when the script developed and Sam needed to get into the return vehicle this complicated things massively. So we changed it to more of a lift that he could load up his kit and lie down in. In the film we see Sam lift two modules out of the lift mechanism to make room for himself. These units each held two HE3 canisters and weighed an absolute ton. They were solid wood and barely liftable and everybody hated moving them around.
I always liked the look of the two big doors open next to each other. We got a couple of shots into the film with this framing and I always liked the way it ended up looking. Sci-Fi-doorey = good.
I originally had this design on the back wall of the infirmary. A big cross. Because he is in hospital...I get annoyed at myself when I do something that's very literal. I don't know why I didn't just make the whole base design look like a giant space-helmet...It's also a massive pharmacy sign. What the h**l was I thinking? Goodbye Forever!
Originally the greenhouse area where Sam grows his plants was going to be a disused airlock. I designed this into the base but we needed more room to film it and so we opened it out into a vague grey area walled with bread crates spray painted with some stickers on and lights behind them. That's movie magic!
Most of the base design changed very little from my original designs as I just sort of blurted it all out straight into 3D. In the images above we see the corridor to the "return vehicle" (clone-burning-box). This part of the set always used to annoy me as the sloped floor was made of wood and it used to flex and creak a bit as you walked up it. I tried to get it stabilized but as it would have meant ripping quite a bit of the set apart to get under it we just had to leave it. Always annoyed the s**t out of me though. If you look at the graphic on the floor right in front of the door on the set as it appears in the film, you'll see a grey shape which kind of looks like the Millennium Falcon. I painted this on there as a shout out to Ralph McQuarrie, one of the greatest Science Fiction artists that have ever lived. Ralph Rocks.
The diagram below is an outline of the base hi-lighting the Gerty rail apparatus. As you can see, there are areas of the station that he actually has no access to. We never see him in Sam’s' bedroom even though one of his jobs is to clean-up after the "removal" of an expired clone. Exactly how he achieves this is simply a space-mystery and definitely not because we forgot or overlooked anything.
Even though this was just a quick screen-grab of the 3D layout of the set, I ended up re-purposing it and using it as a lightbox graphic above the main terminal as the "Fire Control" graphic.
The animation below is a CG fly-through I did to give more of a sense of space and to show how everything is connected together (sorry about the file-size). These renders went down really well at meetings and the whole CG design sequence turned out to be incredibly useful as the construction department could take the 3D models and immediately start working with them. Also, when we came to pre-light the set we had of a blueprint for light placements and a decent idea of what it was supposed to look like as reference.
It was a weird thing designing this base and then having the thing built for real as walking around it was like being inside my own head, it was a real "Being John Malkovitch" experience for me. The design process took around a week when all said and done, with most of the work being done up front and then a few tweaks and "finishing off" being completed a couple of weeks later over a day or two. It was really nice getting to spend a few weeks in Sarang whilst we were filming and strange how I wasn't upset at all when I saw the set being smashed to pieces at the end of the shoot. I'm not sure exactly what this says about me or how knackered I was at the time but at the end of all the violent destruction it made a h**l of a big bonfire.
Here's the trailer to the moody Moon (2009).
See more of Rothery's work, along with some great production stories, at his site http://www.gavinrothery.com.
What do you think of the designs? How would you like to be stuck there for three years? If you saw Moon what did you think of it? Would you watch it?
This post is part of the month long "A-Z Challenge." For 27 days, I'll be choosing a letter from the alphabet and crafting a post around it. To read more of the posts in the series click here. To find out more about the challenge go here.
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