Designing the Lunar Harvesters

The Harvester vehicles were always a central part of the script and so it was very important that they look right. Duncan and I had been discussing these theoretical machines for quite a while in the pub as many of our chats tend towards hypothetical engineering projects such as manned Mars missions and Airship routes as motorway alternatives. I find this sort of thing fascinating and try to make my vehicle and hardware designs look authentic by doing a sort of "hypothetical engineering" with the design where I actually design the vehicle from a practical standpoint and place the engine, fuel source, suspension, cockpit, etc inside the vehicle and let that lead the design. It usually results in a more believable end result than it would otherwise and it also makes it more fun and gives me a starting point in the design which tends to have the added bonus of speeding things up. I had some ideas in my head so I got straight into 3DS Max and started some initial design shapes. Once again, I am about to show you some very underwhelming artwork but, in the spirit of honesty regarding the design process, here it is.

I'll usually get right into a model like this straight off the bat as it gives me a good idea of the shapes from all angles and cameras and also it allows me to get an appropriate sense of mass. The Harvesters featured in Moon are essentially unmanned automated factories that roam across the lunar surface sifting through the top layer of lunar soil and processing it via an onboard factory. The complex and compact factory module extracts the element Helium 3 from the lunar topsoil and processes it for use as fuel. This is then loaded into a pressurised, stable container for temporary storage and pickup from the local station crew (Sam). As Helium 3 is a minority element in the lunar soil, a vast amount must be processed to fill a container. To produce roughly 70 tons of helium 3, a million tons of lunar soil would need to be heated to 1,470 degrees Fahrenheit (800 degrees Celsius). Of this million processed tons this means that 999,930 tons of it will be ejected through this machinery out of the back of the Harvester. The image below is the first and only image I ever worked up of the harvesters in photoshop. As usual, it was done very quickly before a meeting and I only got to spend an hour or so on it. To be honest I hated bashing things out this quickly as I knew it would leave me with a rubbish portfolio piece at the end. The thing is that we just didn’t have any time to finish anything off properly and we just had to run at it as fast as we could. I've promised myself that the next film I do I'll be treating myself to some proper illustration time so I've got something nice to show at the end of it. At least the design translated well on film and the end result is pretty close to the original concept. 

When the solar wind and its' rapid stream of charged particles emitted by the sun strikes the moon, helium 3 is deposited in the powdery soil, accumulating over billions of years. Meteorite bombardment disperses the particles throughout the top several meters of the lunar surface. The Harvesters' booms are designed to filter out rocks and boulders and process the valuable fine topsoil. Today helium 3 is estimated to have a cash value of $4 billion a ton in terms of its energy equivalent in oil. When a container is ready for collection the Sarang base receives notification and maintenance staff must make their way to the Harvester to collect them in the Lunar Rovers. These Rovers have special equipment to allow safe transpiration of highly pressurised fuel sources.
 Once the Harvesters have been started they cannot idle like traditional Earth-bound vehicles. Their very design means they must constantly be in motion otherwise a stall occurs and the whole factory unit automatically shuts down. Re-starting a stalled Harvester in the lunar environment is a big job so the maintenance crew of Lunar Industries stations are constantly under pressure to keep things running smoothly and avoid stall events at all costs.
The machines' actual span with both booms fully deployed is 174 feet (58 metres). These massive machines would be deployed to the lunar surface in modules and assembled by maintenance teams on-site. Lunar Industries services these machines with Trans-Planetary vehicles called "Rigs" which can be called in should the need arise. Due to the great expense this is a measure of last resort. Due the nature of their Job, Rig Crews are "no-nonsense" outfits. If you look closely at the Eliza rig design it is actually able to swap out factory modules on the harvesters by landing astride them and can even recover and drop-off entire harvester vehicles.
The helium 3 element is almost non-existent on earth but abundant on the moon and is a perfect source of fuel for fusion. This technology is real world and the theories and technologies for all Lunar Industries mining operations depicted in "Moon" are being seriously considered by NASA. We got a lot of our background for Moon from the excellent book "entering space" by Robert Zubrin. It's a very sober, logical look at how we could be moving out into space and examines both the technologies are already have and those we need to develop. If you've not read this book and are interested in space travel I'd highly recommend picking up a copy. If you're feeling lazy, here's a link to Amazon:

On the off-chance you're interested in what we were reading when we made Moon, here's the main inspiration behind the look and feel we wanted from the Lunar surface; the amazingly beautiful "Full Moon" by Michael Light.

If you want to se the specific image that first made us go "That's it, that's what we want", have a look at the sneaky-peek link inside Full Moon below and have a look at pages 100-101. This is actually a wide format double page spread single image but if you click back and forth you can kind of see it.

The overall aesthetic of these machines was one of pure function, which led itself to an impression of mass. As the vehicles are unmanned there is no cockpit or cab. The intention was for a very industrial and functional looking machine that could be quite intimidating and bullish-looking from certain angles. My original take on it was to have a go at something that's a cross between the Jawa Sandcrawler from Star Wars (lovely bit of design that, cheers Ralph :), a combine harvester and a WW1 tank. The hypothetical engineering led to a service weight of just over 800 earth tons which in one sixth Lunar gravity would be just under a hundred and forty tons.
 Lunar Gravity was something that we had quite a few chats about at the beginning of the project but in the end we couldn't afford to do a comprehensive sixth-gravity take over the entire film so we just sort of left it and it went away. Nobody's ever mentioned this to me so far which I guess is a good sign. No matter how much of a stickler you might be for accuracy, you'll find yourself making these sorts of compromises in film and it's a relief when the audience is okay with it. It would be easy to say that there's some sort of sci-fi gravity generator keeping the base under comparable earth gravity but I hate things like this as the actual engineering required to achieve this is way more futuristic than Gerty or a Lunar harvester. Thanks for letting us get away with the "uploading memories" technology too, even though it is not as whimsical as the gravity generator. It's all USB2.

As I've been showing you some pretty ropey artwork so far, I'm going to put a nicer piece in now. This is a render of a 3D model of a harvester that I did as we were doing the model build. It's still rushed as it's untextured and only has two and a half days of modelling in there but it's closer to the kind of thing I'd call an actual concept piece. So there you go. The future of Earths' energy sources in a couple of rushed bits of concept art. That’s showbiz!