How not to design your robot

Right then, time for a bit of a cringe-fest from me. Here's the first Gerty 3D concept that I ever did which was based on Duncan’s' initial sketches. In this image, Gerty is facing away from "Sam", who is being stood-in-for here with a 3DSMax biped. For those of you not familiar with 3D modelling, that's a bony computer man made of pixels and electricity. We moved on pretty quickly from this design once we'd knocked it up, there's a little screen on the right hand side of the image that would have been a flat panel with the face on. I could just see this moving around and looking like the robot was craning its' neck all the time and it wouldn't have looked very good on film so we binned it off and I started looking at the Pacman version. I can't believe I'm posting stuff that looks this bad but I want to give you a genuine look at what we did and that means showing you the rubbish stuff as well as the pretty stuff. Please don't judge me to harshly, I know it's awful, that's why we didn't try to refine it, we just threw it in the bin. Goodbye!

I tend to do a lot of my design and concept work directly in 3D space as it's a really good way of exploring shape and form early on in a design. I pretty much just started making the base right out my head as Duncan and I had been talking about it for a couple of weeks and I had some ideas that I thought would work so I pretty much just sat down and started building the main corridor of the base. As I progressed I was lighting the scene in VRay (an excellent rendering package), and was using real-world equivalent lights and surface textures so we could get an idea very early on how the base might eventually end up looking. It always pains me when the final "real thing" ends up looking nothing like the concept piece and working in 3D right off the bat really helps to avoid this. It's not all 3D, I will stop and do a doodle from time to time but I do spend a lot of time in 3D space and most of my final concept pieces almost always have 3D involved.

You can see the initial main corridor concept model in the background of these images of the initial design for "Pacman" Gerty (below). 

Having a basic corridor in place gave me a good sense of scale and enabled me to get an idea as to how Gerty was going to be able to move around. We had the idea of the ceiling-mounted rail fairly early on as it has a nice old-school quality to it, it's not magical futuristic engineering or anything that involves lasers and magic and I like this kind of mechanical feeling whenever I'm designing heavy things that move. I thought it would look nice if he shuddered a little bit as he crossed bulkheads and things like that as we didn't have much to work with to bring Gerty to life and I was of the mentality that every little helps. In the end Gerty was brought to life properly by Kevin Spacey so as it turns out I needn't have worried but at that time we had no idea who the voice was going to be. We only ended up getting him once we'd almost finished the film and so at this concept stage it could have been anybody. When we were filming Duncan read out the Gerty lines and so all the way through the edit we'd all gotten used to his voice, so it was quite weird when all of a sudden Gerty transmogrified into Keyser Soze. The hardest thing about working with Kevin Spacey was getting him inside Gerty as the practical effects "robot" was basically a big plastic box. Incidentally, if you've seen Moon you'll have witnessed Duncans' multi-faceted vocal talents elsewhere and probably not even known about it. He rarely shows it but he does some great impressions (his Crusty the Klown is particularly good). If you meet him don't ask him to do it though as he'll know it was me. When Sam is driving the Rover there is an automated womans voice giving him information as he drives. This is actually Duncan's voice pitch-shifted. I think you'll agree he makes quite a good robot woman.

You'll see in the above early concept render that there was a ladder at the end of the main Sarang corridor. This was originally supposed to be a free-standing ladder that went up and down a deck like on a submarine, but that all changed when we could only afford a single level (almost) on the base build. We did get a tower though. Everybody loves a tower. A big tower with a big fat chair and a robot that brings you cups of tea. Living on the Moon is sweet.

We looked at a few options for the rail system including making a little train-track above the set with a big groove cut into it but we ran out of time and money. We also looked at using real robot arms but as the set was enclosed and none of us had ever worked with robotics on this sort of scale before we thought it might be a bit risky. I must admit, even though I was up for it, I would have been half expecting them to pick me up and pull me in half. They're very cool though, I love robot arms and especially automated production lines with lots of them all picking up things and welding them into each other. I'd have liked to have more robotic apparatus around the base in general, but, (huge surprise coming here) we didn't have the money to do it any sort of justice. I toyed with the idea of dressing the set with some inactive arms folded up here and there but we ran out of money to do that too. I know I'm saying this rather a lot but it keeps coming up in every aspect of the production. In the end we decided to move away from this Pac-Man type robot as it was starting to look a bit like a 2001 pod so we went back to the original idea of a bunch of PCs bolted together and concentrated on working up a nicer design. It was the right call to make as even though I still quite like PacMan Gerty, when I see the film now I can't imagine the robot any other way than as he appeared in the film. He was supposed to look like a bunch of modules semi-forced together and I think we pulled that look off quite nicely. Also, it's much cheaper to fabricate boxy shapes than it is to do lots of bespoke curved surfaces so we got another win there. Pretty much every decision we made during the making of this film was at least half centered around, saving some money. So here's Pacman Gerty, the robot that never was.