One of the things that really got me excited about the design aspect of Moon was that I was going to get to design some Moon Buggies. I love moon buggies. I've always been obsessed with vehicles in Sci-Fi films, from the buggies in Silent Running and Space 1999 to Wolfs' Scrambler in Space Hunter to the Light Cycles and Recognizers in Tron to the AT-ATs and Speeder Bikes in the Star Wars films. I wanted to drive around in those excellent looking, cool-sounding vehicles more than anything and when I finally got a ride in an Argo with my Dad on some trip to some safari park somewhere as a little kid I almost pissed all over myself in excitement. This WAS Space 1999. The Argo was even yellow. I remember my Dad even let me have a little go at driving, we did a little assault course thing and splashed through a bit of water and mud. Massive hi-light of my young life. So when we were getting the script for Moon together I kept banging on to Duncan about how most of the best old-school sci-fi has buggies and cool space-cars in that we get to see our hero drive around in. Space-buggies and Robot buddies. That's the sci-fi I like.
When we were first getting the project together it seemed we might be able to get around a quarter of a million pounds to do the film so we were really looking to cut costs as much as possible and get the maximum bang for our buck. I know this sounds a bit clichéd but it's true and there's really no other way to say it which is perhaps why it has become a cliché in the first place. It's very nice having bespoke vehicles made for your production but it's also very expensive. I've always loved the aesthetics of military vehicles and so I had a bit of a think about what cool-looking stuff we could get really cheaply to dress up and use in the film. I've always loved the look of the Alvis Stalwart, which is a military truck that was in service with the UK Armed Forces during the cold war and was originally intended to transport fuel to the tanks up front. It was eventually retired as the job was taken over by helicopters and it became obsolete. It's such a sexy machine, it's a six wheel drive amphibious go anywhere nuclear shock proof cabbed double hard bastard and if it had boobs I'd get it drunk and try and kiss it. I've almost bought one of these bad boys a couple of times but I've not had anywhere to keep it.
One of these days I will own a Stalwart.
I had this truck down as a contender for possibly being dressed up a bit, repainted and pressed into service as our Lunar Rover. Due to the amphibious aspect of its design, it hasn't even got any doors; you have to get in through the roof. I always loved vehicles where you have to jump in through roof-mounted hatches and you'll probably have noticed that I kept this in the final rover design even though it's not really that practical. It just felt more "Lunar" somehow and less like a truck and even though it complicated shooting I reckon it was worth it. I did a quick concept piece to try to get it down but was immediately overtaken by events when we committed to models. I'd been pushing for models for ages so it was actually a relief to bin the Stalwart off as now we were going to be able to get into some bespoke designs in our film and get to do a miniature shoot whilst simultaneously saving an insanely massive amount of money. Kerching! Win for VFX. The CG alternative that was originally tabled broke our budget by over four times our final spend and there was no way we could proceed unless we went with the miniature option. I always loved models as they have certain honesty on film and I was delighted when the production had exhausted other avenues and we were back to my original plan of doing it for real. Also, there was something about doing it old school that made me warm and tingly inside.
As we were working things out we were both insanely busy so I started off an initial design for Sam’s' Lunar Rover. I used this in the animatic images and as things moved forwards so quickly I never got to refine the design more than this so this image below is as far as we got with the "traditional" sci-fi "buggy" concept. When Duncan and I were working out the mechanics of the base and how things would actually work we had a rover already in there which was really just Sam’s' Lunar Runabout that he'd use to pick up Helium 3 canisters and run them back to base. The original script had the canisters ejected onto the lunar soil behind the harvesters and Sam would just drive up next to the bright orange canister with a beacon on it and load it up onto the side of his little buggy, then drive back to Sarang. We put the docking sequence in to make things more interesting and also to have Sam drive through the debris-cloud on a regular basis, which is, of course, where he crashes the rover and starts the chain of events that really starts the film. It was originally going to be a little buggy and as we had zero cash it needed to be enclosed so we couldn't see him sat in it as this would complicate things in post enormously as there were so many rover shots required for the film. A dummy sat in a miniature open buggy could very easily look awful on-screen and it was clearly best to design this potential pitfall out of the vehicle. I'm almost tempted not to even call this a "design" as it was really just a place-holder that I invested very little thought in and pretty much made up as I went along. I just wanted to include it as the rovers came about very quickly and I pretty much just pulled the design out of fresh air. There really weren’t too many steps that I went through design-wise. Most of the back-and-forth was us collectively settling on the model miniature route as an overall strategy.
As you can see, this as really only a little runabout and the scenes with the two Sam’s in the same rover would have been very cozy in the rover-interior set if we had to match it to fit this design. The orange cylinder on the side is a Helium 3 canister, which I originally had envisaged as larger than appeared in the film and more like a high-tech oil drum. As we kept talking about the base it seemed clear that he would have at least one backup rover and also a maintenance vehicle to help him do jobs such as repairing a thrown track on a harvester, so I wanted to put a some machinery on there and we ended up using a crane. I love a good crane, even to this day, if I'm walking down the street and see a nice crane parked up with its' legs out and its' massive boom extended I'll hang around for a couple of minutes and have a good letch over it. I like this separation in the three rovers with them having different purposes and they came in really useful in the story as we could have more driving around. I always liked the moment in the film where Sam 2 first enters the garage and finds Rover one is missing and it catches him out. Originally this was going to be a full-size set but we didn't have the money and so we had to composite a green-screen Sam over some 12th scale footage of the garage which was actually this big.
The chap behind the camera is Peter Talbot, our miniatures DoP. Bear in mind that he is actually a tiny man and so the models are even smaller than they seem in this picture. Peter was excellent to hang around and chat with. I don't use this term very often at all but I think he might actually be a genius with cameras. He was mightily impressive to watch working and full of amazing advice and knowledge. He did the miniature work on Dark Knight too so another win for team Moon. The other two Rovers also got an initial design work-up for the Animatics. Rover 2 immediately below might look a little bit familiar.
Rover 3 was originally going to be based on another UK military vehicle, the Alvis Saxon. The Saxon's a weird looking thing and when I was chatting to Duncan about the Stalwart we sat down I showed him the models of vehicles we were likely to be able to get hold of relatively easily and he liked the look of the Saxon as a basis for Rover 3.
I've just got to say this again: Please don't judge me too harshly for these rubbish placeholder designs, they were blocked out in less than an hour and I'm including them to give you an honest account of the design process which sometimes isn't pretty.
Everything changed when we went to the next step in the rover design which came after a break of a couple of weeks whilst we were working on other things. By this point we were committed to a model build and this made things easier for me as I didn't have to worry about dressing an existing vehicle or and all the problems and compromises associated with that; I was back to having free reign. This was great as I just put the kettle on, rolled my sleeves up and finished up the Rover 2 design as it was the one I felt had the most potential. As I was doing this I started to really like the design and suggested we unify the design of the Rovers by having a common base-chassis for all three. Having three individual vehicles was starting to feel a bit scrappy and having a common chassis made it all click a bit and feel more harmonious. I designed in a flatbed type rear quarter making it more of a general utility vehicle. I then decided to put some kit onto the other rovers that would be generally useful to Sam. So, we have the boom-arm on Rover 3 and on Rover 2 I mounted a generator unit that's quite non-descript but is actually a service module for the Harvesters. The idea is that this unit is one of the more common repair jobs that Sam has to deal with so Gerty keeps Rover 2 pre-loaded with the kit so when the unit fails Sam can just jump in the Rover and he's off. I really wanted to put a Gerty arm in the garage to show that he has elements of him in action outside the base but we ran out of money. I loved the idea of robotic arms on rails silently moving around the outside of the base doing things whilst Gerty is simultaneously inside talking to Sam. We did get a hint of this in one of the opening shots where we see a robotic arm working on "Judas" (the "dead" harvester right outside the garage entrance). This shot was put in by a lovely chap called Simon Stanley Clamp who was our key liaison with the Cinesite team. He just dropped it in one time as a little bonus and when Duncan and myself turned up for our bi-weekly VFX review and the shot just appeared in front of us, we were both delighted. Keep.
The Rover design came together very quickly at this point, which was a good thing as we were running out of time. As I was working it up I tried a couple of things moving elements about and looking at potential colour schemes but ended up going back to my original plan. At the start of the project we were going to give the vehicles a kind of race-team aesthetic so Sam’s EVA suit would look a bit "Formula One" and the vehicles would have stripes on them, etc. We soon decided to move away from this as the Sarang base design came together really quickly and drove the design along a certain path that was definitely not Formula One racing.
Ideally I'd have liked to work these models up further but at least I got to spend more time on them than most other things I did on Moon. I might come back to these at some point and work them up more just for fun as I've got all the 3D models sat on my computer. It's so nice doing concept art in 3D as I was confident that the model build was going to go smoothly as I could even provide the model building team with complete schematics and orthogonal renders (images with no perspective- like blueprints) to help them with the build. Incidentally, in Moon world, an aerospace company would build these rovers and I tried to work some aspects of this into the design. Those of you familiar with Boeing aircraft will see some similar shapes in the rover windows.
So after a couple more days of chipping away in 3D, I had final design renders done and we were ready to go and brief the model-building team. That's where these little beauties (below) came from. I must admit, I did get a bit of a kick walking into Bill Pearson’s workshop and seeing all my designs printed out everywhere, literally covering the workshop walls. If I close my eyes now I can almost smell the glue. No, seriously, it was that strong I still smell of glue.
And that's how the Rovers came about. Almost everything was done in miniature except for a couple of bits of set that we made full-size. We built the rover cab interior of course, and we also built the outside cab roof when Sam is shown getting in and out of the Rover (that's actually me in the space-suit but I'll tell you more about that later). At one point we were going to have a full-size rover built for the garage scenes but in the end we used miniatures and composited them in. Probably a good thing, as I'd have had to take the full-scale rover home with me at the end of the shoot. I always love designing science-fiction hardware and it was so great to be able to put something back out there that lots of people get to see. I was delighted at the reaction we got for using model miniatures rather than CG and there were so many people that worked on the back end of post to bring all these shots to the screen that it was such a relief to get them finished without the design straying. All of my design work in Moon came out true to my original vision and it's genuinely humbling when you consider how many hard-working people were involved making that happen. Cheers guys! You totally fucking rock!