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Sunday
Aug212011

Sir's robot looks a little clean...

Gerty was ultimately brought to the screen at a ratio of around 60-40 physical model vs CG. Modelmaker extrodinaire Bill Pearson led the team that did the model build on Moon so we'd liaise with him and he'd have his team of five or six additional model makers beavering away in his workshop on the Shepperton studio lot whilst they all got accidentally high on all the glue and paint solvents that got dispersed in the air whilst they worked. It was always fun popping round to Bills' workshop for some breathing, and, for me, supervising the model build was such a rewarding part of the project, I absolutely loved it. If at any time your work or career involves you working with model-builders all I can say is try and soak it all up and remember it all in as vivid detail as possible becasue it's such a magical thing seeing your designs come to life in tiny toy-form that it might be the last thing you think about when you're 180 years old and your robot body fails. After designing the vehicles and Gerty in 3D, it was fantastic seeing them come to life before our eyes over the course of a few short weeks. Bill had his studio on the Shepperton lot and it was very cold whilst we were filming, as it was winter. Bill had these heaters that were basically exposed electric elements dotted about his place and I was always paranoid my back was going to catch fire whilst I stood and chatted. Apart from all the excellent models lying around his studio, the coolest thing in there was the vac-form machine. It only did 14-inch square plates but we got all Sams' space helmet out of it by doing it in two halves. I always wanted to put my hand in that machine to see what would happen.

The photo above is how Gerty arrived on the set a day before we began shooting in the Sarang facility set. As you can see, he is very clean and nice and has no graphics or dirtying down on him at all. You can clearly see the metal pole that was always threatening to take the end of my finger off when we were adjusting his height. This was on a dolly and we wheeled him around and then painted out the trolley in post and completed the CG "fin" on the top of his head so it fitted into the rail cavity on the roof. The wire running down the pole powered the little light that is Gertys' "eye". We originally had a little torch mounted in here but ended up needing a stronger light. The actual "eye" itself was a 35mm camera lens donated by Bill Pearson (it was actually in use at the time on his camera), operated by a remote shutter release that made it dilate when pressed in. We accessed Gerty by taking a secret hidden panel off the back and reaching inside. The entire Gerty model was articulated by people. I'm tempted to write "puppetteers" but puppetteers are actually skilled professionals and we were more just people spinning a box around on wheels whilst people talked to it. There were four of us operating Gerty at various points (two of these were me and Duncan).

I must admit that as the cameras were getting set up I had a bit of a mini-freak-out thinking that we can keep on working on the sets and props between takes but as soon as the cameras' passed over something then it's committed to film and however it was when it was shot, it's basically staying like that. As we needed Gerty on the first day of filming, there was no time to lose. I was worried that Gerty needed to look like he'd been around for fifteen years and also possibly beaten up and abused a bit through the course of living with Sam. I don't mean in a negligent way, just the same way a fifteen year-old computer might look if you dug it out of the garage and put it in your living room. So I ran off to grab a cup of coffee granules, added in a bit of boiling water to make it all mushy and started rubbing him down and putting some stray stickers on him whilst the first setup was being shot out in the greenhouse. All I'd had time to do to him the night before was put a couple of bits of vinyl on him as there was so much to still do on the base walls. So as the first scene in the Greenhouse was being set up, I was just round the corner of the set making Gerty all yellow and stained with coffee. I had a few of the crew laughing at me thinking I was being weird but I'm so glad I took the time to make him look a bit older and more knackered, you can see a bit of this on the EPK on the DVD and Blu-Ray. You'll see me kneeling down with a cup of brown muck in my hand rubbing yellowy paste all over a big white plastic box on a rotating metal stand. Who says showbusiness isn't glamarous? As Gerty was dirtied down with coffee he was actually quite sticky but smelt very nice all the way through filming. I can still smell the coffee and plastic and glue smells mixed together as when I was operating Gerty during takes sometimes I had my face pressed against part of him depending how small the space I was squeezed into (especially the infirmary; not an enormous space to shoot in).

I put the cup holder into the design as I drink a lot of tea and it turns out Sam does too. He even drinks Yorkshire Tea becasue he's got such excellent taste (I'm from Yorkshire by the way). I asked him about this and he told me Sigourney Weaver put him onto it whilst they were shooting Galaxy Quest, so there's even an Alien connection in there. How cool is that? Tea totally rocks.

When I was dirtying Gerty down at extremely high speed, I was trying to think about what my computers get like after I've had them for a couple of years. I tend to use post-it notes quite a lot and they inevitably end up being stuck all over my computers and monitor. I ran off to the production office and wrote down some notes that sounded like things Sam might not want to forget (such as servicing the boom on Rover 3), and just stuck them on him. Now it's all finished and up there on the screen it's a bit weird for me seeing my writing all over him. I also put some ripped corners so it looked like this happened as routine and it occurred to me that I would probably draw on Gerty if I was living in the Sarang base. I'd also ride around on the robot arms and make them do bucking bronco type tricks when I got bored. I did actually discuss this with Duncan and he was into the idea but we had no cash to bring it to life. I'm sure if you've read any of my previous entries on this blog that will be an enormous shock to you that we had ideas for things that we couldn't afford. All I can say to this is that if you're considering making your first film, get used to this. I reckon you need a project that still works if half of it gets cut out. Because it probably will.

I thought Sam would have his own little jokes that he played on Gerty as he'd be poking the robot and seeing what it did and didn't react to. So for Sam, him sticking the "kick-me" sign on Gertys' arse was just him being a little bit mean in his earlier, grumpier phase when he's new to Sarang. Then it just became normal and he didn't even think to move it until the end of the film. The scene where Sam essentially "kills" Gerty and then goes back to take the note off him was actually Sams' idea and he came up with is whilst we were shooting the scene. I was quite delighted about that as it ended up being a sweet little moment in the film. Funny how you can just do little things sometimes like writing a stupid thing on a bit of paper and it ends up being something that people you have never met want to talk to you about at screenings. I wish I'd kept that little note as when the set was being struck by what I can only describe as a mental bastard in an armoured fork-lift truck, we had Gerty and the two arms sat off in the corner of the sound-stage ready to be shipped off into storage. I was in a hurry as I was on my way to a meeting, and as I walked past I remember seeing a little yellow square up against the wall quite close to where Gerty was standing. It was probably the note and it probably went in the skip.

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