Your Plastic Pal Who's Fun To Be With

The final phases of pre-production were an incredibly busy time for us on Moon. The Sarang set took nine weeks to build and the models and miniatures were being built over the last five weeks of this period. Although you'll hear people refer to Gerty as a "robot", his is, of course, a collection of plastic boxes glues together, painted and covered in coffee. He literally was our plastic pal and he used to break and not move properly because we were using him for reasons he was not designed for. The articulation in the arms was meant for static posing only but due to our tiny and shrinking budget we decided to rig them with fishing wire and get all Jim Henson on his ass. This photo below is the first time Duncan came face-to-face with the build-complete Gerty model. You can see he's still just white, untreated plastic at this stage. Gerty originally had an extra plastic ring that made his eye smaller which we took off, you can see it in this image. This was a device that Bill added to keep the lens in securely as Gertys' "eye" was actually a remotely operated 35mm camera lens from Bills' actual camera. We glued it in tighter and got rid of the disk so we could see more of the eye. I'm glad we did this as with it in there it sort of looks like a Pelican’s' eye. 

So as Gerty was being built in Bill Pearson’s' workshop, construction was simultaneously underway on the main Sarang Set. We had to be very careful with the height of the ceiling, as there are three different ceiling heights in Sarang that Gerty has to traverse. Also, the Main Corridor has a split-level ceiling which changes height as you walk across it. When I was designing the base I knew this would complicate things but I thought the design needed the extra shape in there to look right. Bill took the printouts of the orthogonal wire-frame renders I'd done from the 3D concept model of Gerty and mounted them on thin wooden board, then cut round it with a jigsaw. We mounted this 2D Gerty on a pole and moved him round the set so we could see how high he was to the roof and work through any complications that would be coming later when we had to add a CG rail-fin.

You can see me in the photo above looking virtually indistinguishable from Sam Rockwell as I check out the eye-lines and areas-of-access with the 2D wooden cutout Gerty very late one night in K stage. When we were doing this we had to lock ourselves in and turn out the outside-corridor light so the security guards wouldn't find us and kick us out.

There's something lonely but kind of nice about these photos that really captures the mood of being in an almost-finished-set in the middle of the night when everybody else has gone home. It was really, really quiet and still as the sound stage is pretty much a soundproof environment, it was incredibly still at night. During the principal shoot, we did have issues with airplanes flying overhead and we had to re-do many takes because of this. Even with all this attention to sound during principal photography, at the end of the day we still needed Sam to do fourteen pages of ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement). When we finished on the main set in K stage and moved next door to do the Green-Screen shoot in G stage, things got much worse as this studio isn't even soundproofed. Not only this but Shepperton were building a new admin block literally on the plot next door. We were constantly running a risk as we had to shoot all the green-screen and rover cab-interior shots in G and so there was always going to be a load of dialogue going on. Our shooting was constantly interrupted with the "beep-beep-beep" of diggers and forklift trucks beavering away next door. This was really stressful as we wasted loads of takes on this but we got there in the end. If I was to give one piece of advice on shooting habits it'd be don't shoot next to a building site. Seriously. You'll have daydreams about punching people out of dumper-trucks.

This photo was taken late one evening two days before we started shooting. We were being a bit naughty as we weren't supposed to be in the studio without a nurse (insurance - she left at six) but we had so much to do and were really tense about not being ready so Duncan and I grabbed a set of keys and did the last few nights in the run-up to principal photography. It would have been really nice to go to bed but we didn't have enough resources to get the set finished properly so I ended up doing most of it myself, as I couldn't have just bare white walls. My OCD kicked in and myself and Julian Walker just started graphic-ing the shit out of that mother. Well, at any rate we put a lot of stickers on the walls (over 3000, of various sizes).

It was really peaceful working in the big sound stage in the middle of the night. Film studios are strange places and there's a tendency to associate them with bustle. When we were shooting Moon we were the only production on the lot, which meant we were also the only people using the facilities. We'd sit and eat in big, empty dining rooms, walk around deserted roads and park wherever we wanted. It was a very cosy ghost-town shoot as it was winter and the weather wasn't great so there was a tendency to hunker down somewhere warm and dry and the production offices were really cosy and snug. They were also very old school, and covered in wooden laminate. They really wouldn't have looked out-of-place if they appeared in a 60s Swedish porno. There were rumours they were being demolished after we wrapped so they might not even still be there. In the background of the above pic you can see Duncan sat at the Comms Nook (as it was referred to in the script). In the background messing up the floor is a load of vinyl roll, which we used to cut the stencils from to put the graphics on the base walls. It got really messy in there but it was a good mess as we were getting things done.

Funny how a plastic box can come alive when you attach a voice like Kevin Spaceys' to it. We only got him signed on as were completing postproduction and had the opportunity to show him a very-nearly-finished version. The voice-over work was all done in a morning, he did two complete read-throughs and we'd gotten everything we needed. Good old Kevin. He's good at reading words.

All the three pieces of Gerty were generally supported from the ground. The main body was on a wheeled dolly so we could push it around a bit to try and get some extra footage, and the two arms each had a custom-built metal frame that weighed a ton and was perfect for making massive scrapes on our nice set-floor which was made of wood painted white. In the photo above you can see four of us re-positioning the small-arm and moving it into the rec-room. We originally had these supports painted blue as we were going to shoot clean plates and chroma-key out these areas to "disappear" them. However, each time the camera moved across one of them, even if it was just sat in the background of the corridor, poof! Another four or five thousand quid gone. After two days of biting my nails watching them appear in the playback again and again I decided to get them painted white. When they were white they just dropped back and as some shots were out-of-focus, these ones totally vanished. That's how you get your post done. You spend ten quid on a tin of white paint and save tens of thousands on rod removal VFX.

Here you can see me on the first day of the shoot dirtying Gerty down with some ever-present coffee in a shitty old mug. Making films is so glamorous. Stood just behind me is the amazing Simon Stanley-Clamp from Cinesite and on the left of frame is our also-amazing sign writer Julian Walker. You'll notice that we all have stupid little CSI blue plastic bootie things on our feet. This was implemented when the set had been painted and we were all supposed to put them over our shoes whenever on-set. It worked pretty well at keeping things clean but as the set was supposed to look worn I was trying to encourage people not to wear them to get a bit of extra muck and worn-in grime in there. Not complete filth, just the gentle yellowing and greasing of surfaces. In the end I think we got it pretty much spot on. Generally you'll hear film people talking about how the worst thing to film is a flat, white wall and you should stay away from this sort of thing. I'm not sure I agree with this as the Sarang set came out looking all right. MythBusted?

Here we see the crew prepping for the first shot we see of Gerty in the film, where Sam is running on the treadmill and Gerty crosses frame. It was simply a case of calling action and pulling the little handle on the dolly and there you go. The plastic box rolls in front of the camera and you've got yourself a shot. Science Fiction. You can see Mick Ward on the left hand side of frame watching a monitor that shows what the camera is seeing. We would often operate Gerty whilst watching these screens, wherever we could. Unless it was a shot where I needed to fold myself in half and put myself in a drawer to be able to move the robot but hide from the camera at the same time. There are loads of shots of Moon where I'm lying on the floor or whatnot just sneaking my hand behind him to turn him a bit for a free VFX shot. Good job I'm pretty bendy.

Here we see 1st AD Mick Ward wheeling Gerty into position below the rail in the main corridor. The opening immediately behind him was a removable (flying) wall, which we had to build into the set to get key props like Gerty in there. When I was designing the set, I put lots of bulkheads in there that were designed to act as pressure seals so there's lots of raised lips on all the doorways. The intention of this design is that if the atmospheric integrity of the base is breached, emergency doors would slam shut splitting the base into small pieces and sealing each one. The base crew and robots could then identify the problem area and keep the danger-area sealed until it could be dealt with. It would be bad if you happened to get your arm caught in it as the doors would weigh several earth-tons each and would close in under a second. We managed to get a bit of this into the scene where Sam cuts the pipe and we got one of the doors closing in the background. The end part of this scene where we see the lights coming on and the pressure door opening again is my favourite VFX shot of the film. I made this graphic for the doors and it pops up all over the place in the final film.

None of us are exactly sure where Gerty is any more as he was purchased at the EBay auction earlier in the year where we sold off loads of the props and models. I think he's moved across the Atlantic and is in either Canada of the United States. I hope whoever bought him is having a nice time with him and doesn't mind the fact that he's very sticky and smells of coffee. He served us well and has moved on to a new life where he will presumably need less emergency repairs with superglue.