Sarang UDK Still by Rachel van der MeerRachel van der Meer got in touch with MOON Director Duncan Jones and Concept Artist & VFX Supervisor Gavin Rothery recently to let them know that along with fellow students at the NHTV In Breda, Netherlands, she had built a virtual MOON base. A MOON base that can be entered, walked around, and interacted with. Rachel kindly took the time to provide a LOT more detail (and make me jealous that she got to walk around it using an Oculus Rift Virtual Reality headset)…

So what does a virtual MOON base look like? And how do you even go about building one to start with, let alone move around and interact with it? I asked Rachel a few questions and she replied with a fantastic amount of detail which will obviously enable all of us to do the same (as long as we have the same skills and talent and time and commitment it should be a doddle, yeah?) First though, this is what it looks like.


How did you come to choose MOON and Sarang to base the project on?

I’m a visual arts student studying at the NHTV in Breda, Netherlands. As a part of our course we have this world building project.

In this project we had to dress up a level that was designed by one of the design & production students, we get a bare level that just contains the layout of all rooms and corridors and then we have to make the level into a certain visual style or IP.

This can be anything ranging from a secret base from a James Bond film to a tropical island in the caribbean. The requirement is that we still keep intact all the areas and corridors that were developed by the designer and scrutinised by play-testing.

Usually the designers pick a IP/style to go with their level design, and the artists pick the IP/style they like most, after which they form teams to decorate the levels. One of the themes that was pitched was a level in the style of MOON. Since I previously had already done level design and decoration with Portal2 and was a big fan of the “sober” sci-fi style featured in MOON I went to apply for making the level with a team of fellow students. I remember when I first saw MOON a few years earlier, and was a huge fan of the movie back then.

How did you go about creating it?

Since it’s too time intensive to model every inch of the level as a unique object we had to figure out a system in which to build the level. This modular system is kind of similar to designing a lego set to work with. Here is an example.

After that we used key visual details from the film to create our own level with. Because the difference in size and layout we couldn’t just replicate the moonbase from the film ‘one to one’ therefore we had to use certain areas as inspiration and use them in a different context. Aside from using MOON for inspiration we looked at a wide array of similar looking Sci-Fi films and games. A few examples are 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, or even Portal. The most important thing is that we wanted a sober and minimalistic look, no holographic screens, flashy Sci-Fi objects or “spacemagic”. Also we wanted the base to look very pristine, similar to the movie, this meant we couldn’t cover up mistakes or problems with rust, dirt and rubble.  We got a lot of inspiration from Gavin Rothery, the Concept Artist for MOON, since he created an extensive blog describing how the original moonbase was created. Since our level was designed with a huge open space we had to figure out a “reason” for it to be there. Eventually we came to the idea of using the open area as a maintenance bay for those big rovers that are featured in the film. A few of the “known” areas from the film that we managed to put in our level were the control room and those very typical octagonal corridors. Also we managed to recreate GERTY to be used in the level, rail system included. All objects in the level were created using mostly Maya, 3dsMax, Zbrush and Photoshop, then they were imported into UDK. After importing we had to place and light and animate all objects in the level. My job during that stage was mostly lighting the level and making sure all objects were placed correctly. Also I animated a few of the sequences and worked on the particle systems. It was important to have the different areas of the level to have their own look and feel. Similarly to the movie, we mostly used lighting to create color and atmosphere in the separate areas, most objects in our level are just shaded in black, white or anything in between, using lights we could have sterile white environments but also ominous dark orange parts or a cold looking teal coloured control room. 

What is UDK?

UDK is also known as the Unreal Development Kit. It’s the program or level editor that is used to create games and levels that are based in the Unreal engine. A few examples of games using that engine are UnrealTournament, Gears of War, MassEffect or Bioshock. We are taught to work in these kinds of software packages so that we can later use it when working in the games industry.

There are a lot of similar programs for the other engines like CryEngine, SourceSDK or Unity, they usually operate in a similar fashion so we can apply the knowledge to the other engines as well. 

Is this a hobby, or something you are working towards as a career, or something you do already?

As stated before this project was a big class project, a team of 7 visual artists and 1 level designer worked on this project for a whole school year. there were about 6 or 7 of these projects with students grouping together. 

  • During the first quarter the level is designed.
  • The second quarter the visual artists model all assets.
  • The third quarter the artists texture and shade the level.
  • The final quarter is there to polish and finalise the level. 

The goal is to gain experience with working with the engine and software while creating a work that could be used as a portfolio piece. It’s these kinds projects that will land us internships and jobs in the games industry.

How was your experience viewing it with Oculus Rift?

Only recently I managed to get my hands on a Oculus Rift Development Kit, and I have to say it’s quite amazing walking through the level with those goggles on.  The most interesting thing of the Rift is is that it envelops your entire field of view, there are no edges. Also if you turn your neck and look to the side, the Rift will actually send those motions to the computer and the in game camera will be turned in the direction you look. Currently the only downside is that there is a lack of fidelity because of the low resolution screen that is featured in the development kit. Later Oculus will bring out a HD version for consumers that should fix that issue.

I cant wait until developers start to adapt their games to the Rift, Valve already has done a great job by adding support for the device in their games at such an early stage.

I don’t know about you, but I would LOVE to have a virtual walk around the MOON base Rachel and her team created, especially using Oculus Rift (gameplay video of Rachel’s experience). Incredible work!

Full credits for the project:

  • Rachel van der Meer – Artistic Director
  • Elise Verhagen – Team Lead
  • Henriette Sande
  • Rik van Peer
  • Lenneke Roland
  • Bas de Vries
  • José Koppes
  • Tom Duijm
  • Alex Camilleri – Level Layout

A full gallery of still images for the MOON base is available here.

Should anyone wish to check out Rachel’s other work, or get in touch, you can view her YouTube channel, Twitch channel, Deviant Art portfolio, Twitter or LinkedIn.

And as a final treat for all you Portal fans & romantics out there, here’s one of the most original marriage proposals I think I have ever seen (mentioned above by Rachel but didn’t want you to miss this)