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A Road Trip to the Moon, abridged Jul 21, 2022
A Road Trip to the Moon, abridged

If you could visit every planet in the solar system... Where would you go first, and why? 🪐

This is a dramatically abridged 1st episode in a Verse series about the Planets in our solar neighborhood!

The trials and tribulations to produce this fun little video are pretty mind boggling, a case study in the persistence to get something done even as every turn of circumstances seemed to say, constantly, consistently, "No".

Turning those 'No's into 'Yes's was the greatest challenge of the year 2022

Production Challenges

In preproduction, I surveyed the options for VFXing my way to the lunar surface, I was struck by the overwhelming lack of tools to visualize the lunar surface accurately, beautifully, and quickly.

I had to do what I hoped I wouldn't - recreate the lunar surface myself from the highest resolution data available and somehow get it into UE5, choosing Unreal Engine hoping that it would be faster to use existing Landscape-rendering tools than developing my own from scratch

A couple weeks of hacking later, I'd built a pipeline with help from my verseview project to take the equirectangular maps of the lunar surface, reproject them to "top-down" orthographic projection, format & import them into the Unreal Engine, and then apply a surface material which simulates the way light behaves on the lunar surface, specifically Hapke scattering

As fun and exciting as the results were, there were serious limitations:

  • Any time I ran the landscapes on my Mac, it would basically melt from overheating (UE5 is not optimized for Mac dev)
  • Any time I rendered from my Windows PC, it would take all day to render a simple scene (old-ish GPU)

By this point I had also written and story-boarded a full "Road Trip to the Moon" video and was getting ready to continue writing & preparing the Planets series

Cinespace and the Race for the Moon

Some time in early summer 2022, I became aware of the Cinespace 2022 film festival, and was extremely excited to apply with this "Road Trip to the Moon" video, switching gears from making the rest of the Planets series

The trouble is, the festival submissions had a limit of 10mins, while the latest draft of the Road Trip To the Moon was about 30mins long. If I wanted to apply, I'd have to try and cut 20 mins off this video that I'd already poured so much soul into!

During a frenzied July, I raced to crunch the video by 60%, forming a different unique conclusive insight than the one I'd planned, still giving a compelling emotional context for this little adventure to the moon!

the final timeline in Resolve

The story took a completely different turn than the "unabridged" cut (still yet to be released), but I found that with a particular symphonic version of Clair de Lune, I could bring a really special story to life in 10min!

Trouble was, it wasn't a Clair De Lune recording I had the rights to use in a short film; it was owned by a particular music label conglomerate, and even after I miraculously sleuthed who to contact to secure a sync license, it became clear why composers are so well off - they wanted 100x more than my entire budget for the project

I had to do what I hoped I wouldn't - create my own recording of Clair de Lune for the film, all within two weeks, and in addition to completing the filming & VFX

Daunted, I began where all good things begin; with ukulele

By the point of completing Clair de Lune I had about 1 week remaining to turn hand-drawn sketches into science-accurate visuals

Before and after VFX

Basic calculations of render times showed me that I'd run out of time to render all the VFX I needed to for the video, so, I "rented" (bought to return) a faster GPU from an electronics store, "rented" an indoor air conditioner to keep my computers (and myself) operational in the Los Angeles heat, and got to work

In a blitz of intense production my mind has mostly blocked the memory of, I fought comically endless software crashes, render issues, in blistering LA day-heat and short cool nights.

By the deadline to apply to Cinespace, I'd accurately re-created the Apollo 11's Tranquility base in Unreal Engine and concluded all the compositing to bring myself there in spirit, including a highly graceful landing on the Moon

Tranquility Base recreation

Ultimately, my entry to Cinespace was a success until it wasn't. They emailed me that I "made the final round of selections" and then, 24 hrs later explained how "the last email had been sent in error"... You really can't make this stuff up

After it all, I still look back on this shot, filmed long before I knew of Cinespace, casually enjoying the rim view of Copernicus crater, in stillness and delight

Chlillin on the moon

This video is an ode to delight in all the simple beauty of the Universe
whether you're on the Moon,
a rest stop on cross country road trip,
or a moment alive in the Universe, anytime, anywhere

Project published: Jul 21, 2022

❤️ Made with love by Jonny of Earth