Inside 'I Am Legend'

Made in Manhattan

The bridge-destruction scenes are some of the few completely computer-generated shots in the movie.
The bridge-destruction scenes are some of the few completely computer-generated shots in the movie.
Barry Wetcher, SMPSP

Matheson's novella is set in Los Angeles, but the movie takes place in New York City, which Lawrence thought made a more strikingly empty location. He estimates that there are about 830 special-effects shots in the film, but he didn't want to rely completely on computer imaging to achieve the ghost-town effect. "I didn't want the city to look like a painting," he says. "When you shoot on blue screen and green screen all the time and everything is generated, it starts to look a little painterly."

So Lawrence set about filming on the streets of Manhattan. As you might imagine, this roused the ire -- and raised the middle fingers -- of some inconvenienced Manhattanites. But for Will Smith, that was a small price to pay. "You just can't beat actually walking down the center of a New York street with an M-16," he says. "It really assists in the psychology of creating the character when you can actually be in the place and not on green screen or in Baltimore [standing in] for New York."

The effects team did have to do some postproduction work to remove signs of life from the landscape, but, Lawrence says, "at the core you have a real place with real light and particles in the air, and it adds realism."

Lawrence cleared out an area outside Grand Central Station, Fifth Avenue and Washington Square Park for a driving sequence. "The movie couldn't have been more fun or more of a headache at the same time," he says. "You have 200 production assistants hiding in doorways and around corners, and traffic cops blocking the street and it's a zoo, just to get a shot of a guy walking down the street with his dog." The destruction of bridges and Times Square, of course, were computer-generated -- the only exterior shots that weren't live.

Other than the occasional uncooperative individual, Lawrence says, people accommodated the production -- and the elements obliged, too. "We got really lucky, weather-wise," he continues. "We had to shoot all the exteriors while there were leaves on the trees, and a lot of it we had to shoot weekends for traffic control. It was really precisely scheduled out. Had we been rained out it we would have been screwed. But it only rained twice when we were shooting outside."

Lawrence says he couldn't have made the movie without the cooperation of numerous city and government agencies, especially for a chaotic evacuation sequence. He spent five days directing Smith and 1,500 extras on a pier built on a barge under the Brooklyn Bridge.

"It was a daunting idea to take that on," Lawrence admits. "That was a lot of cooperation from a lot of people -- the Coast Guard, the National Guard, the city, the police, the fire department. But the evacuation actually went pretty smoothly," he says.