Lawrence says there was one filming snafu that was saved by Smith's positive attitude. "It was about 1 o'clock in the morning at the end of January and about 7 degrees, so everyone was freezing, and we were about to roll when the camera jammed. So Will grabbed the assistant director's mike and started singing his song 'Summertime' to the entire cast and crew, and everybody started singing along. That's the kind of guy he is. It was really special."
Other tricky sequences were shot early in the process, including an aerial view of Smith hitting golf balls off an aircraft carrier and an opening sequence of Smith navigating the streets of the city. "It was a race to get all that exterior work done before the leaves were gone," says Lawrence. He had to spruce up the vegetation with real flora and CG work by Sony Imageworks, which also added computer-animated deer, fire effects and the rabid zombies. The zombies' movements were created on camera by actors in sensor-covered blue spandex motion-capture suits.
Lawrence used armories in Brooklyn and the Bronx for some sequences -- the latter for Times Square and the former for the four-story brownstone housing Neville's fortified apartment and lab. Art aficionados will recognize famous paintings like Van Gogh's "The Starry Night" on the walls -- Neville takes them from museums. "They're not prints. They're actual paintings," says Lawrence. "Some of them already existed, and some we had done; there are artists that specialize in that."
A replica of the Brooklyn pier was recreated on the soundstage for other scenes requiring green screen, such as one where Neville fights zombies, using his vehicle as a weapon. Smith did a good amount of the stunt work, Lawrence notes: "It's always better if you can put the actor in and you can see that it's him."
Only a small portion of the footage shot ended up on screen. "We shot for a really long time, as is typical of a movie like this," comments Akiva Goldsman, also a producer on the film. "This kind of filmmaking is definitely more fluid because it's determined by what you end up rendering in terms of visual effects. You don't really have it until well into the editing process."
While he'd never done a huge effects movie before, Lawrence found that his background in directing commercials and videos for the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Justin Timberlake, Aerosmith and Gwen Stefani served him well. "Having had the opportunity to play with all the things that are out there and try different things and work in all kinds of environments helps make being on set, changing directions, being able to do different things spontaneously be second nature," he says. "It makes it easier for me to express what I want to express on camera."