Warner Bros. Pictures
By Ron Magid, Special to The Times Looking to make Times Square appear completely abandoned? Don't use visual effects unless you've got some time on your hands. "It took us eight months to do that for one eight-minute sequence," says Jim Bernie, Sony Pictures Imageworks' visual effects supervisor on the thriller "I Am Legend" (opening Dec. 14). In the film, about a virus that seems to have wiped out the human race, Will Smith plays Neville, an uninfected scientist in New York City looking for a cure to bring humanity back. He ditches hordes of infected, once-human night creatures on Manhattan's lonely streets (real locations cleared by the film crew). "They would shut traffic down, and drivers were pissed off and honking," Bernie says. "Later, we digitally painted out all signs of life -- lights, people, cars -- then aged everything." Not surprisingly, a few stores on ritzy Fifth Avenue -- home to Cartier and other high-end shops -- weren't terribly cooperative, but Bernie had the last laugh in postproduction. "We really dirtied their buildings, ripped their awnings and put bird poop on them, and broke their windows to show signs of looting." However, a pivotal sequence in Times Square was different. "We couldn't shoot on location," Bernie says. "It would've been impossible to [eliminate] the people and replace the lighted billboards." So here's how they did it, and how Will Smith convincingly appears to wander through an abandoned -- and completely digital -- Times Square.
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