“Classically, visual effects are used for one of three criteria,” says “I, Robot” visual f/x supervisor John Nelson, “where it’s too expensive, too dangerous or impossible.”
All three came into play in “I, Robot’s” 1,060 effects shots — more than half of the film’s entire shots.
It would have been too expensive to close off downtown Chicago for shooting, so Nelson and his team created the futuristic Windy City backgrounds with CGI and composited them into live-action footage done in Vancouver.
Putting Will Smith and Bridget Moynahan on catwalks 60 stories above the ground would have been too dangerous, so the stars did their work in front of a greenscreen and their images were composited into a virtual set.
Most of all, though, it would have been impossible to create the look of the plastic and metal robots with actors and makeup, so the movie’s mechanical horde had to be created with CGI.
Shooting with actors moving around virtual sets and dodging imaginary robots might have been a nightmare, but thanks to the newly perfected Encodacam visualization system from General Lift, helmer Alex Proyas, the cast, d.p. and visual effects team were able to see the virtual set on on-set monitors, complete with real-time camera moves.
“It’s a big breakthrough,” confirms Nelson, who helped get the bugs out of the system. “With it, you can get so much more done. One of the added benefits is that every take has a temporary composite, so every take can go to the editor.”