Authenticity was key in re-creating director David Fincher’s vision of a working-man’s San Francisco terrorized by serial killings circa 1969. “It was important to keep the film very real, without it being a cliche,” says production designer Donald Burt, which meant not focusing on the sensational elements of that time period. “It wasn’t as if hippies were running around everywhere.” Whenever possible, the “Zodiac” crew tried to film in the Bay Area locations where events actually unfolded, but the city and its environs look quite different now, so they passed along research materials, including drawings and period color re-creations, to a team of CGI artists, who enhanced the backgrounds and re-created the old San Francisco skyline sans the iconic Transamerica Building.
At the intersection of Washington and Cherry, where Zodiac kills a cabbie, “we built the street portion and hero facades in a Downey soundstage and then did set extension on bluescreen. All the night scenes were bluescreen,” says Burt. “There’s something very beautiful in the mundane details, and the way David lit and filmed them.”