'I Am Legend' is not the first adaptation of the Richard Matheson novel. There have been several previous adaptations of the book, most notably the 1971 Charleton Heston pic 'Omega Man', and most have dealt with the issue of nuclear warfare. This particular adaptation focuses on something simple, a virus that mutates.
"I think that we came to this idea that it's too easy to assume that something will always will go wrong because someone is twirling their moustache. Sometimes things go wrong when people are trying to do right. We wanted to take a different turn at this," Screenwriter/producer Akiva Goldsman said, before taking a moment and looks over at director Francis Lawrence. "You really liked that, that was really you."
Lawrence agrees with Goldsman's view, noting that it lead him Goldsman and leading man Will Smith to spend a great amount of time at the Center for Disease Control, doing research to prep for the film.
"I did really like that idea. It was interesting talking to people at the CDC that this is how a lot of things happen," Lawrence said. "Diseases and viruses can pop out of nowhere. It isn't just bio-terrorism and things like that. It could be a change in the environment that brings unseasonable rain to an area that attracts an animal that has a disease and suddenly something is born and spreads. That kind of stuff is interesting to me; when it's unexpected."
Disease is what turns much of the world's human population into mutated monsters, who are represented on screen as CGI creations.
"We did motion capture for the creatures. We had a creature choreographer and hired dancers and stunt people. They trained every day and we would sit down and meet them a couple times a week. On set they would be in character, but they would be wearing skintight suits and we would shoot them as if they were in character.There were these other cameras that were spread out around set that were capturing their movements and tracking these dots that were attached to their bodies," Lawrence explained, but added that he wanted to make sure his human leads were not playing to an empty room.
"They were then digitally replaced by our CG characters, but all including facial performance was all built on the real people we had in the room. That way we could have people interact; Alice could interact and Will could interact with real people and real performances."
However, Lawrence originally intended to shoot the creature actors in make up, having the appearance that they would have in the finished film. And for one moment early in the production, Lawrence felt the film was headed for disaster.
"We had one day of shooting with practical make-up. It didn't really work. It was in Washington Square Park."
Goldsman chimes in, "It was like attack of the angry mimes."
"Yes it was," Lawrence laughs. "We realized very early on that at night and barefoot that we weren't going to get the sense of abandon that these creatures were supposed to have. Even though these people were stunt people, running across Washington Square Park at night half naked and barefoot and it's thirty-five degrees out just wasn't going to work. So literally one night we went to dailies and I started to sweat and everything changed and we changed it all that night."
Once the movie is released theatrically the next step would be a DVD release. Has Lawrence thought about what things he would want to add to the DVD version of 'I Am Legend'?
"There's lots of extra footage. I would love to do an alternate version with extra stuff in it."
In fact, re-shoots of the film occurred fairly recently.
"We reshot stuff, but we couldn't do re-shoots until we had the special effects."
For Lawrence, life after 'I Am Legend', could hold a sequel to the DC Comics adaptation 'Constantine'.
"Oh I don't know. We've talked about sequels, but I don't think anyone has come up with an idea yet that everyone is super excited about. It would be cool to visit that world."
Instead, Lawrence is at work on a pilot for NBC. "It takes place in an alternate reality. It takes place in New York City, but it's not New York City. It takes the story of David from David and Goliath, but transplants it into a modern world. I am one of the Executive Producers and I am going to be directing the pilot."
Also in the works for Lawrence is a feature Disney, a re-telling of the tale of 'Snow White'.
For now you can see Lawrence at work when 'I Am Legend' opens today.