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HomeAwardsContender-Janek Sirrs-VFX-I Am Legend

Contender-Janek Sirrs-VFX-I Am Legend

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Janek Sirrs–VFX supervisor behind such films as The Matrix Reloaded, Batman Begins, The Prestige (on which he was “consultant”), and many others—sat down for coffee with Below the Line to talk about his end-of-the-world-and-I-feel-fine (sort of) epic I Am Legend, based on the Richard Matheson novella.
Although Legend did not make the cut for an Oscar nomination this year, as of press time the film was still a contender for a prestigious VES award, which would be another of many honors for the previous Academy Award winner.
Sirrs began talking like a Disney Imagineer, speaking of designing theme parks in terms of textures—the wear and tear on realistic-looking buildings people don’t even know is there, but sense when it’s absent. Similarly, Sirrs worried about accurately “aging” a depopulated New York—inhabited only by Will Smith, his dog, and some neo-zombies—so it would be believable.
“Everybody knows these textures that are out there,” he said. “It’s not like you’re creating a fantasy world. Our movie is set three years after the world is abandoned.”
Everyone knows what their garden looks like after it’s neglected for a week or season. What about an entire city going without upkeep, or human presence, for 12 seasons? For that, Sirrs and crew brought in a futurist whose job is to visualize for governments and corporations what a post-pandemic metropolis might look and feel like.
The natural world, they learned, would re-assert itself voraciously once homo sapiens stops tampering with it. Infrastructure would crumble and become overgrown by plants and lived in by resurgent animal populations.
Sirrs didn’t have a lot of time to get the future right, in spite of “10 years of preproduction” on the film, in its various earlier studio-project incarnations, one of them set to star the current governor of California. The version that was finally filmed became a go due to “a change in Will Smith’s schedule.”
Besides imagining the post-human world to come, Sirrs and his crew also had to deal with the constantly shifting nature of “post-humans”– the infected, zombie-like creatures whom Smith battles throughout. The nature of their affliction and the extent of their powers kept changing in preproduction until at last, besides having an aversion to sunlight, it was decided they behaved like “people on PCP,” paying little heed to their own safety.
Additionally, when you “crank up your adrenalin gland” like that, racing with an ultra-high metabolism, you burn off all fat. Hence, the lithe look of the creatures, who had to be created entirely in CG. Sirrs would have preferred a combination of latex-clad actors with infected CG troops in the background, but the compressed production schedule didn’t allow for that.
There was also the constant notching out of background traffic signals, lit offices, etc., in the footage that was shot in Manhattan. Sony Imageworks accomplished this in “a phenomenally short period of time,” Sirrs said.
All of which makes a certain kind of sense: After all, does apocalypse ever come when you’re ready for it?
– By Mark London Williams

2008 Nomination
Visual Effects Society, Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects Driven Motion Picture, I Am Legend (shared with Mike Chambers, Jim Berney and Crys Forsyth-Smith)
2006 Nomination
BAFTA Film Award, Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects, Batman Begins (shared with Dan Glass, Chris Corbould and Paul J. Franklin)
2000 wins
Oscar, Best Effects, Visual Effects, The Matrix (shared with John Gaeta, Steve Courtley and Jon Thum)
BAFTA Film Award, Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects, The Matrix (shared with John Gaeta, Steve Courtley and Jon Thum)

Written by Mark London Williams

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