I, ROBOT employs spectacular visual effects innovations beyond any ever before put on screen to bring a world of robots to life. The character of Sonny, a special robot who holds the key to a murder – and perhaps the survival of the human race – represents the cutting edge in photorealism. Indeed, Sonny is the most realistic, emotionally complete, three-dimensional CGI character ever created on film.
I, ROBOT is directed by Alex Proyas (“Dark City,” “The Crow”), who creates an extraordinary future Chicago – circa 2035 – where robots are completely integrated into society. Bridget Moynahan stars opposite Will Smith, as the robot psychologist Dr. Susan Calvin. Bruce Greenwood plays Lawrence Robertson, the corporate head of U.S. Robotics, and Chi McBride portrays Spooner’s boss and
friend Lt. John Bergin. Actor Alan Tudyk’s physical performance inspired the digital creation of the robot Sonny. James Cromwell plays the pivotal role of the brilliant and reclusive scientist Dr. Alfred Lanning.
I, ROBOT is a Davis Entertainment Company / Laurence Mark / Overbrook Films Production, produced by Laurence Mark, John Davis, Topher Dow and Wyck Godfrey. Will Smith, James Lassiter, Michel Shane and Anthony Romano are the Executive Producers. Steven R. McGlothen is the Co-Producer.
The behind-the-scenes team includes Director of Photography Simon Duggan (“Garage Days,” “The Interview”), Production Designer Patrick Tatopoulos (“Dark City,” “Independence Day”), Editors Richard Learoyd (“Garage Days,” “Dark City”), Armen Minasian (“Daredevil”) and William Hoy, A.C.E. (“We Were Soldiers”), Composer Marco Beltrami
(“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines”) and Costume Designer Elizabeth Keogh Palmer (“Dark City”).
Academy Award® winning Visual Effects Supervisor John Nelson (“Gladiator”) oversees the film’s 1,000-plus visual effects shots, depicting Sonny and the other robots, which were based on the designs of Patrick Tatopoulos. In addition, the visual effects team defined and created the physical world of Chicago in the year 2035.
Several key characters from Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot stories (including Dr. Alfred Lanning and a younger version of Dr. Susan Calvin), as well as several of the famed author’s ideas and concepts, also make their way into the film.
Imagine a world where motorcycles drive themselves, robots conduct symphony orchestras and an animal’s thought patterns can move a robot. No, these aren’t projections into the distant future… they’re headlines from today’s newspapers. Set just 30 years in the future, the technological advancements in I, ROBOT’s “Automated Domestic Assistants,” architecture, clothing, and vehicles
are fantastic yet still easily accessible to audiences.
Given these advances, There’s little doubt that in the near future robots will be a trusted part of our everyday life. Every family will have one, or more. They will clean our homes, deliver our packages, walk our pets – even care for our children. But what if that trust were shattered? That question is at the heart of I, ROBOT.
The story takes place on a technological and social precipice, as the number of robots in the U.S. is about to triple. With the release of U.S. Robotics’ latest model – the NS-5 Automated Domestic Assistant – there will now be one robot for every five humans. The first in the next generation of robots made from an ultra-strong alloy, the NS-5 is designed to do everything from babysitting your kids, to cooking
your family dinner, to balancing your checkbook. The mass distribution of the NS-5 will solidify U.S. Robotics’ position as the most powerful company in the history of the planet.
The epic, history-changing events depicted in I, ROBOT were born over a decade ago, when screenwriter Jeff Vintar wrote a spec script, “Hardwired,” a mystery about a murder that may have been committed by a robot. Producer Laurence Mark shepherded the project, and Twentieth Century Fox acquired “Hardwired” for development with Alex Proyas attached to direct. In early 2000, Vintar flew to Australia to
begin working with Proyas on the project, a collaboration that continued over two years.
“We began developing the script with Alex Proyas, and our goal was to open it up a bit,” remembers Laurence Mark. “It started out as a rather straightforward futuristic murder mystery, and there was an ongoing effort to broaden its canvas. Also, it seemed wise to go for a movie that took as much advantage as possible of Alex’s keen sense of visuals.”
During that time, the I, Robot film rights were acquired by Davis Entertainment, and Proyas re-envisioned the film to include additional elements of author Isaac Asimov’s work. Asimov’s ideas and characters fit naturally within the structure of Vintar’s mystery tale.
“We married ‘Hardwired’ and I, Robot together because Fox had always wanted to do a big movie about robotics and it had always been Alex’s dream to do a movie of Asimov’s short stories,” says producer John Davis. “It was a marriage that could happen organically because the themes of ‘Hardwired’ and I, Robot often coincided,” adds Laurence Mark.
The world of 2035 believes robots to be “3 Laws Safe.” A robot cannot hurt a human being or allow a human being to come to harm; a robot must obey a human being’s orders unless the orders conflict with the first law; a robot must protect its own existence as long as it doesn’t conflict with the first or second law. Asimov first created the Three Laws of Robotics in his science fiction writing, but his
ideas extend into the real world, and even govern the way real roboticists and researchers tackle artificial intelligence.
“Asimov really became the best popularizer of science,” says co-screenwriter Jeff Vintar. “He was one of the pioneers of science fiction and one of the first to write about robots. Before Asimov, robots were written as monsters. He was the first one to treat them not as metal Frankensteins, but as mechanisms that worked by certain rules, and he’s credited with writing the first realistic robot stories.”
Alex Proyas’ affinity for Asimov’s stories dates back to the filmmaker’s childhood. “When I was about ten years old, I used to read a lot of science-fiction and Asimov was one of the authors that I enjoyed very much. I was a real fan of the science fiction genre and I, Robot was one of the few books that I always thought would be really cool to make into a movie. When you’re young, you dream about
this stuff and I wanted to make films from a pretty early age. So, I dreamed about turning this into a movie one day.
“I thought Asimov’s ideas were still incredibly pertinent and contemporary,” Proyas continues. “It’s amazing that someone working in the 1940s and early ‘50s could project so specifically into the future, and conjecture about ideas that are now starting to affect us in our everyday lives. We are getting closer and closer to the future world he wrote about, so the time is now right to tell
As Proyas continued to develop I, ROBOT, he and the producers turned their attentions to casting. It’s a Hollywood cliché when a filmmaker claims to get the one, only and best choice to play the lead. But with I, ROBOT, the filmmakers insist they did. “Will Smith was the number one person on our list, and getting him was like winning the lottery,” says John Davis. “Because the human story here
interests us as much as the robot story, thank heaven for Will Smith,” adds Laurence Mark.
“What attracted me to this film is the concept that the robots aren’t the problem,” says Smith. “The technology is not the problem. It’s the limits of human logic that is the problem, and essentially we are our own worst enemy.
“I, ROBOT is a particularly interesting mix of genres,” Smith continues. “It’s a high-tech action movie, a special effects film, a romantic drama, and a murder mystery. How Alex Proyas took the film back and forth through all of these different types of genres is brilliant. Usually there’s a real conflict between the structure of a mystery and the structure of an action movie. They have different
climactic builds, but Alex is breaking genre rules and creating something that is going to be new and special.”
I, ROBOT provided new challenges for Smith. “As an actor, it’s very rare that you’re actually able to act in an action movie. For me it’s interesting to play a troubled character, because I’ve been so successful playing happy-go-lucky guys that save the world. I generally haven’t played characters that have deep emotional scars and trauma, and I loved diving into the mind of a troubled character.
So it’s a different twist for me.”
After Smith signed on to portray Detective Del Spooner and serve as an Executive Producer on the film, he suggested making Academy Award-winning writer Akiva Goldsman (“A Beautiful Mind”) a part of the team. Smith specifically wanted to bring a harder science and science-fiction edge to the story. “We saw this project as something that could be special and something that could be around for a while,”
says Smith. “We wanted to stretch and challenge the boundaries of the genre.”
“Will’s requests were music to Alex’s ears and to mine,” says Akiva Goldsman, an Asimov fan since childhood. Proyas, Smith Goldsman, producer Wyck Godfrey, and Fox execs convened in Florida, where Smith was shooting “Bad Boys II,” to work on the screenplay. “We holed up in a hotel, and laid out the story scene by scene,” Goldsman recalls. “We kept the twists and turns of
the Asimovian universe – that were always present in Jeff Vintar’s work – but made them more suited to a three-act structure.”
The filmmakers worked to make the character of Detective Del Spooner stand out from typical genre figures. Spooner’s aversion to technology – and to robots, in a world where they’re an essential part of everyday life – was a critical element. “Spooner loves older clothes and older music, and he yearns for the simple times,” says Smith. “He doesn’t like the robots, so he’s
really the perfect detective to investigate this murder, because he already wants to find something wrong.”
Spooner’s relationship with roboticist Dr. Susan Calvin is central to the story, and finding an actress who could be a credible partner and adversary to Will Smith – and bring emotional weight to a character created by Isaac Asimov – was a daunting task for the filmmakers.
“Bridget Moynahan best personified what we needed for the role – that real human spark buried beneath a colder exterior,” says John Davis.
Moynahan embraced the character’s complexities. Susan is a robot psychologist who is the polar opposite of Spooner; she’s very rational and focused. Everything makes sense to her and she has a very different perspective than Spooner. “Susan’s struggling to stay committed to logic, because that is what she has based her life on. But as the story progresses, she hits a scientific and emotional ‘wall’
that really changes her and her beliefs. So it’s fun to watch that journey.”
“Bridget’s and Will’s characters are coming at the same problem, but from completely different perspectives,” adds Proyas. “They have very different beliefs at the beginning of the movie. Spooner hates robots. He doesn’t trust technology; he’s an oldfashioned guy in this futuristic world. Susan actually prefers robots to people; she is an active participant in creating robots and she
believes they can be better than us, that they can improve us. Eventually, those beliefs bring both characters to a crisis for very different reasons.”
Spooner and Dr. Calvin are helped in their quest for the truth by a unique robot named Sonny, played by Alan Tudyk. Together, Tudyk and the visual effects team create a true digital star who possesses emotion, intelligence and even humor. The emotional connection between Sonny and Spooner is at the heart of the film.
“Sonny is a really interesting and difficult role because he is a robot who somehow has very human traits,” says producer Wyck Godfrey. “He has an innocence and warmth, because he’s built differently from the other robots. Sonny also has a sly sense of humor. Alan’s a great comedic performer, a great theater actor, and he really pulls it off.”
“Sonny is like a child,” says Tudyk. “Some of the time, he just doesn’t get it because he’s precise and accurate. But he’s also naïve and optimistic. Sonny was built for a purpose and he’s unaware of the purpose. He has all sorts of secrets hidden inside of him and by the end of the movie his ultimate purpose is revealed.”
Tudyk arrived in Vancouver a month prior to the start of principal photography to prepare for the role, focusing on bio-ergonomic movement, and speech and mime work. He also did kickboxing, core strength training and balance exercises.
After production began, actor/dancer Paul Mercurio (“Strictly Ballroom”) was brought in to choreograph the movements for the other robots. “I’m the only robot who didn’t work with Paul,” says Tudyk. “It actually worked out to be a really great idea since Sonny is a new generation of robot. He is unique and different from all the other robots.”
Bruce Greenwood portrays Lawrence Robertson, Chairman of U.S. Robotics, the “money man” who built an empire on robots. The story begins on the eve of the rollout of the NS-5 personal robot. “We’re about to offer this wonderful, brilliant technology to the world… at an affordable price,” deadpans Greenwood. “We’re introducing a new generation of robots that is far more sophisticated
than earlier versions. It’s as big a change as the Industrial Revolution, but it’s going to happen overnight.
“One of the overriding themes in this movie is about artificial intelligence versus natural intelligence,” adds Greenwood. “When does artificial intelligence cease to become artificial and become organic? If a computer or a robot begins to think, what’s artificial about that? I find it all quite interesting.”
Chi McBride joins the starring cast as Lt. John Bergin, Spooner’s mentor and boss. “Bergin and Spooner have been friends for a long time,” says McBride. “There was a traumatic incident in Spooner’s life that still affects him. Bergin’s aware of this, and he’s trying to bring Spooner along slowly and get him back into the mainstream of being a detective.”
Veteran actor James Cromwell portrays Dr. Alfred Lanning, the technical genius behind the rise of U.S. Robotics, whose death begins the film.
Cromwell wanted to be involved with I, ROBOT because of the issues it raises. “The film asks a lot of intriguing questions,” says Cromwell. What’s the morality of the choices we make? What are the ramifications of intelligent machines and how human beings react to them? I appreciated the way the filmmakers took a straightforward detective story, and expanded it into an examination of some of the problems that
would be posed by these questions.”
Having discovered “a ghost in the machine” that threatens the safety of the human race, Lanning creates holograms of himself that, after his death, provide clues to Detective Spooner. “I communicate to him what the problem is and how to proceed. As he describes, “It’s like ‘Hansel and Gretel’ following the breadcrumbs along the trail.”
About The Production
A year and a half prior to the start of principal photography, director Alex Proyas began working with his core group of collaborators, including Production Designer Patrick Tatopoulos, on concept designs for a future where robots are part of the everyday world. Proyas and Tatopoulos previously collaborated on “Dark City.”
“I described I, ROBOT early on having an almost documentary feel of the future, because I really wanted to steer away from the usual Hollywood theatrical approaches to the future,” explains Proyas. “I wanted to create a strong sense of reality so that you believe that you’re in this world populated by robots. We’ve gone with a believable and realistic view of the future. I didn’t want to
have flying cars and stuff that other people have had in their cinematic visions of the future. I wanted it to feel like it was a real and natural 30-year progression from our world.
“I’m more interested in the characters and the story than gadgets,” Proyas continues. “Robots are such intriguing forms of technology that I didn’t want to have other forms of technology getting in the way of that. That said, we do have some cool cars with spherical wheels that can go in any direction. But, at the end of the day, I wanted the robots to be the main technological focus in this world
In fact, Patrick Tatopoulos’ most important assignment was designing the robots, including Sonny, one of the film’s principal characters. Tatopoulos, who was both Production Designer and Creature Designer on the Twentieth Century Fox blockbuster “Independence Day,” serves in those same capacities on I, ROBOT.
“Having a chance to do the sets and create Sonny the robot, from the beginning, was very important,” says Tatopoulos. “I’ve always believed that the beings that live in a world should feel very much like that world, and that they should really fit together well.”
Working with Proyas, Tatopoulos developed the design of Sonny over a two-year period by trying “to forget everything we’d seen before.” Sonny’s look went through approximately 50 different designs before its final incarnation as a slender and elegant figure.
For Proyas, Sonny’s look was a key to the story’s credibility. “We tried to put ourselves in the mindset of the people designing the robots and we figured that they would be making creatures that we would feel comfortable having in our homes, around our kids. So the robots had to feel familiar.
“Again, it feeds right back into Asimov’s stories, which are about safety and feeling secure in the knowledge that the robots can’t turn on you or hurt you in any way. It all makes sense from a human and corporate perspective. So we’ve tried to be truthful to those original ideas that Asimov created.”
The turning point in Sonny’s design came when Proyas began to picture Sonny as a saintly, innocent figure. “Sonny, at his core, is innocent,” says Proyas. “He is like a young boy on the brink of manhood. Sonny is highly intelligent, but his emotions – that distinguish him from the rest of the robots – are as highly attenuated as those of a child.”
Ultimately, the design of the NS-5s, including Sonny, came down to three defining characteristics: transparency, a human-like form with a unique muscle structure, and a perfectly symmetrical face. These traits led to some formidable design challenges. “Sonny and the NS-5s don’t morph, so I had to find a way for them to suddenly become scary, without changing the design,” says Tatopoulos.
Most importantly, transparency reinforces the idea of safety. “If something is transparent, it cannot hide anything,” explains Tatopoulos. “For example, public buildings have more glass so visitors feel welcome. If the robots can’t hide anything, then they are safe.” Or so you would think…
Yet another benefit of making Sonny transparent was the way he reacted to light. Sonny appears angelic when one sees only the outside of the face and the body. But when placed underneath the light, permitting a view of his “insides,” Sonny becomes what Tatopoulos calls a “mechanical, super freaky, scary thing. Being transparent let him change without changing.”
Sonny’s face has three levels. There are mechanics on the inside, an under-skull similar to human skull bones, and an outer clear layer. On top of the skull is a soft skin. “So if you touch him he’s soft, but behind that is a clear skeleton,” says Tatopoulos. To distinguish Sonny (and the rest of the NS-5s) from previous cinematic robot incarnations, Tatopoulos created “futuristic muscles”
for Sonny’s joint mechanics – a feature that lends yet another anthropomorphic touch to the robot. In creating the musculature, Tatopoulos was inspired by recent advances in artificial limbs, including new materials that respond to electrical impulses and react like real muscles.
In the end, the filmmakers learned the human factor was the essential to making Sonny work. “A year before starting production, we were sitting in an office trying to figure out how to do the robot… CGI, guy in a suit, whatever… we never would have figured out the emotional impact and that it has real value, because we were looking at it as if we were solving a technical problem, says Producer Wyck Godfrey.
“Though we won’t see Alan Tudyk on the screen, you will certainly know the persona and humanness that he brings to that role.”
Tatopoulos was also charged with designing the other robots that populate the story. “The previous generation of robots, the NS-4s, are also anthropomorphic, but they have much less detail than the NS-5s,” says Tatapoulos. “They are bouncy and not as smooth. They do the same tasks, more or less… they just don’t do them as well. So, there’s an interesting contrast between the two generations.”
As Production Designer, Tatopoulos had to create, envision, and design the future physical world of 2035. Every element had to be thought out early in the process, so decisions could be made about what parts of sets to physically create, find on location in Vancouver – or “build” in the computer.
There are two design “flavors” in the movie’s Chicago. The downtown area is filled with beautiful metropolitan landscapes. The plazas are large, white and pristine. Shiny glass buildings house the city’s wealthy citizens. In surprising contrast, the suburbs have a grungy feel; they are the older, poorer parts of the city.
One of the signature elements of Proyas’ visual style is the absence of greenery. Achieving the “no trees” look while shooting on location in lush Vancouver was challenging. The production even hired a greens staff to keep bushes and trees out of the frame.
The filmmakers chose Chicago for the story’s setting because its skyline resembles Proyas’ original concept of mixing classic and modern looks – where, for example, tall brand new buildings are situated next to the projects that are half a century old.
To achieve the enormous scope that Proyas desired, most shots in the movie utilize some combination of constructed sets, practical locations, and visual effects. Located in downtown Chicago, the glass and metal headquarters for U.S. Robotics is a character in its own right. Much of the action driving the story takes place in the lobby, plaza, labs, boardrooms, and offices as well as the catwalks, tunnels and innards of the
Explains Tatopoulos, “The USR Building has an interesting shape; it looks like a knife blade, giving the visitor a sense of vertigo. One edge of the building is a blade of clear glass, so when you go to the edges of the catwalks inside, you see yourself, the city beyond, and all the way down to the lobby at the bottom of the building. The design of the building allows the audience to really see what the world is, not
just grab a couple of glimpses.”
The plaza outside the USR Building represents power. “When you have power, you’re not going to make a taller building, you’re going to create a bigger plaza around your building, because the ground is what is expensive,” says Proyas.
Will Smith’s Detective Spooner lives in the outskirts of Chicago. What is thought of as downtown today has become a suburb in 2035. It is a far different place from the pristine world of USR and Dr. Calvin.
A 260-foot long, two-story section of the riverfront in the Vancouver suburb of New Westminster was transformed into a large section of Spooner’s neighborhood, affectionately dubbed “Spoonerville” by the crew.
An omnipotent computer named V.I.K.I. controls the USR headquarters. “V.I.K.I. is basically the central brain of the USR structure,” says Tatopoulos. “She has a central brain like your heart in the middle of your body, and she has the veins and the vessels that are going through the building.” Strips of light throughout the hallways and rooms represent the veins of V.I.K.I. Her “face” comes
from shards of light that continually reshape themselves from the many veins that run throughout the building.
I, ROBOT’s futuristic transportation systems were also critical to its look. As motorists transition from the suburbs, where they drive on the surface, to downtown, all traffic goes underground, into a series of tunnels and underground parking garages shaped like oblong footballs.
Round ball-shaped wheels allow cars to move sideways. The lateral movement facilitated a huge, intricately choreographed chase scene involving packs of cars going two hundred miles per hour forward, while moving sideways at the same time. All the cars in I, ROBOT were designed and built exclusively for use in the film, with Germany-based Audi working with the filmmakers to build Will Smith’s “hero” car. Audi
also provided several existing models that were altered for the film.
Under a veil of secrecy, the film’s car designer, Jeff Julian, made several trips to Germany to fashion a car for Will Smith’s Del Spooner, based on a prototype of a real upcoming Audi model.
The Visual Effects
Academy Award-winning Visual Effects Supervisor John Nelson (“Gladiator”) supervised over 1,000 visual effects shots from pre-visualization through postproduction. Nelson and his second-in-command, Digital Visual Effects Supervisor John Berton (“The Mummy,” “Men In Black 2”), began with a team of 20 at the start of production in Vancouver. Ultimately, the department swelled to thousands, occupying several effects houses for approximately eight months
of post-production, a relatively short period for the volume and sophistication of the shots rendered. Digital Domain, WETA Digital, Image Engine, Rainmaker and Pixel Magic were among the visual effects houses on the film.
The department’s tasks were three-fold: create a credible, emotional performance from Sonny, establish a world integrated with robots in the year 2035, and make the huge, high-tech action sequences look seamless and believable.
“Sonny must look real for audiences to buy it,” says John Nelson. “Visual effects take the nuances and emotional energy that Alan Tudyk creates on the set and brings it through in the CG robot. The level of detail that an actor can create is amazing. Alan Tudyk gave us an incredibly high standard to work towards.”
“You do care about Sonny because he is an incredible character,” adds Nelson. “He’s a robot that can feel and improvise. He becomes a reflection of us and that becomes a very powerful and potent storytelling possibility. So we must have complete realism.”
Will Smith embraced the idea of working with a digital character. “This is a very revolutionary process,” he says. “As an actor, it makes it so much easier to really capture the emotional depth and comedy of the individual scenes, because I actually get to play the scene looking into someone’s eyes rather than, like in the past, a tennis ball!” “This is on the cutting edge of what we’re
trying to do with computer graphics characters – finding better ways of making them interact with the other characters and drawing on real acting performances,” adds John Berton.
Visual effects house Digital Domain won the coveted assignment of creating the robots and specifically, breathing life and emotion into Sonny. The Digital Domain team was led by supervisor Erik Nash (“Titanic,” “Apollo 13,”) and Animation Supervisor Andrew Jones.
I, ROBOT defines the world of Chicago in 2035 by filling it with robots of every description and futuristic landscapes and skylines. “I, ROBOT has the most complex and sophisticated CG work in movie history,” says Wyck Godfrey. “Not only are we creating a photo-real CG character, but that character is set against a CG background.”
Award-winning New Zealand-based visual effects powerhouse WETA (“The Lord of the Rings”) was charged with creating the broad sweeping shots that establish the future world and the colossal sequences involving robots fighting, as well as robots and humans fighting.
Two-time Oscar®-winner Joe Letteri (“The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”) and Brian Van’t Hul at WETA oversaw the grand spectacle ‘David Lean’-type moments of the film. “Only our ‘cast of thousands’ involves thousands and thousands of humans and digital robots interacting,” says John Nelson.
The visual effects team made the action sequences come alive on screen in a believable manner. Epic battles, escapes from collapsing buildings, and chase sequences through tunnels involving a variety of futuristic vehicles make up just a few of the film’s action set pieces.
“We can provide those high octane moments where movie-goers feel like they’re on a ride at Disneyland. But, when we’re the most successful, we’re providing those moments in support of good storytelling and good character development,” says producer John Davis.
To pull off these large-scale sequences, the filmmakers first had to define the rules governing the robot behavior. “We have action that people have not seen before, because we’re doing things with robots you could never do with humans,” says Nelson. “But their capabilities are not limitless. The real issue is that there are rules in the world. Gravity, for example: it’s not just a good idea, it’s
“We wanted to say the old robots are this powerful and the new robots are that powerful,” adds Berton. “We decided that the old NS-4s are roughly as powerful as a human, but the new NS-5s have about four times more power.”
With the help of impressive technological advances, the I, ROBOT visual effects artists developed a new level of photo-realism that will seamlessly integrate the CG images with practical sets and human characters. These state-of-the-art effects tools included Global Illumination Lighting Models (aka “Balls & Bots”), HDR (High Dynamic Range), Robo-Tile and Encodacam.
The visual effects team required four passes to create each CG shot. The ‘with’ pass used robot proxies, which allowed Proyas to give direction and frame the shot. The ‘with’ pass takes the process out of the synthetic world and places it in the real world. For the ‘without’ pass, the camera movement in the “with” pass is repeated, with the actors but minus the proxies. The “clean”
pass is shooting the same action without actors or robots. For the “reference” pass, also know to the crew as the “Balls & Bots” pass, a chrome ball, a gray ball, and the human-sized lighting dummy (known as “Ozzie”) were pushed or walked through the frame to provide critical lighting references. I, ROBOT employs the latest research in light dynamics and image-based rendering. “The level to which we are lighting these creatures is very complex,”
says Nelson. “We are capturing more info about lighting on our set than ever before… not just about placement of lights and what that light does to an object, as was done in the past. Now, we are also recording how bright those lights are.”
The production used a special camera from Digital Domain called Robo-Tile, which takes multiple pictures that range from extreme underexposure to extreme overexposure, meaning that these pictures will read everything from the deepest shadow to the brightest sun. Through high dynamic range lighting, those images were then applied to light the environments and characters that were created digitally.
Another creative tool, Encodacam, combined the physical set with the digital set in real time, as cameras rolled, to enable Proyas to direct both the virtual and the real worlds simultaneously. The technology, developed by General Lift in Los Angeles, was created for possible use on the “Matrix” sequels, but was actually first used on the set of I, ROBOT. It is the latest method to bring the computer graphics world
onto the soundstages.
For some scenes, like an action set piece that has Spooner fleeing a house that’s being demolished around him by a “demo-bot,” the filmmakers used every trick of the trade, combining location and studio live action, green screen, computer graphics, miniatures, and models. “Alex loves to make shots that are detailed and complex and give a lot to the viewer,” says John Nelson.
Vancouver-based visual effects house Rainmaker created the digital and miniatures work for that sequence. Model builders spent several months constructing 1/4 and 1/6-scale miniatures of Lanning’s house; each was destroyed in about three seconds. Approximately 30,000 man-hours were necessary to get that few seconds of film.
The miniature house was constructed of 30,000 individual bricks, which were cast in Toronto and matched to the exact color of the bricks that were in the actual house built on location in Vancouver. A quarter scale ‘demo-bot’ model was also constructed to interact with the miniature of Lanning’s house.
Isaac Asimov's 'Three Laws'
“I think Isaac Asimov would be proud of this film,” says producer John Davis. “It’s very respectful of his work. It has a director who has created the future in a dazzling visual spectacle, using state-of-the-art technology; and it has a great leading man who’s heroic and leads us through this world.”
“You don’t need to be an Asimov fan or a sci-fi fan to enjoy and relate to this movie,” says producer Topher Dow, “but if you are an Asimov fan, this story is a great companion piece to the I, Robot book and his great science fiction lineage.” “The Three Laws of Robotics”
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
At the core of all of Asimov’s robot stories are The Three Laws of Robotics. All of his robot stories begin and end with the Three Laws, which are hardwired into each robot. The puzzle in each story is how and why the laws malfunctioned in each particular case.
“Asimov’s robot stories are little intellectual puzzles,” says Jeff Vintar. ‘In each I, Robot story, he presents a problem that challenges The Three Laws of Robotics. I think that’s what’s fascinated readers of those stories for decades – he constantly presents a challenge to something and then shows you the resolution.”
“The movie is inspired by Asimov’s work, but it’s not really a direct translation,” says Alex Proyas. “It’s been a tough one to translate to the screen because trying to derive one concise narrative from the original collection of nine short stories is virtually impossible. We’ve taken, obviously, quite a bit of license to create our own story within the confines of Asimov’s world
and ideas. So we tried to follow the spirit of what he created while cinematically bringing a fresh take to his world.
“We basically do exactly what Asimov did in many of his stories,” Proyas continues. “The laws are hardwired into the robots and they cannot be broken. Yet somehow the robots seem to find a way to apparently circumvent them.”
For Proyas, the most interesting question posed by the film is, how are we going to deal with robots? I think they will come, there’s no question. It’s always interesting how human beings eventually adapt to their technology. Eventually we decide to believe that the technology, for better or for worse, can make our lives better and we accept it. Is that a good or a bad thing? It certainly is the way that human beings
seem to operate and, I think, will continue to operate in the future.”