Paul Walker was halfway through production of Furious 7 when, ironically, he tragically lost his life in a car crash in Southern California. When Universal Studios execs got the news, they halted production of the eagerly awaited film and called in director James Wan to discuss what would become of the movie.
Would studio execs scrap the production? Would the director rewrite the film and not use Walker’s footage? Or use body doubles to finish Walker’s takes?
The studio had a hard decision to make – and one that other film productions have also faced – but ultimately the studio decided to continue with production. Wan called together the production team to communicate the plan as he worked with screenwriters to finish the film without Walker.
We knew we had to push forward — not for the sake of finishing the movie, but for Paul.
– James Wan, Furious 7 Director
That meant calling in Peter Jackson’s WETA Digital special effects company (the same company asked to create visual effects for the Lord of the Rings films, including the virtual character of Gollum), to help recreate the dead actor through digital effects.
While some may find it morbid, the goal was not to just save the film, but also give the actor, who played ex-cop Brian O’ Conner in six of seven Furious films, a proper send-off. The whole process was a real lesson in digital filmmaking.
Finishing Furious 7 with Computers…Not Cars
Director James Wan told the press at a special preview of the film, “We knew that farewell send-off was the biggest thing for us. We knew we had to push forward – not for the sake of finishing the movie, but for Paul. Everything we did – every idea, every edit and every concept – was about creating an ending that was a fitting and honorable farewell to Paul’s character and his legacy.”
Here’s the tribute to Paul Walker and the final scene from the film.
On set, Paul’s brothers Caleb and Cody were used as body doubles, with Paul’s face placed digitally over that of his brother. The results were as realistic as if the actor was still here.
To get the shots, Wan poured over hours of footage from Walker’s previous performances, and then provided the footage to WETA, which then digitized it and used it to finish the needed shots.
Making Virtual Actors
Other actors who have been recreated digitally include John Wayne, Bruce Lee, Marilyn Monroe, Oliver Reed, Jeff Bridges and Fred Astaire.
In fact, it’s now common practice for some studios to digitally scan actors prior to the start of film production. The reason? For video games and complex stunt sequences, it’s much safer to place a digital face over a stuntman than attach Vin Diesel to the side of a car or an airplane.
The results? A virtual likeness of an actor that filmmakers could use 10, 20, even 50 years later.
It’s a topic that hasn’t gone unnoticed in Hollywood. Recently it was revealed that the late actor Robin Williams restricted the use of his image for 25 years.