In November 2013, star Paul Walker was killed in a car crash. He was midway through shooting the seventh instalment of the Fast and Furious franchise. Production on the film was temporarily halted with many wondering if it would go ahead at all. Director James Wan and his team later confirmed that the film would indeed go forward. Walker would be partially digitally recreated and now, we get an insight into which scenes were created after the star’s tragic passing.
The images accompany a lengthy article in Variety that details the challenges the effects team faced in recreating Walker’s likeness. The producers hired Peter Jackson’s company Weta Digital, the company behind the Lord of the Rings series to work on the effects.
Weta ended up doing around 350 effects shots for Walker’s character. Intelligently, Wan had shot the big action set pieces at the beginning, as is the norm with big-budget films. Most of the digital recreations were culled from hours and hours of footage of Walker and body doubles (his brothers Caleb and Cody).
Joe Letteri, Weta Digital senior VFX supervisor, told Variety, “We had to complete a performance — what Paul Walker would have done if he’d been able to continue. And it had to be his performance.”
Digital models were created upon which intricate rendering of textures and hair was added.
“We knew we were doing something special for the filmmakers, the fans, the family — and for Paul’s legacy. We wanted to give him the sendoff that he deserved,” said visual effects supervisor Martin Hill.
Hill says the goal was always to create a photo-real version of Walker. “That’s a high bar in itself, to create that. Beyond that, this actor was known to millions of fans, and this had to be Paul Walker — more specifically, Walker in character as Brian O’Connor.”
It is interesting to see that most of the scenes that required digital reworking don’t hold back on the emotion. They aren’t shots that require O’Connor to simply stand around but ones that demand an emotional performance. This just shows how far effects have come. Five years ago this film would probably have been cancelled.
Furious 7 went on to make $1.5 billion worldwide, making it the fifth highest grossing movie of all time. As Vin Diesel later said, “Seven was for Paul, eight is from Paul.” Fast & Furious 8 is expected in theatres on April 14, 2017, ensuring that Walker will not be forgotten any time soon.
Check out this incredibly cool Paul Walker gallery of CG shots here