The Fast & Furious 7 VFX team was able to end the scenes of Paul Walker in the film, even though he died in the middle of filming. That’s how they did it.
Here is how Fast & Furious 7 was able to end the scenes of Paul Walker after the death of the actor. The seventh installment in the high-octane franchise was shaken by tragedy when Walker was killed in a vehicle accident in November 2013, at a time when production was still ongoing. After playing Brian O’Conner – a former lawman turned outlaw and Robin of Dominic Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) Batman – since the original The Fast and the Furious In 2001, Walker’s tragic death left a massive void in the popular film franchise. Understandably, the movie’s creatives gave it some serious thought to cancel Fast & Furious 7 after that instead of trying to quit without him.
That didn’t happen, of course, and the film became a huge box office hit (grossing over $ 1.5 billion in theaters worldwide), in addition to widespread recognition for the touching and tasteful manner in which it was Walkers “retired” Fast & Furious Character. But to both end the film and give O’Conner a fitting ending to his personal journey, Fast & Furious 7 The production team (including screenwriter Chris Morgan, director James Wan and their many VFX artists) had to think outside the box.
After the ending and O’Conner’s storyline in Fast & Furious 7 were rewritten, the film crew set about producing around 350 additional shots of Walker to substantiate his role in the film, 90 of which used archived footage of the actor from previous outtakes or footage from earlier ones Fast & Furious Films that were then re-lit and repurposed. The other 260 shots were completed with Walker’s brothers Caleb and Cody performing his scenes in character, only to have their faces replaced with CGI versions of Walker’s during post-production. Furthermore, since the two have more or less the same physique as Walker, no digital optimization was necessary. As explained by Weta VFX supervisor Joe Letteri THR in 2015 that Fast & Furious 7 Effects team created the CGI replacement for Walker’s face by first scanning his brothers to use as a reference point.
However, in the end they most often ended up using older Walker footage as a reference “Because the brothers were so close in style and mannerism, they just weren’t Paul when Paul played his character.” according to Letteri. To make matters worse, many of these shots contained dialog that the film’s sound engineers had to create using existing dialogues previously recorded by Walker. Letteri also went into the process of creating Walker’s CGI face and how the movie’s VFX artists had to be extra careful to keep the effect from ending up somewhere in the “uncanny valley” (e.g. but just enough to be creepy to look rather than convince). The end result, while not flawless, was very impressive considering the film’s VFX artists had to overcome huge obstacles. It all culminated in the final scene in Fast & Furious 7where Dom and Brian have one last “race” but are much more interested in enjoying their time together just before they reach a fork in the road and head off in different directions. It was an undeniably poignant farewell for Walker, and Diesel went so far as to proclaim it as maybe “The best moment in film history”.
While the moment was a fine goodbye for Walker’s O’Conner, F9 (also known as Q9: The Quick Saga) showed a non-visual cameo of the character. At the end of the film, Dom pauses before his friends’ family say mercy and say there is a chair at the table. Mia’s answer is “he’s on the way” just before a blue Nissan Skyline drives to the house and pulls into the driveway. The car is obviously a nod to Walker’s character, who drove the vehicle the entire time Fast and Furious Franchise. And while O’Conner wasn’t a factor Fast & Furious 8, teases his appearance at the end of F9 caused many to speculate on how he might appear (with the help of CGI) in future saga films. Eventually, Fast & Furious 7 Goodbye O’Conner and time will tell if the filmmakers will bring him back through digital rendering at the end of the series.
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