When Paul Walker passed away unexpectedly while filming ‘Furious 7,’ the film’s producers were left with a difficult choice: completely overhaul the movie late in the game, or attempt to stay as true to the film’s original intent while also still honoring the memory of the franchise’s popular star.
They chose the latter, announcing that Walker’s scenes would be finished with the help of his brothers, as well as some CGI.
After refusing interviews before the release of the film out of respect for Walker, the CGI team opened up to Variety this week to discuss what they all called a tremendously difficult project, both logistically and emotionally.
Joe Letteri, Weta Digital senior VFX supervisor, says, “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.” Letteri said there was no way to do this without closeups because “anything else would have shortchanged his performance and the film “
But, having not planned on needing to do any CGI work with Walker, they hadn’t done any scans of his face to use.
… the team went through old footage, building a reference library of Walker as Brian O’Conner by using outtakes from “Furious 7” and previous films in the franchise. But those moments had been filmed in one lighting environment and the Weta team “essentially had to relight his performance” digitally for each new scene, said Letteri.
Weta visual effects supervisor Martin Hill says the bus sequence got a lot of media attention, but it “paled in comparison to scenes such as Paul sitting still, or delivering dialog in closeup, because you don’t have the action and the kinetic cutting to help distract from the effects.”
For example, Walker is digital and full frame in a sequence of driving in the desert. Hill said, “Paul is trying to get to Los Angeles quickly, and is also reacting in a subtle way to the injured Kurt Russell in the backseat. The performance was very nuanced.”
And all digital. The intricacies that went into it were astounding.
Those digital models included extensive work on Walker’s hair and skin — how his facial muscles moved if he frowned or raised his eyebrows, how his coloring would flush after exertion or how the hair changes depending on the light or the wind. They even worked to make sure he blinked in character.
When I watched the movie on opening night, the only scene I was certain was CGI was when he and Mia went to the safe house in Central America, only because it seemed so un-integral to the plot, and I presumed that was written in later and thus the Walker in it was CGI.
Thanks to the descriptions in the articles, though, someone went through and pulled screen shots of all of the CGI Walker.
See what you think.
Sure, it’s not perfect, but that shit is impressive.