As one of the biggest films of the year, Furious 7 shattered box office records and earned a staggering $351 million domestically. But with all of the adrenaline-pumping scenes that had our engines running, people left the theater talking about one thing above the rest: the legacy of Paul Walker.
After the star of the franchise passed away unexpectedly in 2013, it was up to the visual effects team to take the pieces he left behind and recreate whole performances worthy of being Walker's last ride.
Since so much of James Wan's film had yet to be shot with Walker, they brought in Weta Digital to bring to life the vision the Furious 7 team had in mind. In total, Weta ended up creating 350 shots, mostly of a digitized Paul Walker.
Despite the high praise some of the action-packed scenes garnered for their believability, it was the close-up scenes that required those on the VFX team to pioneer effects that had never been done before.
In an interview with Variety, Weta Digital senior VFX supervisor, Joe Letteri, spoke about what his team aimed to achieve through the process. Letteri said his job was to ensure Walker's performance was something the actor would have been proud of.
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.
The Weta team had to find a way to successfully give Walker his close-ups, with the potential for a full range of emotion because, "anything else would have shortchanged his performance and the film.”
And while audience attention is easily distracted in an action-packed scene with a myriad of moving parts, it's the scenes in which Paul Walker was just being Brian O’Conner that were the hardest to finish.
Martin Hill, a Weta visual effects supervisor, told Variety that the bus sequence was seen as a major VFX accomplishment, but it was nothing compared to the calmer moments in the film.
[The bus scene] 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.
With a goal in mind, the team had to work around the fact that there were no scans of Walker to make the digital double necessary to complete his scenes.
Instead of cutting his closeups from the film, Weta mined old Fast and the Furious footage and outtakes to build a library of the actor's moments. More specifically, Hill and his team sought to create a photo-real digital human from Walker's Fast and Furious library.
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’Conner.
With the help of his brothers, Cody and Caleb, and actor John Brotherton, the three men stood in for Paul. Weta then motion-captured their work on set and later applied the digitally created models of Walker.
Although they were faced with a wholly unprecedented challenge in Furious 7, Hill says that the challenge and their results were well worth it.
[They were] the high point of my career. 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.
I think we can all agree that Paul's final performance was a great one, and everyone involved in bringing it to life deserves the highest of praise.