After Paul Walker died in a terrible car accident two years ago, the team behind Furious 7, the movie Walker was shooting at the time, had two options: Start from scratch or somehow finish the project without the actor.
In an attempt to stay as true to the project as possible, and honor Walker, director James Wan decided to hire one of the best digital effects studios to somehow digitally insert Walker into the last bit of the movie.
The result was an astounding 350 CGI shots of the actor, paired alongside distant shots of his brother, to complete his character's (Brian O'Connor) arc in the franchise.
Joe Letteri, a senior VFX supervisor for Weta Digital, told Variety it was a difficult shoot that they wanted to handle as carefully and respectfully as they could.
"We had to complete a performance — what Paul Walker would have done if he'd been able to continue," Letteri said, adding that they couldn't do any closeups of the actor as that would take away from the transition from CGI to film.
That wasn't the only hurdle the VFX team was faced with, either. Due to Walker's sudden death, the team didn't have any scanned images to go off of to rebuild the actor digitally. For example, on films where heavy CGI is used, effects studios will scan full body images of actors using motion capture and then play around with those scans when creating specific scenes.
Without any of Walker, the team was forced to dig through archived photos and film of the actor in previous movies and try to align it with the new technology. It's probably why the scene at the end of Furious 7, with Brian and Dom (Vin Diesel) sitting in their separate cars and about to take off on one last journey, is the most notably unauthentic. It was lifted from one of the early race scenes in the first film.
Martin Hill, another VFX supervisor, told the trade that trying to convince an audience that a digital stand-in is actually an actor is an almost impossible task, but added their team did a top notch job of blending in the visual effects work.
Still, director James Wan was worried that for one of the most crucial scenes — when Brian essentially says goodbye to the team and Dom offers his "brother" a farewell speech — the CGI would come off as disrespectful.
"This is the key moment in the arc of Brian's character. Can we get that kind of nuanced performance," he reportedly asked.
Despite his concerns, however, everyone on board was pleased with the results.
While O'Connor's storyline is unfortunately finished, the Fast and Furious movies are nowhere near done. Fast and Furious 8 is scheduled to be released on April 14, 2017, and Diesel has confirmed there will be at least two more installments after that.