Fast & Furious 7 has begun shooting. Heck, it’s been shooting — production began a week ago, and has (presumably) been going strong ever since. But even as Atlanta transforms into a hotbed of street racing, angry bald men and people jumping from cars onto other cars in slow motion, the rest of the world still doesn’t know how the late Paul Walker factors into all that. We know that the powers-that-be will be retiring Walker’s character, Brian O’Conner. We just don’t know how.
But if a report from the New York Daily News is to be believed, then perhaps we do. According to the newspaper, Universal has hired four actors who very much resemble Walker and will use them to film Walker’s last scenes, later superimposing Walker’s face and voice onto theirs via CGI. Keep in mind this is still speculation; Universal is going the “no comment” route, and none of the stars have Tweeted or Facebooked anything regarding Walker’s many face-and-body doubles (as they’re prone to do). Until someone involved with Fast & Furious 7 admits that the film will have a weird CGI Paul Walker, we probably shouldn’t assume Fast & Furious 7 has a weird CGI Paul Walker.
But if it’s true, would a weird CGI Paul Walker really be that weird? It sounds that way; like Fast & Furious 7 would have a creepy, off-kilter creature that looks like Paul Walker but still makes your brain itch in some weird and unexplainable way. Something like that re-youthified Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator Salvation. The faux-Walker would sail past the finish line in heated street race, high-five each and every cast member, then state “I have to go now” in someone else’s voice and awkwardly float out of the frame.
Because if every posthumous CGI job looked like this:
Then no one would ever attempt them. But this kind of thing is actually done on a semi-regular basis (well, about as often as an actor dies during the production of a major film), and it’s far more difficult to spot when it’s done right. Oliver Reed suffered a heart attack and died during the filming of Gladiator, and the film soldiered on. A body double here, a little CGI there, and the result is barely noticeable — you’d be hard-pressed to find the fake Reed, unless you were already on the lookout for him.
Archaeologists have also uncovered this ancient Entertainment Tonight episode, which demonstrates how Brandon Lee was re-inserted into The Crow after he was killed in a freak accident on-set:
Lee’s body double/CGI was in The Crow for all of thirty seconds. Reed’s had more screen time, but not much more — about two minutes of footage in total. When using space-age technology to raise the dead, less is most definitely more. Mere seconds can be crucial: a perfume commercial for Dior’s J’Adore fragrance created CGI zombies out of Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich and Grace Kelly. In the ad, Dietrich and Kelly turn towards the camera but move as few facial muscles as possible, which is definitely a plus. They’re a little stiff, but they come out looking relatively real. Ms. Monroe, however, was tasked with moving and smiling and saying the word “Dior,” which in hindsight was probably a bad choice.
Note that at 55 seconds in there’s a split-second glance at Monroe that looks totally real. It’s only when she starts to speak that she becomes one of the monsters from I Am Legend.
If Universal is going the same route for Walker, they had best repeat that mantra of “less is more.” It’s why The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 will probably not be a CGI horror show — Philip Seymour Hoffman may have passed away during production of the film, but Lionsgate is only using their CGI Hoffman for a single scene. If we’re lucky, Fast & Furious 7 will follow suit (if they even decide to go the CGI double route, that is), because when an actor dies, their last few films should be a celebration of their lives and what they contributed to the world of acting. I’d like to remember Walker for his skill in navigating a street race or a tumultuous bromance with Vin Diesel. Not for that one shot in Fast & Furious 7 where he started to talk and it looked like his face was melting.