Ever since actor Paul Walker's tragic death on November 30th, questions have been swirling about his upcoming role in Fast & Furious 7. Walker had shot a number of scenes for the movie before his car accident, and while Universal eventually confirmed Walker would still be included in the movie, the studio hasn't commented on how the franchise would deal with the loss of its leading man.
Filming was put on hold for almost four months, but shooting resumed this week in Atlanta, GA and is expected to last for a period of six to eight weeks. Sources now say that script tweaks have allowed the team to "retire" Walker's Fast & Furious character -- and yes, he'll appear onscreen, thanks to some clever camera trickery.
According to a source involved with production, Walker will be added to key scenes via computer graphics:
They have hired four actors with bodies very similar to Paul’s physique and they will be used for movement and as a base. Paul’s face and voice will be used on top using CGI.
This is reportedly what's being done for Phillip Seymour Hoffman for his unfinished role in Mockingjay Part 2, and it's been done before (notably, for actor Oliver Reed in Gladiator following the performer’s sudden death). Using CGI is surely a better choice than, say, Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space where he used recycled footage of the deceased Bela Lugosi and hired his wife's chiropractor as an awkward stand-in who constantly kept a cape over his face, but still, it seems … well, a little ethically shady?
I don't mean Universal is trying to exploit Walker. I'm sure Walker had a contract that gave the studio permission to use his likeness in all sorts of ways associated with Fast & Furious, and I know they're just trying to figure out a way for him to gracefully exit the franchise while making use of the existing footage.
Still, it reminds me of how dead musicians can now appear onstage thanks to CGI and a reflection technique called "Pepper's Ghost." Tupac performing posthumously at Coachella, for instance. A CGI version of an actor will become part of their onscreen legacy, whether they would have wanted it that way or not.
Actor Crispin Glover famously brought a lawsuit against Back To The Future Part II after he was portrayed in the film using pre-existing footage and an actor wearing facial prosthetics. The case was settled out of court, but apparently there are now clauses in the Screen Actors Guild collective bargaining agreements which state that producers and actors aren't allowed to use similar methods to reproduce the likeness of other actors.
I'm not saying what's happening with Fast & Furious 7 is the same thing, but it's clearly a grey area. My gut feeling is that Universal will do a completely respectful job with Walker's imagery, it's just that I can't help wondering how this could play out in other scenarios -- now that film technology has advanced so far beyond prosthetics and capes over faces.
What do you think about a CGI Paul Walker appearing in Fast & Furious 7?
Image via Universal Pictures