How Hollywood Uses Peter Jackson’s CGI Technology To Resurrect Dead Actors Like Paul Walker

Losing Paul Walker halfway through the production of Furious 7 left the movie’s filmmakers in a very tough spot. Not only was this emotionally devastating, but Walker was a major player in the franchise, and his presence was crucial. This is when groundbreaking special effects came in, courtesy of Peter Jackson, filmmaker of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and the founder of Weta Digital.

The company used cutting edge techniques in addition to employing Walker’s brothers as physical stunt doubles and stand-ins. Weta didn’t provide specifics on what kind of work they did on Furious 7, but their technology served to bring Walker back to life for one last ride. The Hollywood Reporter described what kind of technology and tricks could have been used, using the late Oliver Reed, who died during the production of Gladiator, as an example:

Footage from outtakes was used to create a digital mask that was added to shots of a body double. “He also had dialogue, so we changed his mouth movement,” says [Robin Shenfield, CEO of The Mill].

But this isn’t limited to actors who were unable to finish a current production. The Mill, which won Oscars for the visual effects on Gladiator, is also wrapping up work on a Johnny Walker ad featuring Bruce Lee, who died more than 40 years ago. Because they only have past footage to work from and no current scan of Lee’s face, the animation — or reanimation — process becomes a lot more intimate:

“We created his entire face in CG and hand-animated that, using shots of the actor for reference,” says Shenfield. He believes that a CG actor is an option, as long as artists can create his face convincingly. “The eyes require a lot of work,” he says. “Keeping motion continuous in the musculature and the eyes is the key to making it look real.”

But let’s stop for a moment and address a different part of this explanation: “He believes that a CG actor is an option.” Aside from all of Hollywood’s actors worrying about their job security and the future of their career as opposed to CG dupes and creations, this can get really, really creepy (emphasis ours):

Explains VFX supervisor Scott Squires: “If there’s any inkling that you might need a scan [for stunt effects], they scan the actor at the start of production. I’ve also heard of certain studios having actors scanned just as an archival thing.” That way, 20 years from now, filmmakers would still have access to the likeness of that actor — dead or alive.

According to the article, these effects were used in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. So, if Marvel wanted to use Chris Evans in a movie 20 years from now, but as he appears as Steve Rogers now, that’s now a possibility. What does this mean for actors’ contracts and their rights, before and after they’ve shuffled off this mortal coil? Will new actors even have to be discovered if today’s most successful stars can just be scanned and put on a hard drive? Does this mean a living surrogate of Michael Jackson can bring him back from the dead so he can star in the Spider-Man movie of his dreams? Does it kill Chris Pine’s dream to play Frank Sinatra in a biopic because they can just animate Frank Sinatra?

Is this the future? Because it’s freaky. Very freaky and very morbid. The weird possibilities are endless.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter