CGI: The Future of Actor-Less Filming?

Fast Five CastComputer-generated imagery, or CGI, in films are common due to the improvement in technology and more ambitious film goals. From eliminating the hazards of risky stunts to a completely animated film, CGI is a staple in the industry. In light of Fast and Furious 7’s premiere, CGI seems to find a new niche in film production.

When one of the movie’s main stars, Paul Walker, died in November 2013, the public immediately thought of the film’s fate. The actors were only on Thanksgiving break and the film was still halfway through completion. The tragedy left the production with the dilemma of how to continue the filming. After almost shelving the movie, Universal Pictures finally decided to rewrite parts and use Walker’s brothers as body doubles in combination with CGI.

With the success of its premiere in the first week of April, the studio’s move was proven right. Apart from the body doubles, Director James Wan also incorporated unused footage from earlier Fast and Furious films for Walker’s scenes. For the CGI, The Hollywood Reporter said the film outfit quietly employed WETA Digital, which is responsible for the creation of The Lord of the Rings’ Gollum. Apart from the last part of the movie focusing on the tribute for Walker, the movie features a seamless weaving of stunt doubles, old footages, and CGI.

The impressive use of technology prompted another speculation among film enthusiasts. A few websites already reported on the possibility of using CGI to replace the need for real actors doing the film.

This is not the first time a production outfit involved CGI in dealing with an actor’s death mid-filming. Brandon Lee died on the set of the 1994 dystopian film The Crow a few days before the filming ended. The producers used a composited image of Lee and superimposed it on a stunt double to complete the scenes. A more complicated process involved the digital reproduction of Oliver Reed in 2011’s The Gladiator. There were still a few parts with dialogue needed, so the team had to animate his mouth realistically. HBO production did almost the same process for Nancy Marchand before killing off her character in the early 2000s series The Sopranos. In her case, though, the producers had to shoot a scene with her character a year after her death, for the transition of the story. The CGI studio had to painstakingly manipulate a 90-second scene using a stunt double and snippets from past outtakes.

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This process of digitally scanning a person to continue or replace actually shooting scenes with CGI both has its benefits and harms. Though it may help in filming difficult scene, the technology may pose a threat to the actor’s privacy, and there is also the possibility of posthumous misuse.