These days, creating a Hollywood hit isn’t only about telling spellbinding stories, or actors delivering unforgettable performances, it’s also about creating that immersive visual splendour that transports audiences to a state of awe. Simply put, it’s about making magic.
One of these magic tricks, thanks to Peter Jackson, is the digital artworks, courtesy of Weta Digital, a digital visual effects company based in Wellington, New Zealand. The director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson founded the company along with Richard Taylor and Jamie Selkirkin. The company has brought in a flood of awards over the years, not to mention for all three of the Lord of the Rings movies over 2001 to 2003, then for King Kong and later for Avatar in 2009.
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogy, both scream the ingenious work of Peter Jackson’s motion-capture technology and special effects. The technology which helped turn grown men into the sizes of hobbits, bring to life Tolkien’s envision of the infamous Gollum and the nefarious Smaug, as well as creating massive scale epic battle scenes, all of which was only possible thanks to the added graphics work undertaken by Jackson’s post-production house, Weta Digital.
However, Weta Digital isn’t only exclusive to Jackson’s productions; they are also affiliated with many of Disney’s animation films. The company’s pure dedication to its work does not only stop here. As the saying goes “The show must go on”, Weta doesn’t let anything, not even a matter like the untimely demise of an actor stop a production of a film. Amongst all the best work of Weta Digitals, they seem to have a knack for reanimating and bringing actors back-to-life, who have had the most untimely deaths, leaving films unfinished. This is where Weta steps in and saves the day.
Peter Jackson’s work is thought to have stepped in, where Paul Walker had left unfinished scenes in Fast & Furious 7. Yet, Universal Studios declined to reveal the technique used to bring back Paul Walker to life. Nevertheless, critics believe that Weta Digital was asked to complete the heartrending task with its cutting-edge visual effects and archive footage from the Fast & Furious movies, along with using body doubles, brothers Caleb and Cody, for Paul Walker. The Hollywood Reporter claimed that Paul Walker was brought back using the same techniques used in bringing late Oliver Reed's Gladiator character. The recreation required Paul's face, using archive material, to be digitally placed onto the double’s body. Along with careful CGI handy work, proper light adjustments and shots from all the right angles, the results are almost near perfection to the naked eye.
Paul Walker is not the first actor to have walked this path; few others have come before him. HBO’s hit sitcom; The Sopranos also faced this issue when Nancy Marchand, who played Tony Soprano's mother, passed away. "Basically it was 2D compositing," recalls Rick Wagonheim, executive producer behind the visual effects. "The problem was some of the angles didn't really match as well as they could have."
VFX supervisor Scott Squires, who worked on Captain America: The Winter Soldier revealed that "If there's any inkling that you might need a scan, they scan the actor at the start of production, I’ve also heard of certain studios having actors scanned just as an archival thing."In other words, the actors somehow become immortal; they can still be in any movie from archived information even after they have passed away.