Rodeo FX completed 125 shots for Furious 7, the latest of the Fast and Furious movies, and, notably, Paul Walker’s final appearance in the franchise. While marked by a certain poignancy, well handled by director James Wan, the film offers up the usual fast-paced action, including lots of breaking glass, explosions, car crashes, and exotic environments enhanced in CG by Rodeo FX. Given the need for franchise films like this to match, if not outdo the energy and impact of previous instalments, the demands on the visual effects work were considerable.
Grenades, glass, and body replacements
Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is in a life-or-death struggle with Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) in an office tower in Los Angeles at night. The muscular fight scene has the two tough guys literally fighting through multiple glass panels, shattering every single of them as they move towards the exterior window. The punch-up ends with a grenade explosion that propels Hobbs and Elena (Elsa Pataky) through the office window.
The massive grenade blast is the result of a CG explosion combined with practical elements shot by in-house VFX DP Robert Bock. This spectacular FX required a lot of work, as the team needed to perfectly blend the CG and real elements. The scene was shot with stunt doubles rigged to cables as they flew away from the building, but the live action shot lacked the realism that the director was looking for. To enhance this shot, Rodeo FX swapped in the CG versions of the actors, created from body scans, and animated them to add rotation and body movement.
This is just one of many scenes in the movie that includes glass, which inevitably is shattered in spectacular fashion. On set, Spillemaecker worked with the filmmakers to choose the right material: real glass, SFX glass, or CG glass.
Inevitably, the film is packed with car chase and crash scenes. Some of these shots were done practically, starting with the cars driving at low speed. In these cases Rodeo FX accelerated the motion and enhanced the environments around them. One scene, in an underground parking garage, shows Vin Diesel and Jason Statham playing chicken, except that they end up crashing head-on.
Setting the stage: environment shots
One scene that required extensive work was a shot of a mansion, supposedly in the Dominican Republic, which was taken from a helicopter of a beach in Malibu. The sandy Malibu beach filled with luxury houses was quite different from the desired tropical look of the Dominican Republic, so Rodeo FX ended up recreating the shot almost entirely, keeping only the main central mansion.
Another scene that Rodeo FX augmented was shot from a helicopter in Abu Dhabi, involving the Etihad towers and flying cars. There was a construction site beside the towers during production, which needed to be removed. While painting out the construction site and the cranes was not an issue, the Etihad towers had to be entirely replaced with CG towers in order to re-project the accurate environment reflections in the glass panels.
Since it’s release on April 3, Furious 7 has broken a handful of records, becoming the third film to top $1B at the international box office. The popular franchise has already announced the production of the eight instalment of the series, slated for theaters in April 2017.