The team behind The Fate of the Furious considered resurrecting Paul Walker as a CGI character during the movie's development. The eighth entry in the ever-more-ridiculous vehicular franchise was the first to start production since the death of Walker in 2013, which posed major questions for the filmmakers over how to address his legacy.
Furious 7, during the production of which Walker had his tragic accident, used a mixture of filmmaking techniques - already filmed footage, body doubles and CGI - to provide a fitting send-off to Brian O'Connor. Fate respected this with a very affectionate reference to the former cop in retirement and ended with Dominic Toretto naming his son after the character. But Brian could have been much more involved.
Screen Rant recently talked with F. Gary Gray about how the movie handled Walker's legacy. The Fate of the Furious director stated that figuring how to address Brian, if at all, was a major topic of discussion, and revealed that at one point they considered bringing Walker back as a digital character.
"We had hundred of conversations about the best way, the classiest way to handle and address Paul's legacy in this franchise. You know, there's multiple ways you can go. You could create a digital Paul and make him more of a character. You could leave him out and pretend that he's in this world anymore. These are all conversations we had and we felt like the choice we made respected his legacy the best. And my understanding is that his family was really happy with how we treated him."
These comments about doing right by Walker echo a previous statement from the series' writer, Chris Morgan, but it's interesting to learn he was originally considered to have a bigger part. It had been accepted by many that Brian's part in Fate would be negligible if anything (and it's possible this CGI version would have only ever been a brief cameo). While it's unclear when this possibility was explored and subsequently passed on, given all concerns it was likely in the process. There had been talk of his brother, who did some of the aforementioned body doubling in Furious 7, returning in some form, although that hadn't been raised for a couple of years.
Having a CGI Brian wouldn't be out of the question given that's how they achieved his final scene of Furious 7, although doing it for a totally new story he was never involved in is a much bigger task, both technically and in terms of winning fans over. Indeed, there's been a lot of debate recently about bringing back dead actors through CGI, with mo-cap actors and animators trying to replicate their living style. This controversy was perhaps best seen with Tarkin in Rogue One, with Peter Cushing's Grand Moff playing a not unimportant role in the plot.
Gray seemed to believe they ultimately went with the right direction in what was one of the film's biggest challenges. Talking further about the film's audience and financials, he said to Screen Rant that addressing Walker's death was a major concern:
"I think that we ran into the possibility of people maybe feeling like "well Paul's in this movie" and it would be the first time you would see a Fast and Furious without Paul. And so there's no guarantee that that same audience is going to show up. You can't make the assumption."
Fate proved to a be a massive box office success, securing the biggest worldwide opening of all time and currently sits on $1.2 billion total, so evidently these concerns were unfounded. However, it is understandable the director would have them given how much of Furious 7's success was ascribed to its handling of Walker's death and may have even been a motivation for the digital character discussions.
The Fate of the Furious is now available on Digital HD and will be available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand July 11.