Anyone who’s seen the trailers for the seventh, and latest, installment of “The Fast and the Furious” franchise has to wonder: Did a multimillion-dollar sports car truly fly from high rise to high rise in a cloud of shattered glass, or was that a special effect? Are the vehicles that parachute from the cargo plane real, or were they computer generated?
“It’s a real car being driven. It’s a real car being landed,” “Furious 7” stunt coordinator Joel Kramer said of the rare Lykan HyperSport that leaps between buildings in the movie opening Friday.
“Each car did get ejected out of a plane,” Kramer said of the many vehicles that plummeted to their deaths during filming – not just once but three times.
For all the oiled muscles and adrenalized action that characterize Universal Pictures’ most successful movie franchise of all time, for all the love that is likely to be showered upon Paul Walker in his final “Furious” appearance, it’s the merging of car and character and the inventive stunt sequences that distinguish “The Fast and the Furious” films from other action-adventure titles.
Since the original movie in the series sped on to the big screen in a flurry of exhaust and testosterone 14 years ago, the cars, the stunts and the budgets have only accelerated. Mixing modern and vintage vehicles from Dodge, Plymouth, Chrysler, Chevrolet and GMC with a sprinkling of Maserati, McLaren, Ferrari, Bugatti and other exotics, “Furious 7” used 340 cars in filming more than 3,500 man-days of stunts.
Just 10 percent of the action sequences in “Furious 7” were computer generated, and even then, much of the CGI was employed simply to erase the wires and other contraptions that were used to film real cars and drivers or to add a background.
Whether it was the many Mercedes G wagons that sped through the supposed altitudes of Azerbaijan; the Maserati Ghibli that hurtled through the streets of L.A.; or the Audi R8 that blew its engine in a quarter-mile drag against a Dodge Challenger in a setting that lacked sanctioning from any governing body, just 20 percent of the cars used in filming survived the head-on collisions, barrel rolls and drone strikes in “Furious 7,” said Dennis McCarthy.
McCarthy has been coordinating the cars for the franchise since the third film, “Tokyo Drift.” The many others that were blown up, crashed or otherwise demolished in “Furious 7” were, as they have always been, crushed to stop them from being improperly restored and resold.
“Pretty much everything you see a car doing is actually happening,” said McCarthy, who builds the cars to help flesh out the characters.
Vin Diesel, who plays Dominic Toretto, is the muscle car guy whose prized possession is the 1970 Dodge Charger his father used to drive. His taste is “definitely Mopar – Plymouth, Dodge, Chrysler –because that’s what his dad drove,” said McCarthy, who received 30 cars from Dodge, including multiples of the 2015 Challenger, Charger and Jeep Wrangler.
Diesel’s character is, like most of the men in the “Fast” series, a guy who will fight with anything. Sometimes it’s his fists. Other times it’s a lug wrench. Regardless, his mind is lubed with motor oil, even if it doesn’t appear to be firing on all cylinders as he delivers platitudes about living life a quarter-mile at a time and jokes about Japanese turbochargers.
In addition to the 1970 Charger and the 2015 version, Diesel drives a 1969 Ford Torino, 1970 Plymouth Roadrunner and 1969 Dodge Charger in “Furious 7.”
Of the various Chargers Diesel is seen driving, McCarthy’s favorites are the off-road version he built with knobby tires and a roll cage so it could be driven off a cliff and a brushed-steel version McCarthy saw at the SEMA automotive trade show in 2013 and thought “was the coolest Charger I’ve ever seen in my life.”
The brushed steel Charger was finished an hour before it needed to be on set, said McCarthy, who, with only three months to source and build all the cars, often sent vehicles to their sets in Georgia, Arizona, Colorado and Abu Dhabi with wet paint.
Walker, who died in a car crash in November 2013, plays the former undercover LAPD officer who joined Toretto’s illegal street-racing crew instead of turning them in. He drives four different cars in “Furious 7,” including the Toyota Supra he raced in the original film, and the Japanese performance cars he also owned in real life: a Nissan GT-R and Subaru WRX.
“Paul was always easy,” said McCarthy, whose Vehicle Effects shop in Burbank is across the street from the personal garage Walker used to keep in real life. “After the movie went into production, he was the first call I got: ‘What am I driving? What are we building this time?’ He was very, very enthusiastic. Any time you see Paul driving a car on the screen, it’s what he had parked in his garage for sure.”
Any car except the Dodge Caravan he drives in his first “Furious 7” appearance, that is. At the beginning of the film, Walker’s character, Brian O’Conner, has given up the thug life to live a simple family existence with his new son and baby mama, but he misses the action and is easily drawn back in to vehicular combat when a vendetta is waged against his pals.
In one scene, Walker works with Diesel to free an ultra-rare Lykan Hypersport from a vault in an Abu Dhabi high-rise penthouse. In real life, the first super car to be built in the Middle East costs $3.4 million. Just seven were built. But even with a multimillion-dollar car budget, McCarthy said a real Lykan would have busted it, so the film version of the car is made from fiberglass instead of carbon fiber, with wheels that are cast instead of forged.
The molds for the body panels are identical to the ones used for the real car, McCarthy said.
All the action with the imitation Lykan, however, is real, according to stunt coordinator Kramer. It’s only “when it’s flying from building to building that it’s CG, and then it’s cut into a real car that we would jump and fly on wires.”
For the parachute sequence, Kramer said, real cars were dragged out of a cargo plane. The cars that were dropped didn’t have engines or fluids, to avoid making too much of a mess when they went splat.
As for the actors who appeared to be tumbling in the air inside the cars, they were. They just did so when the cars were attached to a giant gimbal with a 360-degree range of movement and filmed against a green screen to emulate their tumble through the sky.
In the film, those cars appear to also hit the pavement wheels down and running, which they did. Stuntmen were sitting in the driver’s seats of each running car, their wheels spinning at 35 to 40 mph when they were dropped from the cranes that had been holding them 8 to 10 feet above the ground. Those cranes were then removed from the film with computers.
“Everything we do is choreographed like a dance,” Kramer said. “You want to take it one step beyond the reality of what can be done in a car, but keep it enough where people are going to believe it.”
And, as they have with “Furious” films 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, to keep those people coming back.
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