When Paul Walker, 40, died in a car accident on Nov. 30, 2013, it left The Fast and the Furious franchise without a key star in the middle of production on a sequel expected to make hundreds of millions of dollars.
Despite the huge stakes, the studio suspended production and, while mourning Walker, left the film's future up in the air. Director James Wan told BuzzFeed, "I actually want to give credit to the studio for not jumping at that. Because they were just as shocked. They truly loved Paul. It hit everyone really hard. We truly did not talk about finishing the movie until Paul was buried and we had a memorial for him. It was in the following weeks that we started thinking if this was something that we could actually finish without him."
The challenge of finishing a film of this size without its star was incredibly daunting, but the ingenuity of Wan and his team made it possible. First, they poured over every bit of footage (including outtakes) that they had of Walker from all of the films. They then used the footage to create a bible of Walker's facial expressions in different situations that the visual effects artists could reference when creating CGI of Walker.
They also hired Walker's two brothers as stand-ins to many scenes (with Walker's face often digitally superimposed over theirs) and to do some line readings. In some instances, a line would be half said by Walker, and half said by one of his brothers. The screenwriters also rewrote the ending to complete Walker's story arc so the franchise could continue without him.
All in all, the film was delayed a year and the budget ballooned by tens of millions of dollars, but it was worth it, as Furious 7 acted as a fine tribute to Walker and became the most successful film in the franchise, grossing upwards of $1.5 billion.