How Much of 'The Fate of the Furious' Action Scenes Were Real?
By now it’s a rule that with each new movie in the Fast and Furious franchise, the stakes and the gas-guzzling action must increase in size and scope. The Fate of the Furious, the eighth installation of this engine revving, NOS-pumping series, is no exception, and somehow one-ups its predecessor on the action front, going bigger than parachuting cars from an airplane and shooting hot rods through skyscrapers.
You'd think that these escalations would require a corresponding expansion of visual effects. But speak with the film’s stunt coordinators -- Jack Gill, Andy Gill, and Spiro Razatos -- and you might be surprised by just how little they rely on digital augmentation. We asked them about each of the film’s four major action sequences to learn how they pulled off these incredible feats of diesel-fueled damage, and how much of it was actually real (hint: quite a lot).
Havana racing scene
What happens: The film's opening set piece is an ode to the franchise's roots, a reminder of where Vin Diesel's Dominic Torreto and the rest of his driving family began. Naturally, a drag race in the streets of Havana, Cuba becomes a test of ingenuity. Dom chooses to race with a clunker that stands no chance against his opponent, until he uses some Nos, which sets fire to his engine and forces him to race the final stretch in reverse just so he can see where he's going. The brakes give out (of course!) just across the finish line, and Dom jumps out of the burning car before it hits a barrier and shoots up into the air, plummeting into the ocean.
How real is it? "It was 99% all real," Jack Gill said. "The only thing we had trouble with was about the first quarter of the race, the car catches on fire. We had authentic fire for most of it, but when we started picking the speeds up, we found out the fire was getting inside the car, and the stunt guy just couldn't take it anymore, so we had to turn the fire down and augment the fire with a bigger fire for the ending... All the bumping and grinding, sliding around the corners in tight formats was all real."
To get the car jump right, Gill and his crew had to stitch two shots together.
"The car that we pulled in that hit the wall only jumped in the air about five feet because the impact was so hard that it just bent the car in half," Gill said. "We didn't have time to shoot the second one, so I said as long as you guys will use my angles, then we'll shoot another car off against a green screen so it's still a real car. Essentially it's still the real car and it's still the real angles, we just had to put the two together."
Germany wrecking ball scene
What happens: The whole crew, led by Dwayne Johnson's Hobbs, manages to steal an EMP device and avoid a fleet of German security officials in pursuit. How? A giant wrecking ball. The group lures their followers into a construction zone, where they narrowly diverge from a wrecking ball's swing path. A specially built 35,000lb ball takes out everyone behind them, then bludgeons them again as it swings back, creating a vehicle junkyard.
How real is it? Andy Gill says about 70% of it was real. "We actually built a real wrecking ball," Andy said. "We drove our hero cars beside it as we released it, and we towed in our bad guys' cars in formation to get hit by the ball and timed it all out. On the front of the ball we put almost like a V-ramp so that it would lift the cars and they would run up that V-ramp... Watching it happen and seeing that ball fly by is amazing. It's a lot of power."
"Once we put real guys in there we said 'Look, if your car coughs or it even hesitates for a second, you're dead,'" Jack said. "You can't have any part of your car in front of this thing. So what you see is real. The only thing they added to it was some debris from the car flying towards the camera."
New York City zombie car scene
What happens: Cipher (Charlize Theron) puts Dom in charge of stealing the German Ambassador's nuclear codes and is eager to retrieve them by any means necessary. That includes hacking dozens of driverless cars and swerving them around New York City -- including through five-story car garages.
How real is it? While the crew took some flyby shots of New York landmarks, the majority of these scenes were filmed in Cleveland. But only one shot, which shows a fleet of cars converging into an intersection, was enhanced digitally.
"There's only one shot, one intersection shot, that's not real," Razatos said. "Everything [else] is real, so that's the sequence that I'm really, really happy [about]... I know why they put it in -- it tells the story of all the cars merging -- but I think they could have shortened that shot."
"We had 17 or 18 cars that we threw out of the parking structure on top of our entourage," added Andy. "Spiro, for the look, was adamant about the first drop having seven cars in the air at the same time. It looked really cool. We found a parking structure that allowed us to do it. It was perfect for it. Built our own ramps in and they counterweighted the cars so when they were released, the counter weight would pull them toward the exit, go through the barrier and drop."
Arctic chase finale
What happens: So, so much. An epic chase is capped by Diesel's Dom escaping a heat-seeking torpedo by jumping a submarine, causing the torpedo to hit the sub instead of his car. Yeah.
How real is it? The final sequence includes so many moving parts -- a submarine, torpedoes, cars flying into the air -- that it took the stunt crew more than two months to complete it all.
It has been the imperative of the entire unit, throughout the majority of the Fast and Furious franchise, to ground everything in real stunts as often as possible. That remains the case here but for the fact that the scene was shot in Iceland (not Russia), and the submarine was the only major computer-generated addition.
"Most all of the Iceland [scene] was real except for the submarine," Andy said. "When the hero cars are being chased by the bad guys in the SUVs and they get blown up in the air by the sub, that's all physical."
"One of the things we tried to do was use the Phantom Camera, which is new to the franchise," Razatos said. "You're able to go up to one thousand frames per second. When the sub hits Dom's car and it's tumbling as it's landing, there's actually a shot where you see it from normal speed to one thousand frames per second, and you see this burning tire in the foreground. Everybody would think it's a CGI shot, and it's not."
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