Hawaii Five-0 did the impossible in its seventh season premiere by uniting the old Steve McGarrett with the new.
The CBS drama brought original McGarrett actor Jack Lord to life through the magic of CGI. Lord, who died in 1998, portrayed the Five-O hero for 12 seasons on the namesake series, which ran from 1968-1980 on CBS.
In the season 7 premiere, Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) gets trusted advice from Lord — the character was called Jack Lord in the script — a retired cop who offers words of wisdom about what it means to wear the badge. It’s a scene that’s been years in the making.
“I originally conceived of the idea — a scene between McGarrett and Jack Lord — to be the final scene in the series, but realized last year that the end was nowhere near and if I wanted to be the first to do something like this, I better commit soon,” executive producer Peter M. Lenkov tells EW exclusively. “Thankfully, the conversation between the two men fit perfectly with the theme of season 7.”
So, how did Hawaii Five-0 pull it off? First, they needed to get permission from Lord’s estate. “His estate is run by a bank, which asked to read the script pages,” says Lenkov, who wrote the premiere with executive producer Eric Guggenheim. “I actually approached them a few years ago and they were open to the idea. It wasn’t until June that we officially submitted the pages and they signed off. It wasn’t too difficult since they knew this was going to honor his legacy.”
Next came the difficult part: Actually bringing Jack Lord to life. A team from Counter Punch Studios began by creating a CG version of Jack Lord’s face, working in tandem with Picture Shop visual effects to create a lifelike CG character and adding skin textures based on images of Jack Lord from the final season of the original series.
Actor Ken Matepi was cast as the body double for his similar features to Jack Lord. Picture Shop’s Senior VFX Supervisor Adam Avitabile then worked with the makeup department to place small tracking markers on Matepi’s face that allowed the artists to analyze and match his facial movements precisely.
“Bringing the iconic Jack Lord back to life digitally was a challenging endeavor, to say the least,” Avitabile says. “This kind of thing is rarely attempted on network television. Our incredibly talented team of artists worked tirelessly to bring drama and emotion to such a fun and unique project.”
Once they filmed the actual scene, the footage was sent to Counter Punch Studios to animate the CG Jack Lord face, referencing both the performance of the actor and archived interviews with Jack Lord. Voice-over actor Cam Clarke then voiced the role for the episode.
“This was a very well-planned combination of many elements and many departments — CG, a voice actor, a body double and an actor for Alex to play off of,” Lenkov says, “Not to mention a huge amount of man hours, editing and finessing every moment to do our best to make you believe Jack Lord is in that room with Alex.”
Hawaii Five-0 airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on CBS.