Famous for his deeply muscled physique, former WWE wrestler-turned-action star Dwayne Johnson sports a flabbier look for flashback sequences in Central Intelligence, his buddy comedy with Kevin Hart. In a scene set in 1996 — when Johnson’s CIA spy was a bullied high school student nicknamed “Fat Robbie” — he performs a sassy shower song-and-dance solo in the school locker room to En Vogue’s hit “My Lovin’,” only to be dragged into a pep rally wearing nothing but his birthday suit.
“When I was working on the script, this lightbulb went off in my head where I thought, ‘Of course the kid who was bullied in high school, who was a little overweight with acne scars, would transform himself into The Rock,” says director Rawson Thurber (We’re the Millers).
There was just one issue: How to execute a naked make-under? “I didn’t want to ask Dwayne to drinks tons of milkshakes,” says Thurber, laughing. “And fat suits, no matter how good they are, always end up looking like fat suits.”
Enter visual-effects masters at Weta Digital (The Avengers), who superimposed Johnson’s face onto viral-video star and “All About That Bass” dancer Sione Kelepi’s body, using a cutting-edge combination of high-resolution 3-D facial scans, performance capture (think dozens of tracking dots affixed to Johnson’s and Kelepi’s faces to pick up every wink and wrinkle), and CG animation. There was also the matter of de-aging Johnson’s face, “because he’s supposed to be 18 during the scene,” says Thurber.
“It took about six months in post,” recalls Thurber. As it turns out, even he was astounded by the movie magic.
“I was so surprised with how photo-real and believable the final product was,” says Thurber. “You get rough versions, and then the next thing they send you is the version where your breath kind of catches in your throat.”
But for the record, Kelepi – who, like Johnson, is Polynesian – didn’t find the facial-swapping process as formidable as the wardrobe: He had to strip down to a skimpy banana hammock for three days during the Boston-based shoot. Says Kelepi, “The thong was definitely the weirdest part of the experience.”
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