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'Furious 7': Meet the Man Who Built the Cars

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 4/1/2015 Carter Jung

Summer brings with it an onslaught of the year's biggest movies featuring some of Hollywood's brightest celebrities. But not all of the most memorable on-screen characters have been played by actors or actresses. The Dodge Charger in the "The Fast and the Furious" flicks, the Batmobile, and Green Hornet's Black Beauty are just some of the vehicles that carjacked the limelight from their bipedal counterparts. Behind every big car build is an even bigger car guy. In the case of those three automotive stars, it's Dennis McCarthy.

Research

McCarthy, the owner of Vehicle Effects, has worked on a number of films as a Picture Car and Transportation Coordinator. "Taken 3," "Man of Steel," "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," "Total Recall," "The Green Hornet" -- his IMDB credits are every car guy-slash-geek's fantasy. With a shop located in Sun Valley -- 10 miles north of Hollywood -- McCarthy's crew of mechanics, fabricators, and designers build custom cars from the ground up. Whatever the studio's vehicular imagination, Dennis sees it to real-world fruition.

Now that "Furious 7" is upon us, get to know the man responsible for the cars from the past five films.

How did you get into the picture car business?

Back in 1990, I opened up a shop in Burbank where I did a lot of hot rod and custom car builds. I started to do mechanical and maintenance service for Disney and NBC vehicles, and after a while, I was introduced to producers for my work. The first feature film I worked on was "Dragonfly" with Kevin Costner where I modified a bus to be able to handle off-road duties. After that, I got a call from Universal to work on the cars from "Bruce Almighty," and that's when picture cars turned into a full-time job.

When it comes to picking car makes and models for a FF film, what goes into the consideration process?

It's mostly character-driven. I want a fan to see a photo of a car before watching the film and be able to identify who would be driving it. The car also needs to match the geographical look and capability of where we're filming.

Dennis McCarthy© Provided by MotorTrend Dennis McCarthy Fast and Furious films seem to try to outdo the last. What's the biggest stunt in the seventh?

"Fast and Furious" always goes big. One of the most challenging scenes in "Furious 7" was an epic off-road sequence that takes place on a mountain pass. The cars had to withstand abuse that is typical of a Baja desert race.

'Furious 7': Meet the Man Who Built the Cars

Which vehicle required the most extensive build?

Dom's off-road Charger from the mountain scene. It's basically a trophy truck built from scratch that's been made to look like a Dodge. The only part that's Charger is the roof and A- and B-pillars. We had three months to build seven of them, and it took all three months.

What's the most painful car you had to wreck?

The off-road Chargers. Only one of the seven survived. I still have nightmares about their demise.

In this film, cars fly. Why and how'd you make that happen?

The why part comes from Chris Morgan, the writer. How it happened was a combination of stunts and visual and digital effects.

Dennis McCarthy© Provided by MotorTrend Dennis McCarthy Were physical cars actually thrown out of a C-130, or was it CGI?

They were fully functional cars, complete with engines, thrown out of a plane. They were attached to military-grade parachutes, of course. The cars that landed well, we were able to drive off of set. The ones that didn't land well didn't.

Any on-screen automotive cameos we should look out for?

A '69 Ford Torino built by Rad Rods by Troy, a brushed metal 2000-hp '68 Dodge Charger from Nelson and Nelson Racing, and a white Toyota Supra driven by Paul Walker's character Brian O'Conner. The Supra is actually from Paul Walker's personal collection.

On that note, stories about Paul Walker's kindness and passion for cars have become near-legend. What's your fondest memory of the actor?

Dennis McCarthy© Provided by MotorTrend Dennis McCarthy Besides being a true friend, his enthusiasm for cars. Paul would call on a regular basis asking what cars he would be driving, going deep into the details of each and every modification. What you saw him driving in the film is what you would see him driving in real life.

If you could describe Walker using three words, what would they be?

Genuine. Caring. And, again, true friend.

Of the 30 films to your credit, do you have a favorite one, or is it like picking a favorite child?

The "Fast and Furious" films are my favorites. There is no other franchise that puts more effort into featuring the best possible vehicles. If you could upload only one movie on your phone -- a film you didn't work on -- what would it be?

One of my favorite childhood films is "The Gumball Rally." The best part is when the Ferrari Daytona races the AC Cobra down the L.A. River. If you could take any car home from the FF films, which one would it be?

I love the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona from "Fast & Furious 6." It's basically my interpretation of what a Daytona should be, nose pulled back, rear wing dropped a bit, and the numerous other subtle touches that give it a more streamlined look. That Daytona would look great parked in my garage.

Dennis McCarthy© Provided by MotorTrend Dennis McCarthy
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