Netflix has posted a fascinating behind-the-scenes video that shows how the team at Star Wars effects studio Industrial Light & Magic went about de-aging Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino for the streamer’s new crime movie The Irishman.
Director Martin Scorsese explains had been trying to make The Irishman for nearly a decade, but he could never get financing. When Scorsese eventually signed a deal with Netflix for the movie, there was still a problem–DeNiro, Pesci, and Pacino were too old for makeup alone to make them look younger as would be required for their roles in the film.
When filming the Scorsese’s 2016 movie Silence, ILM boss Pablo Helman came to Scorsese with an idea to use digital de-aging to make The Irishman. Scorsese said he was worried that DeNiro, Pesci, and Pacino would feel uncomfortable and not be able to act their best with the traditional motion-capture rigs surrounding their faces. So Helman and his team at ILM created all-new technology that would not encumber the three Oscar-winning actors.
The entire video is incredibly fascinating and well worth a watch; check it out below.
This technology, as you’ll see in the video, includes a new camera rig system that uses three cameras–one traditional camera and two infrared cameras–as well as advanced software to create younger-looking versions of the actors. ILM spent around two years compiling footage from the actors’ previous movies across a spectrum of ages to serve as models for the faces and expressions that they would use in the film.
In 2015, years before cameras started rolling on The Irishman, DeNiro tested this technology by performing one of his memorable scenes from Scorsese’s 1990 mobster movie Goodfellas. Scorsese said he was blown away by the results, and Netflix also liked it and decided to move forward with filming the entire movie using this brand-new technology.
Pesci, DeNiro, and Pacino had their faces scanned into the computer so the software could emulate a multitude of different expressions. Some who have seen The Irishman have remarked that the de-aging doesn’t always look completely believable or what you might expect, and this may be on purpose. The ILM team explains in the video that they were not exclusively trying to create younger-looking versions of the actors. Instead, they sought to create younger-looking versions of the characters the actors were portraying.
The ILM staff in the video also speak about how they believe this kind of de-aging technology might become the new norm, and lead to a filmmaking world where actors never have to use face rings or have ping pong balls attached to their face and body. Scorsese told The Hollywood Reporter that ILM’s technology came at no small expense, so it remains to be seen how widely this technology may be adopted by other studios in the future. The Irishman reportedly carried a budget of more than $150 million, and that’s before marketing.
GameSpot’s review of The Irishman scored it a 9/10. “It feels like a career summation, a mature and dignified work that could only be made by an older filmmaker able to look back on his life and his work. And while Frank Sheeran is left as an old man filled only with shame and regret, Scorsese proves that his powers as a filmmaker remain at full strength,” reviewer Dan Auty said.
Despite its marathon length of 3.5 hours, many millions of people watched The Irishman in its first week and first month.