So with Scorsese’s The Irishman attracting universal acclaim there’s been much made about the technicalities of deaging DeNiro.
It was the one major crucial issue that remained before the film could be financed. The main actors were going to portray their characters for a significant portion of the action as their younger selves. Each of these actors was seventy-something. How could this be possible? “The first time I talked to Marty about the movie we discussed how difficult it would be to make an actor look 20 or 30 years younger,” says Pablo Helman, visual effects supervisor at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) about deaging DeNiro. “Marty was concerned because he wanted to make the film but wasn’t sure he could do it. No doubt, the fact of the actors having to play themselves younger was an obstacle. We talked about if it was possible to develop a technology that could accomplish that, make them look younger. “We were in Taiwan shooting Silence and he gave me the script. I read it overnight. I was very excited. ‘I’m in,’ I said. ‘Let’s make Bob De Niro 30 years younger, make him look just like he did in Goodfellas. Let’s do a test.”
The director had reservations. Helman says, “Marty said to me, ‘One thing I know for sure. Bob’s an actor’s actor. Pacino and Pesci as well. They’re not going to wear a helmet with two little cameras and markers all over their faces for something like motion capture to make him look like his younger self.’ “I understood. I took a breath and said, ‘We’ll develop the technology, a new technology. What we came up with is something that has never been used before. The actor does not have to wear a helmet or any kind of markers.” The camera system and companion software system that ILM developed captured actors’ facial performances on set among other actors, without helmet-mounted cameras or 9 visible tracking markers — and translated those unaltered performances to full 3D computer-generated versions of the actors’ younger selves effectively deaging DeNiro
The complexity of the filming in terms of the ‘deaging DeNiro’ process became ultra-clear on Pacino’s first day. The scene depicts Pacino as Hoffa while he and his family are watching the Kennedys, who he despises, win the presidential election. “Al’s line was, ‘I can’t watch this’,” Scorsese says. “And he gets up from the chair as a man his age would and walks away when we realized Hoffa was 49 at the time and would move differently from a man in his 70s which is as Al did it.” The filmmakers were prepared for the situation. Production had hired Gary Tacon, a physical therapist, as the movement analyst. His job was to work on movements with actors when they played their younger selves. A quick session with Pacino was all that was needed. They did the scene again with the star moving from the chair with more energy and pep the way a younger man would.
De Niro says, “There was a scene I did where I was rushing down the stairs and run into Ray Romano. I went down the steps as I would normally. Gary came over and said, ‘You’re not even fifty here. You’ve got to move a little more spryly, you know, like a young guy. ‘ De Niro adds, “It’s easy to forget sometimes you’re playing young.” Scorsese would remind his cast, “Your whole body has to act. It’s extraordinary. The whole body needs to be engaged.”
On the other hand, Pacino recalled a scene which he was so deeply in the moment that his natural adrenaline kicked in and he moved with speed and force of a man in his prime. “It’s like the old lady who jumps up and runs when someone calls fire,” Pacino says. “It was the scene after the Kennedy Assassination and flag on the Teamster building has been lowered to half-mast. Standing on the steps leading up to the building, and Hoffa’s so enraged when he realizes the flag been lowered that without thinking he runs up the steps to the roof and hoists the flag full mast.” “I just ran with tremendous energy. To this day I don’t know where that energy came from, perhaps because it was really cold out?”
The greatest task in the film was coping with the scenes in which the characters would be photographed with the so-called three-headed monster and eventually deaging DeNiro through visual effects. “The VFX de-aging DeNiro techniques ILM developed for the film are quite ground breaking. It required a lot of research and development on the part of the camera team to ensure we could deliver what they needed and allowing Marty to move the camera in any way he wanted. It was a tremendous job but in the end it worked so that the transitions from the scenes where the actors had to be de-aged by VFX and the later decades where there was no VFX work on them was seamless.”
Filming wrapped March 5, 2018 and after 107 days it was Scorsese’s longest ever shoot and the deaging DeNiro process began in earnest but there were further concerns as outlined here. With the film now out the flitting back and for through the decades it appears seamless and is one aspect of The Irishman that is likely to figure in awards season.