How “The Irishman” pulled off its boundary-pushing de-aging VFX
The Irishman is one of the most interesting films to have come out in 2019. It’s directed by Martin Scorsese, who for the first time teamed up with streaming giant Netflix to produce and distribute the three-hour epic. The film has enamored both fans and critics and is a contender for this year’s Oscars.
A decades-spanning chronicle of the life of a young truck driver (Robert De Niro) who mixes with a charismatic crime lord (Joe Pesci), The Irishman required some serious VFX wizardry. In a thirteen-minute feature, Netflix details how the extensive de-aging process will go.
Watch the full video here:
Marty and Netflix have teamed up with Industry Lights & Magic to execute. ILM is a storied institution when it comes to visual effects, having worked on ground-breaking VFX-work like those in Jurassic Park, the first Star Wars trilogy, and interestingly, Young Sherlock Holmes.
Though de-aging technology is at a point where it’s no longer a question of whether or not it’s possible, Marty’s insistence on not using motion-capture dots and rigs presented an early pitstop. He said: “I don’t know. I can’t have the actors talking to each other with golfballs on their faces.” This is crucial since a film like The Irishman relies entirely on the dynamic of these characters.
Pablo Helman, ILM’s visual supervisor, took the challenge. ILM developed entirely new technologies for the film so that De Niro, Pesci, and Al Pacino don’t have technical contraptions in-performance.
Interestingly, they started with a comp test, re-enacting a scene with De Niro from Goodfellas. Suffice it to say, the test went well. And so they began to work.
ILM used a variety of techniques, from their proprietary capture technology called Medusa to a lighting tech called FLUX. It’s all very complex. But ultimately, as Helman notes, “it wasn’t a math problem. It was an imagination problem.” Luckily, they had the latter in great supply.
The result is an astounding feat of VFX. While they could have yielded aesthetically more accurate results using mo-cap, Marty and his team’s commitment to preserving the actors’ performance ultimately pushed the boundaries of visual effects.