Zack Snyder’s new zombie-heist movie has gone through some major changes before release. Comedian Tig Notaro stepped up into a role originally performed by fellow comedian Chris D’Elia.
D’Elia was accused of pursuing underage girls in June 2020. Although D’Elia continues to deny the allegations, Snyder decided it was best to digitally erase D’Elia from the movie and bring in Notaro to play the snarky helicopter pilot instead.
It would have been an absolute nightmare to bring back the cast for reshoots during a pandemic. So what did Synder do? He had Notaro do all of her scenes in front of a green screen with no other actors, and Snyder’s team then edited this into the footage they already had.
Snyder and Notaro spoke with Vulture about this whole process.
Based on their experience, this is how you can digitally replace someone in your film, step by step.
'Army of the Dead'Credit: Netlix
1. Find a replacement
As Vulture points out, this isn’t the first time an actor has been replaced in post-production after being accused of sexual misconduct.
In 2017, Ridley Scott reshot Kevin Spacey’s scenes in All the Money in the World with actor Christopher Plummer. Gravity Falls redubbed a character originally voiced by Louis C.K., also in 2017.
When Snyder’s casting director mentioned Notaro for the role, the director told Vulture he thought, “Wait. Tig. Yes. That’s it.”
Notaro said she was baffled that Snyder wanted her for the movie.
“I felt like there was some sort of misunderstanding,” the actor said.
Notaro is known for playing quiet, funny parts, including the role of a therapist recently in the Sundance hit Together Together. She also plays engineer Jett Reno on Star Trek: Discovery, a role for which she does limited stunt work. She was understandably nervous about taking on a Snyder picture.
“It didn’t seem possible for me to take on what Chris did. We’re such different actors and comedians,” Notaro said.
But clearly, things worked out for the better.
2. Do the prep work
Never rush your pre-production. Not only did Notaro have to learn a part and prep for action, but she also had to do it while COVID-19 precautions were in place.
“I did firmer training over Zoom in my office while my children were playing Lego in the next room,” she told Vulture. “I hid it from them, not because they’d get hurt but because I didn’t want them to think I had a machine gun. That lasted probably 20 minutes.”
Meanwhile, Snyder digitally edited D’Elia out of the movie.
“My visual-effects supervisor, Marcus Taormina, did the work of taking Chris completely out of the movie so Tig could have freedom [to move] within the scenes,” he said.
Snyder's team also had to recreate the physical sets at a studio in Simi Valley. Notaro had to limit her movements and speech within these settings to fit her lines into existing scenes. She often performed with no other actors present.
“They’d line up a piece of tape on the ground and say, ‘Okay, you’ve fallen in line with a group of people. You’re walking into a building. I’d be like, ‘Is it kind of a mosey? Okay, I’ll mosey,’" Notaro told Vulture. "Then, Zack might say, ‘That’s a little too fast with the moseying,’ and we’d start over again.”
At one point, Notaro had to pretend to fly a helicopter, while pretending characters were fighting pretend zombies during a pretend nuclear blast. Talk about an acting challenge.
“You’re sitting there with all these adults standing 10 feet away while you’re alone, acting like you’re crashing," she said. "I thought, Oh my God, I feel like an idiot. Can we be done with this?”
Again, Snyder was able to use this process because he had the technical tools and budget for it. A smaller-budget film would likely have to rely on creative editing and traditional reshoots. But this is a good example of what might be possible as VFX tools and virtual productions become more accessible.
3. Replace the character
To begin the next stage of post-production, Snyder and his team went through Notaro’s footage to pick the best takes and the ones that synced with the dialogue and action.
“Some of the trickiest shots were where she’s walking in the group," Snyder told Vulture. "I had to match the [camera] pans, and it was difficult to get the perspective to match. It was a few months to get all the individual effects and make it seamless. Marcus was able to fudge it around and get it to work, and [her footage] went in surprisingly easily.”
They also had a digital version of Notaro that they could drop into scenes when things just weren't working. They used this for background shots where the action didn't match. (We're hoping it's not too uncanny valley!)
Army of the Dead is being released May 14 in select theaters and will be available on Netflix on May 21.
How do you think Notaro’s performance will be? Let us know in the comments!