Thanks to the geniuses at Industrial Light & Magic, we get to see Robert De Niro play Frank Sheeran from the ages of 24 to 76.
The film is based on Charles Brandt's nonfiction book, I Heard You Paint Houses, which follows Sheeran's rise through organized crime in Pennsylvania and posits that Sheeran was the one who killed union head Jimmy Hoffa (played by Al Pacino).
De Niro, Pacino, and Joe Pesci (who plays Russell Bufalino) are all in their 70s, but needed to play much younger men. Scorsese turned to Industrial Light and Magic for help figuring out how to make the actors look younger naturally.
Multiple outlets have looked at how the film's ILM visual effects supervisor, Pablo Helman, and his team approached this process. Let's dig in!
For all the scenes that required de-aging, a complex three-camera rig was used. Both Scorsese and De Niro (who also served as producer) were adamant about not incorporating VFX elements on sets, such as markers or helmets.
This rig, nicknamed the "three-headed monster," had a central camera, with two "witness" infrared cameras with infrared light rings on either side. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto discusses this rig in the below video from Netflix.
The rig presented some unique challenges on set. Naturally, the weight of the cameras limited their use of Steadicam shots, requiring crane and jib work instead.
According to Empire, the visual effects team tested their technology in 2015 by filming present-day De Niro saying lines from Goodfellas, then de-aging him to his 1990 self. The test worked, and they proceeded.
This technology eventually had to be applied to the actors' bodies and hands, as well. For instance, Pesci's weight is altered to make him appear thinner as Bufalino. The team avoided body doubles where possible.
Scenes that didn't require VFX were shot on Arricam LT and ST cameras on Kodak 5219 and 5207 film.
The software used to de-age the actors took two years to create, according to The Morning Call.
During the post-production process, nothing in the actors' performances was changed. The software essentially just gave the faces a "makeover" and created "digital doubles" based on what was captured in-camera.
ILM also created a library of all the actors at various ages and in various settings, and their artificial intelligence would provide these reference photos to compare to their rendered shots as they worked.
What's next? Check out more of our Irishman coverage
We're a sucker for Scorsese at No Film School! Check out how he got The Irishman made. Delve into one of the film's most impactful scenes. Check out how both the composer and cinematographer approached the project.
Have you seen The Irishman yet? What did you think of the VFX?