December 4, 2019

Here's How ILM De-Aged 'The Irishman' Cast

The Irishman
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.

A lot of us probably used part of our Thanksgiving holiday to watch Martin Scorsese's new gangster epic, The Irishman, on Netflix. I know I did!

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!

The Irishman
Credit: Netflix

The camera

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.

The Irishman
Credit: Netflix

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

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.

The Irishman
Credit: Netflix

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?     

Update, Dec. 4: A previous version of this article referred to an FX Guide piece which has since been removed.

Your Comment

9 Comments

The original FX Guide interview was removed?

December 4, 2019 at 2:42PM

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Jamie
106

well said

December 6, 2019 at 4:02AM

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Muhammad Qasim
Writer
63

I wonder how something like BeautyBox would handle this? I've used to remove blemishes and smooth skin.... maybe it could work for de-aging as well!

December 4, 2019 at 3:44PM

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The experiment was a failure. The characters looked dreadful. De Niro never looked younger than 40 - and his eyes were ridiculous. The only thing that could have saved this movie is if De Niro turned out to be a replicant. Then it would have all made sense.

December 4, 2019 at 6:59PM

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I have to agree, I felt they looked way too old, especially at the scene where they initially meet at the petrol station and were supposed to be 'young'

December 5, 2019 at 5:51AM

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I completely agree. It looked weird and destructing from actors performances. I am sure at some point technology will be capable to create convincing aging and de-aging, but it is not there yet. It's a shame it was used in The Irishman.

December 5, 2019 at 3:24PM

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Vladimir Pcholkin
BeekeeperStories
374

I thought the D aging technique worked on their faces. However, full body shots where De Niro was supposed to be younger we're not as convincing as his physical mannerisms looked very much that of a 70 year old man. Overall I really enjoyed this film. The acting is brilliant. The pacing is perfect. Art direction serves the time period(s) masterfully. And definitely some of Scorsese's best work to date.

December 5, 2019 at 3:45PM, Edited December 5, 3:47PM

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Andrew Kierans
Digital Cinema Technician
266

Watched the film day before yesterday - what a mistake to try the digital de-ageing!

The early scenes really bad - we noticed lip sync issues, particularly with Joe Pesci. It was really distracting. The small movements and facial expressions were lost. One thing that they worked hard to avoid but couldn't disguise is the changes to their physiques and movement. They tried to disguise with absurdly large shoulder pads, but they moved like old men - not being unkind (I'm old too) - it was just odd enough that it kept taking me out of the moment while watching the film.

If it was ultimately Scorcese's desire to work with those particular actors, I'm sorry he didn't choose a project that didn't require 90% of the acting work to be altered with digital effects. If it was desire to tell that story, I'm sorry he didn't choose actors more age-appropriate to the story. It's one thing to use this technology to enable the same actors to perform in a brief flashback (like McKellan and Stewart in one of the X-Men films), but another thing entirely to use it like it was in this film. IMO, it's not terribly far removed from the upcoming digital recreation of James Dean as an 'actor' in a film.

I have enormous respect for Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. They have an amazing body of work, and I think this was not the appropriate way to utilize their talents.

December 5, 2019 at 4:46PM, Edited December 5, 4:47PM

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Robin Remde
Digital Platform
8

I don't get the hate for that effect. I mean, I don't think anyone critics the movie, because it was genius, but when I watched it, I thought it was pretty cool what they did. What looked really weird was Carrie Fisher in Rogue One, but The Irishmen did a great job. And Scrosese himself said it was an experiment. And when this new technology developes further I think this could change cinema.

Think about what that could mean for actresses who are bothered most by aging. If there is a good actress she could play longer younger roles without having to be operated several times.

December 9, 2019 at 11:32AM

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