Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman involves several timelines that constantly jump back and forth over the course of 50 years, which means that the three main actors – Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci – had to be able to convincingly play both young and old versions of their characters. The problem is, those guys are all firmly in their 70s; no amount of makeup or wigs is going to make 79-year-old Pacino look like a man in his 40s, not even if you squint and turn the brightness on your TV all the way down. Scorsese thought he had missed his window to make the film with the cast he wanted until Industrial Light & Magic stepped in with some incredible de-aging VFX technology.
In a 13-minute video just released by Netflix, Scorsese and the ILM effects team describe the process of making Pacino, De Niro and Pesci look young again for The Irishman. The featurette is loaded with interviews and interesting tidbits, including a look at the special camera rig created just for the film. Because Scorsese didn’t want his actors to have to cover their faces in “golf balls” – the sensors typically used to create motion capture special effects – the folks at ILM build a special camera that incorporated two additional thermal cameras that would capture the scenes from different angles, allowing for a complete 3D reference with no shadows for the VFX artists to work with. It’s fascinating stuff, especially if you’re a big movie buff or curious about the work that goes into creating computer effects for a major film. Considering nearly every scene of the film required the anti-aging effects, the amount of dedication and care that ILM put into their work is all the more impressive. And to be honest, after a while I stopped noticing the effects at all, which is a testament to both ILM and the actors.