Director Martin Scorsese's epic crime drama The Irishman is currently being hailed as a masterpiece, the greatest film of the year, and somewhat surprisingly, boring. The film puts Scorsese back into familiar, gangster territory, as well as bringing together a triad of iconic actors in Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. Though the film sounds like business as usual for Scorsese, the use of de-aging technology was very alien to him, and the old dog had to be persuaded to use these new tricks.
In a new Netflix special that accompanies the film, Scorsese discussed the use of CGI, admitting that he caved in to updating his methods because the alternative would have required a lot of extra work.
"Once we had the script, at a certain point the scenes, the flashbacks, which almost comprised for Bob like half the picture, would have to have been played by younger actors. So, then I said, 'What am I going to be doing? I gotta explain everything to them?'"
Though the suggestion has been made by the de-aging cynics that perhaps the film would have benefitted from younger actors as opposed to computer wizardry, with some even suggesting frequent Martin Scorsese collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio as a young De Niro, the idea clearly did not appeal to the director.
Thankfully, The Irishman's visual effects supervisor Pablo Helman came along with the suggestion of utilizing de-aging digital effects to allow the actors to portray the characters over decades, but despite Scorsese being fairly open to the idea, he had to be convinced as to how it could be used effectively.
"So, we're shooting in Taiwan and Pablo comes up to me from ILM. He said, 'You know, I'm working on this thing of making people younger in the pictures.' I said, 'Yeah, I heard about it.' I mean, I know you do it in Star Wars you do it in all the other effects films. And he said, 'Well, you know, your whole thing on Irishman is this will be the first time this will be done. I said, 'Wait a minute, wait a minute,' I said, 'This is a good idea. The only thing is if I have you guys, anybody, in the scenes in this kind of film talking to each other and you have tennis balls on your faces, you know what I mean Joe [Pesci]?"
To be fair to Scorsese, the sight of such respected actors as De Niro and Pacino walking around with tennis balls on their faces would have been something to behold, and no doubt would have hindered their now critically acclaimed performances. Ultimately it was this hindrance that kept Scorsese on the side of skepticism, with the director insisting that if de-aging technology was going to be used, the actors had to remain unencumbered.
"They showed me, it's almost more of an automaton of some kind. You have all kinds of equipment. I said, 'The whole thing is they need to see each other, to play off each other. Come back when there's no tennis balls.' And he came back."
Being so good at his job, Helman managed to solve this issue with no problems, giving us the delight of marvelling at these aged actors looking in their prime once again. This comes from Netflix streaming service.