It’s the year of digital de-aging as technology caught up with need for Martin Scorsese’s mobster epic, “The Irishman,” and Ang Lee’s sci-fi/thriller, “Gemini Man.” Industrial Light & Magic devised an unobtrusive facial capture breakthrough to make Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci look decades younger as hitman Frank Sheeran, Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa, and Philly crime boss Russell Bufalino, respectively. And Weta Digital has constructed the most fully realized digital human yet as 50-year-old Will Smith fights 23-year-old Will Smith in a face off between a hitman and his clone.
When Netflix premiered Scorsese’s long-awaited three-and-a-half-hour saga at the New YorkFilm Festivallast week, ILM’s costly de-aging experiment pushing the budget to $160 million proved effective in conveying the Oscar-worthy performances from 76-year-old De Niro, 79-year-old Pacino, and 76-year-old Pesci. Not surprisingly, the director’s summary statement about “loyy, love, trust, and ultimately betrayal,” represents his version of Sergio Leone’s similarly-themed “Once Upon a Time in America,” which also starred De Niro. Except Scorsese has replaced De Niro’s opium-induced fever dream with a grittier though no less mournful remembrance of things past.
Indeed, the key to Scorsese’s de-aging strategy on “The Irishman” was presenting Sheeran’s criss-crossing flashbacks mostly the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s as an elderly man’s reflection on his life. It was therefore about shaping performances with youthful massaging rather than creating younger replicas of De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci. “This isn’t just about lenses and computer imagery,” Scorsese said at the New YorkFilm Festival Q&A. “It’s about posture, it’s about movement, it’s about clarity of the eyes, everything.” Which is why during his first shooting experience with Pacino, the director had him do several additional takes, jumping up from his chair in anger while watching JFK on TV with his family until he approximated the age-appropriate 49-year-old Hoffa.
For ILM, the tech challenge was to create the lightest possible capture footprint for the trio of actors. “In the first meeting four years ago, De Niro said there was no way he was going to wear a helmet camera or facial markers,” ILM VFX supervisor Pablo Helman told IndieWire. “He wanted to be onset with the lighting, acting with other actors. And he said there will not be any controlled environment for re-shoots.
“With helmet cams you need to do calibration and that also requires two hours of makeup,” added Helman. De Niro only required makeup with no de-aging as the elderly Sheeran. “And the main problem for marker technology has to do with the lighting. You need to get those faces lit or else those markers don’t read. What we came up with is something that has never been used before without helmet cameras or markers.”
The camera system and companion software that ILM developed captured the actors' facial performances on set with no additional lighting requirements, and then translated those unered performances to full 3D CG versions of their younger selves with its proprietary models. The camera system consisted of three witness cameras rigged together with the same lenses as the principal cameras employed by DP Rodrigo Prieto, who termed the bulky system, “the three-headed monster.”
“It was slowly getting through performances and getting through takes, and moving on,” Helman said. “They were never waiting for us. But the post-production process was a little bit different from any other production that I have been on. We had never really showed Marty intermediate takes. He trusted us enough so that we would finish a shot, render it with the right lighting, and we would show him the performance. And if the performance had the same feeling that he had with the original performance he selected, we moved on.”
But if it didn’t, they discussed getting a better match. Scorsese, however, insisted on no keyframe-animated enhancements. ILM strictly used the raw data to slightly dial up the variation models for the three actors to achieve greater fidelity to their performances. De Niro developed the reserved Sheeran with a signature scowl, Pacino played the hot-headed Hoffa with manic exuberance, and Pesci offered a quiet menace as Bufalino. “[Scorsese] painted these characters as having a really rough life and, to him, it means that some people age differently than others, and there are all kinds of wrinkles and even body movements that echo what you have lived,” Helman said. “That is something that is completely different. And this achievement is going to be measured for what it does for the next generation of filmmakers on set with lighting.”
By contrast, “Gemini Man” offered a completely different approach to de-aging shot in 3D at 120 frames-per-second and 4k resolution by cinematographer Dion Beebe. In fact, the filmmakers refuse to call it de-aging. “We are not de-aging,” Lee said. “I rather think that we are creating a new character, a youthful Will Smith.”
“To the layman, yes, de-aging is just making a person look younger,” added production VFX supervisor Bill Westenhofer. “But from our side, de-aging has been associated with the Lola process. Whereas this is creating a person from whole cloth. We knew we had to make a digital human and once we did, it made sense to do it everywhere.”
Smith played the aging Henry as well as his clone, Junior, channeling his younger self. Junior, therefore, represents a major character breakthrough for Weta, appearing in more than half the movie, and required to express a range of emotions performed by Smith.
Weta created the CG Junior under the supervision of Guy Williams by studying the morphology of aging at it applied to the actor. The wizards of Weta then made great strides particularly in the areas of skin and eye work. The animators created a new procedural software for pores that simulates areas between the pores and along the natural fall lines for a more natural look. And modeled a dark retina for the eyes to reveal more depth, and provided an additional film surface that sits across the eye for greater fidelity.
And accommodating 120 fps worked to Weta’s advantage with some of the smooth skin artifice replaced by more natural sharpness and crispness. “That’s why we [pushed] the envelope as hard as we possibly can do,” said Westenhofer, “to be the first to deliver a fully convincing digital human.”
“One of the things that we'd always done in the past was to shoot a double and to recreate a performance so the main actor would do the piece, the other actor would watch, and then they would re-enact the thing,” said “Captain Marvel'” production VFX supervisor Christopher Townsend. “But with Sam being in two-thirds of 'Captain Marvel,' we couldn't do that. It would take too much time and be too difficult to match performances for every shot.”
Fortunately, Jackson has aged very well and has great skin, so it was no problem for Lola to go without a double. They used some makeup to pull back the skin on his neck, but relied on the actor’s performance with no grafting - just slimming and tightening and smoothing over. “It's very exciting to arrive at this point where we're de-aging a major character for the entire length of a film,” said Lola VFX supervisor Trent Claus. “With a project of this scale, we did indeed have to modify our usual methods a bit in order to accommodate the volume of shots.”
Ultimately, though, the de-aging process must always be at the service of the actor’s performance. “You're sculpting this whole thing,” Scorsese said. “It's like living models in a way. Plus the truth of how they're interpreting. It's an extraordinary experience.”
Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro has taken to Twitter to offer the latest installment in his unofficial tweet-thread series, which offer thoughtful cinematic musings in exactly 13 tweets. This one is on Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” which premiered at the New York Film Festival last week, and del Toro’s thread is filled with comparisons to other films, poetic metaphors about death and myth, and biblical references. In short, the filmmaker absolutely loved the 209-minute crime epic, calling it the “fastest three hours in a cinema.”
Based on Charles Brandt's nonfiction book “I Heard You Paint Houses,” the decades-spanning film stars Robert De Niro as Frank Sheeran, a World War II veteran who allegedly became a mob hitman and played a role in union boss Jimmy Hoffa's disappearance. Al Pacino stars as the notorious mob-connected Teamsters president. Joe Pesci also stars as mob boss Russell Bufalino.
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Some were skeptical about Scorsese’s latest after producer Jane Rosenthal, before the film’s premiere, said the film was less visually intense, more introspective, and slower than the master filmmaker’s previous work. But the movie debuted to universal acclaim on Twitter and in reviews, with IndieWire chief critic Eric Kohn in his “A” review calling it Scorsese’s best crime movie since “Goodfellas” and a “a pure, unbridled illustration of what has made his filmmaking voice so distinctive for nearly 50 years.”
Del Toro appreciated this version of Scorsese, whose film he said “transmogrified all the gangster myths into regret.” “I never thought I would see a film in which I'd root hard for Jimmy Hoffa —but I did — perhaps because, in the end, he, much like the Kennedys, represented also the end of a majestic post-war stature in America,” the “Shape of Water” Oscar winner wrote.
He called Pesci “supremely minimalistic” and “masterful.” “He is like a black hole — an attractor of planets — dark matter,” he wrote. As for De Niro, del Toro recalled the actor’s role in Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown,” where he played a quiet, dim-witted, but still dangerous ex-con — a far cry from his character in Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver.” “De Niro has always fascinated me when he plays character that are punching above their true weight — or intelligence — that’s why I love him so much in ‘Jackie Brown,'” he tweeted.
Del Toro also took the time to examine the two actors’ on-screen chemistry. “An interesting transfer between these characters: Pesci — who has played the Machiavellian monster, regains a senile innocence, a benign oblivion and De Niro's character — who has operated in a moral blank - gains enough awareness — to feel bitter loneliness,” he wrote. “I believe that much is gained if we cross-reference our transgressions with how we will feel in the last three minutes of our life — when it all becomes clear: or betrayals, our saving graces and our ultimate insignificance. This film gave me that feeling.”
Other feelings the movie gave del Toro — the inexorable feeling of crucifixion “from the point of view of Judas,” he wrote. “Every station of the cross permeated by humor and a sense of banality — futility — characters are introduced with their pop-up epitaphs superimposed on screen: ‘This is how they die.'”
His advice to audiences: Process the film as one would when mourning, allow it to sink in, and see it in a theater. Netflix is releasing the movie in select theaters November 1 before making it available to stream November 27. Check out del Toro’s thread below.
1/13: 13 Tweets about Scorsese's The Irishman: First- the film connects with the epitaph-like nature of Barry Lyndon. It is about lives that came and went, with all their turmoil, all their drama and violence and noise and loss… and how they invariably fade, like we all do…
Robert De Niro and Al Pacino have appeared in the same film four times: The Godfather: Part II, Heat, Righteous Kill, and The Irishman. One of these things is not like the other. The Godfather: Part II is maybe the greatest sequel ever; Heat is a masterpiece; The Irishman is “phenomenal”; Righteous Kill is a generic cop thriller from the guy who directed Fried Green Tomatoes that also stars 50 Cent. Robert Duvall, he’s not. It’s also not a good movie 18 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, as De Niro realized at the time.
During Righteous Kill‘s Italian premiere in 2008, De Niro felt guilty about the swelling crowd that was there to see him and Pacino, two of the finest actors of their generation. As Variety put it in a new profile, “De Niro turned to his co-star, Al Pacino, and expressed regret that all these people were here to celebrate a movie that was little more than a standard-issue cop thriller, one that blistered rather than burnished their legacies.” He told Pacino, “This is a great reaction, but it would be nice if they were here for a movie that we really feel proud about. Next time we’ll do one we like.” That would be The Irishman. Working with your ol’ buddy Marty Scorsese? Not a bad fallback option:
“Throughout our whole careers, we were always up for the same parts,” says Pacino. De Niro admits that the search for roles, as well as the jockeying for the hearts of critics and audiences, colored their professional relationship at points. “We felt competitive as actors,” he says.
No offense to De Niro, but only Mr. Pacino could pull off the Dunkin’ Donuts rap from Jack & Jill. I’m not saying he was robbed for an Academy Award, but he should have at least won Best Totally Dope Rap at the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, or something.
WARNING: Below are vague spoilers for The Irishman.
Most of the world won't be seeing The Irishman, Martin Scorsese's latest gangster epic, until November, but the relative few who have can't stop talking about it. The many unable to catch it, meanwhile, had to subsist on star Robert De Niro cussing out Fox News. Since its premiere at the New York Film Festival last Friday it also screened for press in Los Angeles, the star-studded biopic has earned rapturous raves from critics including from us but also from other filmmakers. One of those was fellow Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toro.
As caught by Entertainment Weekly, the maker of The Shape of Water and the masterful Blade 2 took to Twitter for a thread in which he gushed about the three-and-a-half-hour drama, whose the-gang's-all-here cast includes De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, and even Ray Romano who holds his own. The film adapts Charles Brandt's book I Heard You Paint Houses, which catalogs the life story of Frank Sheeran played by De Niro, a labor union official who claimed to have been involved in organized crime and was a close associate of Jimmy Hoffa played by Pacino.
Del Toro started by comparing the film to Stanley Kubrick's classic period piece Barry Lyndon a mere 6 minutes shorter than The Irishman, by the by, saying it's “about lives that came and went, with all their turmoil, all their drama and violence and noise and loss... and how they invariably fade, like we all do.”
The film is a mausoleum of myths: a Funereal monument that stands to crush the bones beneath it. Granite is meant to last but we still turn to dust inside it. It's the anti”My Way” played in every gangster wedding in the world. Regrets they had more than few. The road cannot be undone and we all face the balance at the end. Even the voice over recourse has DeNiro trailing off into mumbled nonsense-
Del Toro also singled out the lead performances, calling Pesci, who came out of retirement to play infamous Pennsylvania mafioso Russel Bufalino, “supremely minimalistic” and “masterful,” saying he's “like a black hole- an attractor of planets- dark matter.” De Niro, he says, “has always fascinated me when he plays characters that are punching above their true weight — or intelligence — That's why I love him in so much Jackie Brown.”
The filmmaker also delved into how deeply the film affected him. “I believe that much is gained if we cross-reference our transgressions with how we will feel in the last three minutes of our life- when it all becomes clear: or betrayals, our saving graces and our ultimate insignificance,” he wrote. “This film gave me that feeling.”
Del Toro also implored audiences, perhaps over-weened on fast-paced blockbusters, to have an open mind. “This film needs time- however- it has to be processed like a real mourning,” he wrote. “It will come up in stages... I believe most of its power will sink in, in time, and provoke a true realization. A masterpiece. The perfect corollary Goodfellas and Casino.”
The Irishman, which was funded entirely by Netflix, will be released to the general public in two stages: in select theaters starting November 1, and then on the streaming service that birthed it on November 27 — just in time for Thanksgiving. Del Toro begged audiences to prioritize the former.
“See it. In a theatre,” he wrote. “This movie languished in development in studio vaults for so long... having it here, now, is a miracle. And, btw- fastest 3 hours in a cinema. Do not miss it.”
Martin Scorsese's The Irishmanisn't just any run-of-the-mill awards season contender. It's an epic collaboration between some of modern cinema's most accomplished and celebrated icons, and it's one of the most anticipated films of the year.So does this crime drama from the director of Goodfellasand The Departed—reuniting here with Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel and nowworking with Al Pacino for the first time —live up toexpectations?
Reviews out of the movie's opening-night premiere at the New York Film Festival are resoundingly positive in that regard. Not even the length or the notorious de-aging special effects can hold down what's being called one of Scorsese's best.
Here's what critics are saying about The Irishman:
Has Scorsese got another gangster masterpiece on his hands?
It's the film that, I think, a lot of us wanted to see from Scorsese... rippling with echoes of the director's previous Mob films but [it] also takes us someplace bold and new.—Owen Gleiberman, Variety
The Irishmanhas both the frenetic swagger of his mob movies and the more contemplative gut wrench of his most spiritual films, like 1988's The Last Temptation of Christand his most recent film, 2016's Silence.—Alissa Wilkinson, Vox
This is Scorsese's least sentimental picture of mob life, and for that reason his most poignant.—A.O. Scott, New York Times
Scorsese is at the top of his game.—Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post
The Irishman may not be as groundbreaking as Mean Streets or Taxi Driver, but then again, what is?—Caryn James, BBC.com
So it's not just another Goodfellas wannabe?
The Irishman is Martin Scorsese's best crime movie since Goodfellas... an ideal match of filmmaker and source material.— Eric Kohn, IndieWire
This is not Goodfellas. This is not Casino. This is Scorsese at his most reflective, crafting a masterwork that finds the filmmaker reflecting on everything he's done, and what it's all amounted to.— Chris Evangelista, Slashfilm
It's moving in a way Goodfellasis not. An old man couldn't have made that movie, just as a younger one couldn't have made this one.— Stephanie Zacharek, Time Magazine
Photo by Netflix
Is it reminiscent of any other movies?
The Irishmanreminded me a bit of Unforgiven: It feels, at last, like a critical eulogy for an era of crime fiction that Scorsese and De Niro and Pacino built.— A.A. Dowd, AV Club
There are aspects of The Irishmanthat recall David Lynch's work on The Return.— Joe Dieringer, Screen Slate
With stories within stories within stories, The Irishmanis a little likea mob movie version of Inception.— Matt Singer, ScreenCrush
Move over Braveheart. Move over Air Force One. Move over Field of Dreams, Gladiator, The Right Stuff, BenFreaking Hur. The Irishmancould well be Dad Movie of the Century.— Taylor Antrim, Vogue
How are Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci?
De Niro is in top form... he hasn't been this good in years, and his rather understated performance really carries the movie.— Brett Arnold, Consequence of Sound
Frank Sheeran gives[De Niro] his most satisfying lead role in years.— Eric Kohn, IndieWire
De Niro's superb performance is a close cousin to his work in GoodFellas.— Owen Gleiberman, Variety
What a joy it is to have Pesci back on the screen and to see him deliver such soulful work in the process.... the film really belongs to Pesci.— Chris Evangelista, Slashfilm
Joe Pesci emerges from retirement to give a superbly measured performance... the polar opposite of the lit-fuse firecrackers Pesci famously portrayed for Scorsese.— David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter
And when they're together?
De Niro and Pacino play off one another beautifully, with De Niro often playing the calm straight-man to Pacino's loudmouth comedian. A warmth radiates between the two.— Chris Evangelista, Slashfilm
When [Pesci] and De Niro are onscreen together, you believe in the power of art.— A.O. Scott, New York Times
Photo by Netflix
What about Al Pacino?
Pacino arrives almost a third of the way into the film and instantly electrifies it.— Caryn James, BBC.com
Pacino shines among an incredible cast. [It's] his best display of rampant emotion and thoughtful characterization since Heat. He is Hoffa.— Robert Daniels, 812filmreviews
More than just a believably magnetic Hoffa, Pacino kicks the film into the realm of pure, delicious crazy.— Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out
Pacino's over-the-top presence borders on parody, but at the same time, feels attuned to the larger-than-life shadow that Hoffa cast in his prime.— Eric Kohn, IndieWire
How distracting is the de-aging effect?
Is the de-aging process perfect? Of course not... the process is still amazing, and there's a strange, singular way that it works for the movie.— Owen Gleiberman, Variety
The de-aging is... pretty good. I'd say the best I've seen so far... you do get used to it.— Mike Ryan, Uproxx
The eyes adjust to the illusion. Moreover, this magic trick speaks to the unreliable unreality of memory itself... a “problem” with potentially accidental resonance.— A.A. Dowd, AV Club
After a while, you adjust, or rather, you get tired of probing the slightly-off evidence of your eyes and the headache it produces. There's a lot of fun to distract you.— Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out
Now and then I had to stave off a PTSD flashback to Robert Zemeckis' Polar Express.— Stephanie Zacharek, Time Magazine
Photo by Netflix
What about the runtime?
The film, which clocks in at 209 minutes — even longer than The Return of the Kingand Avengers: Endgame —barely feels its length.— Karen Han, Polygon
This is a remarkably brisk three-and-a-half hours — Scorsese, at a ripe 76, still directs with the energy of a hungry young filmmaker.— A.A. Dowd, AV Club
The material would have been better served by losing an hour or more to run at standard feature length, or bulking up on supporting-character and plot detail to flesh out a series.— David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter
I'm not sure The Irishmanneeded all 209 minutes... even when the characters are younger, [it] moves at a leisurely or even elderly pace.— Matt Singer, ScreenCrush
How's the pacing?
Its last half-hour is deeply moving in a way that creeps up on you, and it's then that you see what Scorsese was working toward all along.— Stephanie Zacharek, Time Magazine
The Irishmandoesn't fully engage until its second act.— Robert Daniels, 812filmreviews
[Steve] Zaillian's messy script, an ambitious assemblage of timelines, takes its time to fully immerse the viewer into its world... the second half is more lively.— Jordan Ruimy, World of Reel
It's a film that only gets further under your skin after you leave the theater or close your Netflix browser, as the case may be.— Karen Han, Polygon
Photo by Netflix
Does it need to be seen in a theater?
The film, by design, is episodic in a way that's small-screen-friendly.— Owen Gleiberman, Variety
The movie's self-indulgent running time of three-and-a-half hours will pose challenges for home-screen viewing.— David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter
It should go without saying but yes, if you can, definitely see a new Martin Scorsese movie on the big screen first.— Frazier Tharpe, Complex
What about the film's female characters?
If one fault could be found with Scorsese's latest work, it's the waste of intriguing women characters.— Robert Daniels, 812filmreviews
For much of The Irishman, the women are at the margins — wives and daughters, always around, rarely saying anything. This isn't atypical in Scorsese's work, which rarely centers on women.— Alissa Wilkinson, Vox
The movie lacks a strong female voice but such limitations speak to Sheeran's character flaws more than those of The Irishman.— Eric Kohn, IndieWire
It's a shoo-in for the Oscars, though, isn't it?
In terms of the Oscar race, The Irishmanis what we thought it was, a likely Best Picture contender with a chance at a truckload of nominations.— Gregory Ellwood, The Playlist
If the Best Supporting Actor Oscar came down to Pacino and Pesci, I have no idea who I'd support. Both performances are transcendently good.— Brett Arnold, Consequence of Sound
The Irishmanopens in limited release on November 1 and releases on Netflix on November 27.
Martin Scorsese began his introduction of The Irishman at its world premiere Friday night by noting that his previous narrative film at New York Film Festival was Mean Streets in 1973.
“It's extraordinary to have come full circle,” he said. Later, while introducing the cast, he said, “Everybody's here from Mean Streets, it's amazing.” Scorsese noted the long gestational period for the film. “Finally found the people who would back it, and that was Netflix,” he said.
Strikingly, no direct mention was made of the fact that a streaming feature was opening the festival – something still unheard of in Cannes and controversial elsewhere.
Earlier Friday, the film drew upbeat initial reactions from the press at pre-premiere screenings, which started drawing lines at dawn. LA screenings have also been held in tandem with the festival. While embargoes kept a lid on full reviews, critics described an absorbing and deeply felt epic, filled with trademark Scorsese touches. Anticipation has built for a decade for the adaptation of I Heard You Paint Houses, Charles Brandt's book about a hit man linked to but never criminally charged in the death of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa.
The film reunites Scorsese with De Niro and Pacino for the first time since Casino in 1995. Al Pacino, who plays Hoffa, is making his debut in a Scorsese production.
Eric Kohn, chief critic and executive editor at Deadline sister site IndieWire, tweeted that the film resembles “a greatest hits album from a master of the medium. Yes, that's a positive.” K. Austin Collins of Vanity Fair declared The Irishman “good. I laughed a lot.” He added that its sensibility is distinct from that of GoodFellas, a film that is an obvious comparison given the parallel involvement of Scorsese, De Niro and Pesci. “This is ultimately a movie about the mortality of everyone in it,” he wrote.
The Irishman will have a limited theatrical run starting November 1 before hitting Netflix on November 27. Netflix negotiated with major theater circuits AMC, Regal and others in pursuit of a window shorter than the conventional 80 or 90 days, but exhibitors held firm.
Building on a banner 2018, when films like Roma and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs put it at the center of the Oscar conversation, Netflix is committing significant resources to redefining the film release model. In a press conference Friday for The Irishman, Scorsese called the production “an interesting hybrid” that challenged the creative team to discover “how you balance between what a film is and what is viewed at home and in a theater or both. We're in an extraordinary time of change.”