‘The Irishman’: A Closer Look at the De-Aging of De Niro in Scorsese’s Mob Epic

Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” hits Netflix today and it stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. De Niro plays Frank Sheeran, a truck driver who meets Russell Bufalino (Pesci). Spanning several decades, the film follows Sheeran as he gets involved in the greatest unsolved mob mystery – the disappearance of union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino).

The film is a masterpiece from one of our greatest directors of all-time, starring some of the greatest actors of all-time. It required hundreds of costumes from designers Sandy Powell and Christopher Peterson, over 297 shooting locations in the New York/New Jersey areas and brand new technology courtesy of the team at ILM.

Visual Effects Supervisor Pablo Helman was working on Scorsese’s “Silence” when he first heard about the story. “Marty emailed me the script overnight after we had talked over Thanksgiving dinner.I read it and we were shooting, and I said, “I was in.” Marty said, “Be careful what you wish for.”

Helman knew and was told by Scorsese that De Niro was “not going to go for markers on his face. He’s not going to wear grey pajamas, and he’s not going to be outside the set.” I said no problem and that’s why we work at ILM. I’ve been there for 24 years. You’re allowed to sit at a table and come up with stuff. It was a great challenge.”

He consulted fellow ILM colleague Dennis Muren who agreed it was a risky project to take on, but Muren had also worked on “Jurassic Park.” Helman says, “I asked him,”Do you remember when you did “Jurassic Park?” He was quiet for a while. We did a test in 2015, and it was on a scene from “Goodfellas” Bob was 74-years-old doing the Cadillac scene. We knew if we weren’t going to have markers. We needed as much information from the set as possible.”

Helman worked with three cameras and no markers to do a test that they presented to De Niro and Scorsese. “It’s a textbook example where you go for a project and come up with bold solutions. You will get your wish.”

The Irishman, Netflix

The de-aging software took two years to develop. Without using markers, Helman’s only reference was lighting and texture. They also had to create new cameras with new technology to work alongside Scorsese on set. “We had to design a new camera system with three cameras. We had to implement infra-red technology on the camera next to the director’s camera. There were three cameras, the director’s camera and two “Witness” cameras. We implemented all kinds of science in terms of technology. ” Helman explained. He continues, “It was really important that the technology was away from the performances. The actors were on set with no markers and no intrusion. It was important for the characters to be in front of each other.”

With several years in development and nine months of post-production, Helman jokes about the run time that it felt like they were making two movies. “The VFX shots just kept coming shot after shot after shot because we were working with three actors. We did 1750 shots for the movie.” He says.

The Irishman, Netflix

Scorsese’s “The Irishman” is an achievement in the world of visual effects Helman is proud to say. “The achievement here is giving the actors the freedom to do what they do. Any achievement is measured against what it’s going to do to the industry. I can’t wait for actors to look at this and say, “Does that mean I don’t have to wear 138 markers on my face?”

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