The conversation around Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” has been largely dominated by the de-aging visual effects that are being used to make stars Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino appear decades younger on screen. In an interview with Empire magazine, Scorsese revealed that he only agreed to take on the VFX challenges of “The Irishman” after being able to test the technology himself to see if it was possible to de-age his actors in a believable way. Scorsese tested the technology by bringing in Robert De Niro to recreate the famous Christmas party scene from “Goodfellas.”
“We made a little set that looked a little like the original film, and then [De Niro] got going,” Scorsese said. “He did his monologues and soliloquies and different expressions. Then he went through a series of computer processes”.
The “Goodfellas” test was shot in August 2015, just over two years before principal photography on the gangster epic kicked off in September 2017. Scorsese worked with VFX master Pablo Helman of Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) to determine whether or not the technology would be possible in a feature-film setting. Clearly the results of Scorsese and De Niro’s “Goodfellas” test were good enough to convince them to move forward on “The Irishman.”
Scorsese has been open about the challenges of de-aging his actors. The VFX technology caused an extended post-production period on the movie and reportedly drove the film’s budget above the $150 million mark. During an appearance on A24’s “A Bigger Canvas” podcast in May, Scorsese admitted the VFX continued to worry him.
“Why I’m concerned, we’re all concerned is that we’re so used to watching them as the older faces,” Scorsese said. “When we put them all together, it cuts back and forth….Now, it’s real. Now, I’m seeing it. Now, certain shots need more work on the eyes, need more work on why these are exactly the same eyes from the plate shot, but the wrinkles and things have changed. Does it change the eyes at all? If that’s the case, what was in the eyes that I liked? Was it intensity? Was it gravitas? Was it threat?”
Netflix dropped the first trailer for “The Irishman” on July 31. The brief clip ended with moviegoers’ first look at a de-aged Robert De Niro. The gangster movie will world premiere on opening night of the New York Film Festival before Netflix releases the film in theaters November 1 and via streaming November 27.