A new report from Vulture breaks down the process of digitally inserting comedian Tig Notaro into Zack Snyder’s Netflix zombie heist movie “Army of the Dead.” The filmmaker cast Notaro to replace Chris D’Elia after production had been wrapped for months, meaning D’Elia had to be digitally removed from the movie and Notaro had to be swapped in. What this actor swap cost the production has not been disclosed, but Snyder did tell Vulture it was cheaper than the budget needed to create the film’s zombie tiger.
D’Elia was accused of various examples of sexual misconduct starting in March 2020, right at the beginning of the pandemic. After Snyder decided to remove the actor and replace him with Notaro, the pandemic prevented the entire cast from getting together to reshoot select scenes. As Vulture reports: “Notaro would have to film almost all of her scenes in front of a green screen with no other actors in sight, and Snyder’s team would then edit them into the existing footage…Her footage couldn’t be pasted over D’Elia’s — matching their movements beat for beat would be too complicated, and the actors’ size difference would make Notaro look unnaturally large.”
“I had to do this incredibly technical experiment, re-creating every scene, shot for shot,” Snyder said about the process. “My visual-effects supervisor, Marcus Taormina, did the work of taking Chris completely out of the movie so Tig could have freedom [to move] within the scenes.”
Notaro shot her “Army of the Dead” scenes mostly alone in September 2020. Vulture reports: “Snyder and the visual-effects team replicated the physical spaces and camera angles of the original scenes at a studio in Simi Valley, California, referencing the old footage on a monitor and using greened-out props, laser pointers, and tennis balls hanging from stands to approximate where Notaro should be looking. And there could be no ad-libbing: Notaro’s dialogue had to sync with the other characters’ reactions.”
The only actor Notaro shared a scene with was Ana de la Reguera, and that part of the film took half a day to shoot. Any scene where Notaro’s character touches another character were “pantomimed or filmed with her assistant, Patrick McDonald, wearing a green suit.” If there was footage of Notaro that did not sync up to the existing footage, Snyder’s team “used a CG scan they had made of Notaro’s body to create a digital version of her they could insert into scenes.”
“Some of the trickiest shots were where she’s walking in the group — I had to match the [camera] pans, and it was difficult to get the perspective to match,” Snyder said. “It was a few months to get all the individual effects and make it seamless. Marcus was able to fudge it around and get it to work, and [her footage] went in surprisingly easily.”
“Army of the Dead” opens in theaters May 14 before streaming May 21 on Netflix. Head over to Vulture’s website to read the full report on inserting Notaro into the movie.