Under the watchful eye of production visual effects supervisor Pablo Helman, the visual effects team created 1,750 visual effects shots for Martin Scorsese’s epic three-and-a-half-hour drama, The Irishman. The film received both Oscar and BAFTA nominations for Best Visual Effects and won two Visual Effects Society (VES) Awards including Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Feature and Outstanding Compositing in a Feature.
From the first discussions surrounding the project in 2015 Scorsese, along with actor/producer Robert De Niro, and his fellow cast members Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, made it a requirement that all de-aging performances be captured on set, in the cinematographer’s lighting, on the day. ILM’s engineers would have to develop an entirely new system for facial performance capture for the project, one that couldn’t rely on visible markers on the actors’ faces or utilize helmet-mounted cameras which were de rigueur in 2015. The concept of a markerless-on-set process was consistent with the actors’ method approach to acting, that is to say, the technology should be invisible.
ILM started developing a proprietary markerless capture system two and a half years before the movie was shot. The system represents a game-changer in facial performance capture, in fact, until The Irishman, no other feature had ever used this approach. The performance capture software and a custom-designed infrared dual-camera system that was combined with the director’s camera to create a 3-camera rig called “FLUX”. The system utilizes Machine Learning to aid the artists in finding flaws in the renders which can then be addressed. The film spans the years from 1949 through 2000 and continuously goes back and forth in time. De Niro’s character, Frank Sheeran, appears as a youthful twenty-something through his 30s, 40, 50, 60s, and 70s. When Sheeran needed to appear older than De Niro’s actual age of 76, the production relied on practical make-up effects to achieve the desired look.