Martin Scorsese says Robert De Niro recreated a major scene from Goodfellas to test the de-aging CGI for The Irishman. The ninth Scorsese and De Niro collaboration overall, The Irishman reunites the filmmaker with his trusted muse for the first time since 1995's Casino, and pairs De Niro with his fellow crime cinema icons Al Pacino and Joe Pesci in the cast. All three actors have worked together before, of course, with Pacino and De Niro having previously matched wits in Heat (and, less memorably, Righteous Kill), and De Niro and Pesci having famously shared the screen in Scorsese's Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Casino.
Adapted from Charles Brandt's book I Heard You Paint Houses by Oscar-winner Steve Zaillian (Schindler's List, Gangs of New York), The Irishman chronicles the life and times of hitman Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran from his days as a young WWII veteran to his career as a hired gun for the Bufalino crime family and involvement in the infamous disappearance of labor leader Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino). In order to portray Sheeran over the course of his life, De Niro underwent an increasingly-popular CGI process commonly referred to as "de-aging". But first, he and Scorsese did a test to make sure the tech would actually be convincing.
Speaking to Empire, Scorsese revealed that De Niro recreated the Christmas party scene from Goodfellas for the director and ILM’s Pablo Helman in August 2015, as part of a test to decide if he could be believably de-aged. According to Scorsese, “We made a little set that looked a little like the original film, and then [De Niro] got going. He did his monologues and soliloquies and different expressions... Then he went through a series of computer processes”. It was only after watching the de-aged version of the test clip back-to-back with the original Goodfellas scene that Scorsese and the others decided the approach would work for The Irishman.
The final results (see Empire's exclusive image from The Irishman, above) speak for themselves. Netflix's The Irishman teaser trailer even builds up to the full reveal of a de-aged De Niro, in an effort to highlight the effect without overwhelming the rest of the film in the process. In order to produce the effect and de-age De Niro's costars like Pacino, however, The Irishman required a production budget tentatively estimated at $159 million, making it Scorsese's most expensive film to date. Netflix seems happy with how things turned out, though, and will premiere The Irishman at the New York Film Festival before releasing it in select theaters for a few weeks in November (prior to its launch on the streaming service over Thanksgiving).
CGI de-aging itself, admittedly, is a controversial process right now. Although it's yielded increasingly good results in recent years (convincingly transforming Samuel L. Jackson into his 1990s era self in Captain Marvel, for example), it's often criticized when similar effects are used to create the digital likenesses of deceased performers (a la Peter Cushing's Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story). Others, however, feel de-aging is just an overly complicated alternative to hiring multiple stars to play the same character at different ages, and trusting audiences to suspend their disbelief and accept them as being the same person. Point being, it should be interesting to see how the conversation about de-aging evolves (or doesn't) after The Irishman.
Source: Empire Magazine