Whilst humanity have long pursued the dream of eternal youth with basically no success so far (although the quest is as strong as ever!) movie makers have taken a few shortcuts to make actors look younger on the screen.
So far the application of cosmetics (make up) have allowed the temporarily rejuvenation of actors but today software technology seems to be taking the upper hand.
In “The Irishman” movie technology was used to have the three actors (Pesci, De Niro and Pacino) play roles that spanned over 5 decades.
The feat was performed by ILM – Industrial Light & Magic, a company specialised in visual effects using a special rig (set of cameras – see photo) and a newly developed software, Flux, to alter the looks of actors. The rig had the main filming camera at the center and two infrared cameras on the sides. These cameras were used to capture volumetric information so that the software could work on a 3D space to alter the signs of age on the actors.
Filming took two years and two years more were used for post production. The software, under guidance from Scorsese, the director, changed the skin texture of face and neck, removing wrinkles and crow’s feet. This is a very complex endeavour, several orders of magnitude more complex than operating on a single photo using an image editor (like Photoshop). Notice that it is not the sheer number of images that need to be corrected, the real problem is to keep the expression of the face consistent as it is rejuvenated. This requires a software that “understand” what a face should look like and the mimic when the actor is talking, screaming, crying, laughing…
To do this thousands of images of the actors, retrieved form previous movies filmed when they were … young, were analysed extracting the various components, eyes, nose, mouth …, and an artificial intelligence based software was used to retrieve those components to steer the rendering in the movie applying the specific actor facial characteristics at that particular age.
Now, as you watch The Irishman on Netflix, remember this and keep an eagle eye on the three characters (you can catch a glimpse on the trailer below). See if you can detect the hand of software or, most likely, if everything seems just real. That is the scaring part of Digital Reality, our inability to tell it from the Real one.