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It might take a lot to look younger

The impressive camera rig used to film “The Irishman” creating the data required for a software to change the age of the characters in the movie. Image credit: Netflix

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.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.