How they “younged” the older actors in The Irishman

January 7, 2020 • 1:45 pm

I’ve coyned the word “younged” as the opposite of the good word “aged”. (The video below calls it “de-aging”.)

If you saw Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” a movie I like very much, you’ll know that Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Robert De Niro, who are getting up there in years, looked a lot younger in parts of the movie than they really are—an effect that simply can’t be attributed to good makeup. (The movie goes back and forth in these guys’ lives over five decades.)

I didn’t really notice it, but what happened is that Scorsese used computer technology to make these actors look younger than they are. How did they do that without us noticing it? Here’s a video (h/t: Bryan) that gives the answer. I won’t say much except they used three cameras shooting simultaneously, 2 years of film research looking at these actors at different stages of their careers, fancy computer programs (of course)—and the transformation was done in 1700 scenes!

This video is fascinating.

Here’s a screenshot I took of Al Pacino both before and after “younging.” I didn’t notice any effects when I saw the movie, and I bet you didn’t, either.

26 thoughts on “How they “younged” the older actors in The Irishman

  1. I liked the joke Ricky Gervais told at the Golden Globes about The Irishman; the cinematic previews are 85 minutes long.

  2. We’re entering the era of deep fakes, where anything imaginable can be rendered as realistically as desired. I don’t think we’re prepared for the harm this may do.

  3. Some parts looked a little odd, like the truck scene, but in that particular screenshot I had no idea. So they did a great job. Better than what I first thought.

  4. There’s a reason we don’t have an adequate antonym for “aging”: it happens only in the movies.

    I thought the computer-enhanced “younging” in The Irishman worked well at taking at least 15 or 20 years off the actual age of the lead actors. But I never bought that any of their characters were younger than their fifties. Facial appearances notwithstanding, it’s impossible for old men to move, even when it comes to something like getting up from a chair, as though they are young men.

    It’s so much easier for actors to move in the opposite direction. In watching The Irishman, I was reminded of Sergio Leone’s epic about Jewish gangsters, Once Upon a Time in America, and how well a young Robert De Niro was able portray a character well into his sixties at the end of the film. See, for example, the clip from the movie at the 55 second mark in the brief interview below:

      1. Those dreams last until the morning for me — right up until I look in the mirror to shave. 🙂

        Maybe it’s time to grow a beard again.

        1. Of course, the movie versions only last until you leave the theater.

          And…. yeah… grow that beard back. 😉

    1. There’s an interview with Scorcese on Jimmy Kimmel in which he tells a story exactly about Al Pacino illustrating what you say about moving –

  5. I’ve always been fascinated by aging make-up in movies. In this case it seems like they need to go a step further, and compare the actors to their younger selves, since we know things like noses and ears change over time.

  6. I think I also read that there is a clip where they used the “younging” technique, in which DeNiro and Pesci re-enacted a scene from Goodfellas, and you can compare the two. Haven’t seen that clip but it sounded fascinating.

    I have yet to see The Irishman.

  7. Something looked off in a few scenes, like where De Niro is supposed to be a “young” truck driver. It didn’t look right. Same with Joe Pesci in a few scenes. But that Pacino comparison shows how effective it really was. Better here than the attempts in the recent Star Wars movies.

    I had no idea how many backgrounds were CGI in another Scorsese movie, “Silence.” I never would have guessed.

  8. Very impressive technology. I don’t like gangster films though, so I don’t think I’ll see it. It is fascinating that Scorsese had these same actors over many years to enact his vision. That’s kind of amazing. It tells you he’s found great actors he can trust to create the stories. They all get used to each other and develop their skill together.
    There are many great film makers who do this with a common troop throughout their careers. Ozu is just one example, for instance, who had a handful of lead and supporting actors he used over all of his late films.

    1. I’m not a fan of gangster films either. It’s a very male genre, and the whole macho bullshit ‘honor code’ of stuff like The Godfather bores me. I found both Godfathers elegant but quite dull and soaplike. A bit like an upmarket Eastenders omnibus.

      Even the best gangster film I’ve seen, Goodfellas, was pretty vacuous at heart. Beautiful, stylish, riveting, but puddle-deep.

      Having said all that, I think The Sopranos is the greatest TV show ever made, so it’s complicated.

      1. Scorsese grew up in the midst of an immigrant Italian social setting which must have affected him a great deal.

  9. This has been an ongoing thing in movies for a number of years now, but most of them are outside your normal viewing preferences.

    One example is the movie Antman, which uses CGI to de-age Michael Douglas for a few scenes. When I first saw it, I immediately recognized it for what it was, but also knew it was the best example of it that I had ever seen. Usually such attempts are squarely place at the troughs of Uncanny Valley. The ones in Antman were on the steep incline out of that valley.

    It’s something that will simply get better and better over time, up to the point that there will come a time where it’s possible to cast any actor, past or present, in any role, at any age. Both visual and audio simulations are fast approaching indistinguishability from reality. The Peter Cushing reproduction in a recent _Star Wars_ film was firmly stuck at the bottom of Uncanny Valley, but it won’t be long before such attempts climb the right sides of that valley and end up at the top, opposite the living actors.

    1. I just learned about Uncanny Valley the other day, in the context of robots – for anyone following along:

      “In aesthetics, the uncanny valley is a hypothesized relationship between the degree of an object’s resemblance to a human being and the emotional response to such an object. ”

      1. I once used ‘uncanny valley’ as a euphemism for a girlfriend’s…special place. She was not greatly amused, so I spent quite a lot of the rest of the relationship thinking up new euphemisms, in the hope that if I pushed it far enough it would eventually become funny.

        If I had to put my finger on why we didn’t remain a couple it was probably things like that.

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