Martin Scorsese has described the CGI used to digitally de-age Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci in his new film as “an evolution of make-up.”
The Irishman follows hitman Frank Sheeran (De Niro) from when he is a young soldier to when he is a old man and visual effects artists used technology to make the 76-year-old appear decades younger.
Speaking at a press conference hours before the film premieres in the capital at the closing gala of the BFI London Film Festival, he said: “If we made the film earlier they could have played younger but at a certain point we missed that and then they said ‘use younger actors’ and I said ‘what’s the point of that?’.
“CGI is really an evolution of make-up, you accept certain norms in make-up, you know he’s not that old, she’s not that young, you accept the illusion.”
Pacino, who plays union boss Jimmy Hoffa, added: “I saw the film without any work, without effects and it was fine.
“I’m not the only one who felt that way. I think it’s really good we have it, we have this potential and it’s exercised in the film.
“In the old days they put an actor we all knew and love and put grey hair on him and we would be like ‘oh he got older’, and you accept it because it’s in the story.”
De Niro added: “I always joke my career will be extended another 30 years, where it will evolve.”
He continued: “I am just happy we are at the beginning stages of it being explored and God knows where we will go and what excited me about it was Pablo (Helman, the visual effects supervisor) was doing this thing and wanted to make it state of the art, the best it could be.”
The film will stream on Netflix after the company agreed to foot the bill for the expensive CGI and Scorsese said: “Having the backing of a company that says you will have no interference, the trade-off is it streams with theatrical distribution prior to that, I thought that is the chance we take.”
Discussing if the emergence of streaming platforms will lead to a re-evaluation of what cinema is, the Oscar-winning filmmaker said: “I think we are redefining it now in such a way.
“It’s not just an evolving of cinema, it’s a revolution, an even bigger revolution than sound brought to cinema, it’s the revolution of cinema itself.
“The new technology is bringing things that are unimaginable and not only is it something extraordinarily good for narrative films, narrative stores told emphasising motion picture images, but it opens up the original conception of what a film is and how it is to be seen has now changed so radically.”
He added: “One thing that should always be protected as much as possible, and I think will always be there, is a communal experience and I think that is best in a theatre.
“Homes are becoming theatres too but it’s a major change and I think one has to keep an open mind. There is no doubt seeing a film with an audience is really important.”
He was once again dismissive of Marvel’s box office juggernauts, saying: “The value of a film that is like a theme park film, Marvel-type pictures, where theatres become amusement parks, that’s a different experience.
“It’s not cinema, it’s something else, we shouldn’t be invaded by it, so that is a big issue and we need the theatre owners to step up to allow theatres to show films that are narrative films.”
The Irishman is released in cinemas on November 8 ahead of its launch on Netflix.