LOS ANGELES — One of cinema’s greatest partnerships, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro have, with the 209-minute “The Irishman,” made nine films together.
Among them, four acknowledged classics: “Taxi Driver,” “Goodfellas,” “Casino” and De Niro’s best actor Oscar winner, “Raging Bull.”
The others, somber, strange and even musical, are “Mean Streets,” “New York, New York,” “The King of Comedy” and a remake, “Cape Fear.”
It was at De Niro’s urging that they reunited for this mobster tale. “The Irishman” is about the little-known gangster Frank Sheeran, whose deathbed confession “solves” the 1975 mystery of Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa’s “disappearance.”
Frank is a character who begins in 1940s WWII and winds up in the ’90s, and to do that realistically De Niro, 76, and Scorsese, 76, agreed they had to employ an elaborate technological process that de-ages characters.
“This computer-generated imagery was really designed by ILM (Industrial Light and Magic),” Scorsese began, De Niro sitting next to him. “One of the key changes we noticed on set was the cameras themselves, they had three lenses. And I was shooting two cameras a lot of the time, so six lenses.
“And we had extra crew. And because of other issues, we were carrying nine cameras altogether. So it became a pretty big operation.”
This technology is much easier for the actors than wearing motion control body suits, covered by dots. But it was still complicated.
“The center lens captures the image,” Scorsese explained. “Lenses on either side were dealing with the information coming from the computer from the markers on their faces, which were developed in such ways they were almost invisible (which was great!).
“Then, there was this sort of ritual after each take. Everything would stop. A young man with a board with some kind of design on it would come out. He would move it a certain way. I was, What the hell?
“Then it was dead quiet. He goes back and comes out with a silver ball. And the ball moved.
“I call it ‘The adoration of the ball.’ It was like a benediction of some kind. I still don’t know exactly what — but I realized this is what it’s going to be. This is how we do the (take): We do the ball and now we wait. Okay.”