“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is somewhat of an outlier in David Fincher’s filmography. Though it’s not devoid of darkness, it’s much more concerned with emotional impact and grappling with weighty existential themes than it is with Fincher’s usual bleak depictions of crime and degeneracy. Because of this, celluloid’s charming and nostalgic visuals would have fit the movie perfectly if it weren’t for the sheer amount of CGI needed to pull off the aging and de-aging effects on Brad Pitt.
The story deals with a man who essentially ages backwards, starting life as an (honestly, unsettling) old man baby and de-aging as he gets older to become an actual baby by the film’s end. In order to convincingly showcase such an ambitious effect, Fincher and his team were required to take Pitt’s performance and translate it to CGI, where he could be appropriately aged or de-aged. This involved a rig made up of 28 cameras to capture facial expressions, which were shot separately from Pitt’s actual in-scene performances. According to VFX Supervisor Eric Barba, these physical performances were shot on a soundstage with four HD cameras using “image analysis technology to get animation curves and timings.”
This was a time before Marvel started de-aging its stars, before young Luke Skywalker started showing up in streaming shows, and before Harrison Ford got the best makeover of his life in the upcoming “Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny.” Way back in 2008, Fincher needed to figure out the best workflow to accommodate his monumental project, and film simply wouldn’t have cut it.