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In the midst of shrinking, laser blasts and ants doing unusual tasks, Marvel’s Ant-Man gave audiences a very special visual effect within the opening minutes of the film: a de-aged Michael Douglas. When Ant-Man opens in 1989, fans watch as the younger Hank gets into an argument with the S.H.I.E.L.D. officials who tried to recreate his shrinking formula, and Douglas looks almost exactly as he truly did in the late ‘80s. Director Peyton Reed previously described this effect as "terrifying," and now the process of how they made the 70 year old Douglas look around 45 has been revealed.
Trent Claus, a "visual cosmetics" specialist at Lola VFX, explained to Vulture how his company accomplished Ant-Man’s de-aging feat. Lola started their de-aging work with 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, but gained notoriety for their work on Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett’s characters in 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. They also created the skinny Steve Rogers seen pre-Super Soldier Serum in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger. Early in Ant-Man’s production, Lola began their de-aging process by closely studying Douglas’ movies from the mid-late 1980s, particularly 1987’s Wall Street. Having so much reference material proved to be both a blessing and a curse, as in the case of the latter, it meant there was little room for error since the audience knew what Douglas looked like in those days,
From there, the VFX folks did what they’ve done for all their de-aging projects: they gave the actor a digital face-lift. This meant adding some fat to Douglas’ cheeks, decreasing the size of his ears (which never stop growing as we get older), adding shine to his skin and masking the blood vessels in his nose. There was a young stand-in around when the scene was filming so that they could see how young skin truly looked on the set. The end result was what looked like Douglas being snatched as Gordon Gekko nearly 30 years ago and plopped in 2015 to play the creator of the Pym Particles in Ant-Man.
While the young Hank is without a doubt a vast improvement compared to the de-aging examples from nearly a decade ago, Claus noted that it’s not the technology that’s improved, but rather the artists. As he put it:
It really hasn't changed. The basic tools have been the same for decades. It's more the experience of the artists that are actually doing the work.
With Hank’s adventures with S.H.I.E.L.D. largely unexplored, it would be cool if we could see more of young Hank in either the potential Ant-Man 2 or even a TV series. However, I imagine that for a series, Marvel will hire a new actor to play Pym to cut costs. Douglas doesn’t come cheap, and neither would making him look younger in each episode.