Movie Reviews

How Zack Snyder Seamlessly Replaced Chris D’Elia with Tig Notaro in ‘Army of the Dead’

You can do anything with special effects in films these days. Sometimes that thing might be creating an entire CGI alien armada coming to Earth. Other times, the effects are more geared towards realism. In the recently-released Army of the Dead by Zack Snyder, Tig Notaro had to replace Chris D’Elia in the role of sardonic helicopter pilot Peters after the movie had already finished filming. D’Elia was dropped from the project following allegations of abuse against the actor and comedian. In an interview with Vulture, Notaro explained her surprise upon getting the call from Snyder to play Peters.

“I was so baffled. I felt like there was some sort of misunderstanding… It didn’t seem possible for me to take on what Chris did. We’re such different actors and comedians. I honestly thought, regardless of what’s going on in his personal life, that his performance was excellent. But Zack said, ‘We want you to do exactly what you do.’ And, in turn, that’s all I did.”

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This is not the first time an entire actor has been replaced digitally in a movie. But Army of the Dead is a full-on action flick, and the scenes involving Peters included complicated movements and interactions with the environment. According to Snyder, it was not possible to simply remove the bigger, wider Chris D’Elia in scenes and replace him with Tig Notaro, since the way they would interact with the environment would differ based on their difference in sizes and acting style.

“I had to do this incredibly technical experiment, re-creating every scene, shot for shot. My visual-effects supervisor, Marcus Taormina, did the work of taking Chris completely out of the movie so Tig could have freedom [to move] within the scenes.”

Because of the global lockdown, it was not possible to reshoot the scenes with the entire cast. Instead, Notaro’s inclusion depended entirely on a green screen. Snyder and his effects team had to build a replica of the original movie set for Notaro to interact with, using old footage for reference and “greened-out props, laser pointers, and tennis balls hanging from stands to approximate where Notaro should be looking.” For Tig Notaro, the process was confusing, and at times frustrating.

“‘They’d line up a piece of tape on the ground and say, okay, you’ve fallen in line with a group of people. You’re walking into a building.’ I’d be like, ‘Is it kind of a mosey? Okay, I’ll mosey.’ Then Zack might say, ‘That’s a little too fast with the moseying,’ and we’d start over again… [In the film’s climax, where a zombie is attacking Notaro’s scene partner,] That’s where I’m like, ‘I am not a trained actor’. I had to be yelling lines, I have a zombie in the back of my helicopter, I have to press the right buttons and flick the right switches. You’re sitting there with all these adults standing ten feet away while you’re alone, acting like you’re crashing. I thought, Oh my God, I feel like an idiot. Can we be done with this?”

Directed and co-written by Zack Snyder,Army of the Dead stars Dave Bautista, Garret Dillahunt, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Raul Castillo, Tig Notaro, Theo Rossi, and Ana de la Reguera. The film arrives on Netflix on May 21. This news originated at Vulture.

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