It may seem that way to viewers watching this Sunday's two-hour season premiere of The Sopranos.
Producers of the HBO series used tape editing and computer technology to craft a scene with Livia Soprano talking to her son, Tony, even though actress Nancy Marchand died last June before filming for the new season began.
Despite somewhat stilted dialogue, the startling scene is realistic enough that a viewer unaware of Marchand's death may not realize that it's computer-generated.
"I felt it was necessary for Livia to appear," said David Chase, the show's creator. It was crucial to convey her unloving nature up to the very end so viewers could understand Tony's reaction to her death, he said.
The scene -- don't read these two paragraphs if you want to be surprised -- features Tony bringing books on tape to his unappreciative mother and trying to convince her to lie to authorities about stolen airline tickets he had procured for her.
After his mother reacts with one last dismissive wave, Tony stalks out of her house. "Do what you want," he says. Later in the episode, Tony is told that his mother died.
"Some people have never seen the show before," Chase said. "And for those people, they would say, 'what's this guy's problem with his mother?'"
Now, that's really a long story. Presenting this filmed reminder, however, was a technical challenge that producers attacked by compiling 18 separate clips of previous Marchand appearances on The Sopranos, both outtakes and material used in previous episodes.
This collection of phrases and gestures was used in a newly-written scene filmed with actor James Gandolfini addressing a body double for Marchand, said Michael Miller, a partner in Rhinoceros Visual Effects and Design.
Using computer screens, Rhinoceros employees inserted Marchand's head on top of the body double on each single frame of the film, more than 8,000 frames for a scene that lasted just over 90 seconds, Miller said.
"They couldn't have done the episode without this," Miller said. "It would have been, 'let's make her die off camera,' like they do for a soap opera. That would have been horrible."
The attention to detail is such that when a housekeeper walks between Livia Soprano and a sun-filled window, a shadow briefly passes over Marchand's face.
It took a staff of four people about two weeks to do all the work, he said. The effect cost about $250,000, he said, although Rhino cut its fee in half in hopes of getting publicity.
Miller said he enjoyed sitting in a recent screening of the episode and seeing the audience's bewilderment.
"I felt it in the theater," he said. "People didn't know what to expect. They didn't know what they were looking at. That's her but she's not even there? How dithey do that?"
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