Though the directors’ focus for Warner Bros.' “Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance” was to capture as much of the action in camera as possible, it was clear from the beginning that the film would have to employ CG effects as well. After all, the title character has a flaming skull.
In the film, Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) -- still struggling with his curse as the devil’s bounty hunter – is hiding out in a remote part of Eastern Europe when he is recruited by a secret sect of the church to save a young boy from the devil. At first, Johnny is reluctant to embrace the power of the Ghost Rider, but it is the only way to protect the boy – and possibly rid himself of his curse forever.
Overseeing the VFX is Visual Effects Supervisor Eric Durst, who says, like all of the departments, the new Ghost Rider film would have a very different look from its predecessor. “[Directors] Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor really wanted a new look for `Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.' It’s a darker film, so we created a look that integrated with that. The look of the character isn’t stylized at all – it is as if Ghost Rider really existed, really had a flaming head. The skull is dark and charred – just as it would be if you really had a skull that was on fire. Another touch like that is the shoulders of the jacket – they would be bubbling up from the heat inside the body.”
The primary challenge in creating the VFX, says Durst, is that the character is “interactive. The light that comes off the flames on his head – it interacts with his shoulders and anything else nearby. But interactive light is very difficult to recreate in the computer. It’s so subtle, and it interacts in different ways with different fabrics and objects. So to achieve that, we took a hood with LED lights on it that flickered on and off. That had two great benefits for us: first, the LED lights served as tracking markers in the computer, so when Nick moved his head from left to right, we could make the skull match those movements. But the LEDs also cast a light on anything that was in proximity, so it would give us the light that would occur if the flame really was on his head.”
Durst also notes that since the release of the first “Ghost Rider” film, there have been tremendous advances in CG animation. “The foundation of getting flames in CG is fluid dynamics, and so much has happened technologically in just the last five or six years,” he says. “For the original film, Sony Pictures Imageworks created their own code and worked within the software systems that existed at the time. It was very labor intensive. For the new film, with six years’ worth of development of the technology in the field, we had a big head start. You can make things look stunningly real now.”
The effects were completed by Iloura, an Australian company. “We canvassed the world to see who had the best fire,” says Durst. “Their first test had everything – the right, dark look for the skull, the flames, the right vibe. Everyone fell in love with it right there, and Iloura did a great job on the movie.”
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.