In the 3-D sequel, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, a darker vision was embraced more in keeping with the Marvel comic book character, as Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) hides out in Eastern Europe to foil the devil's plan to take on a human guise.
Jenny Fulle's Creative Cartel (Priest) once again took on the role as VFX hub. "We had a much grittier feel with this Ghost Rider," she confirms, which is evident in the look and tone. "For us, the biggest challenge was, of course, that they wanted to go stereo on this. How are you going to deal with conversion on a flaming ghost rider head that's close to camera in the shot? So we had to come up with some creative approaches for that and we came up with our hybrid pipeline, which I'm very proud of and I think serves the movie really well."
Because fire is so difficult to convert well along with all the other transparent effects, Fulle embraced a hybrid approach by getting their anchor conversion facility (Gener8 3D) and VFX facility (Iloura) together early on to figure out a way to render the shots natively. "We ended up by sending plates off to Iloura and they would do their matchmove and roto, clean up the plates and then send that off to Gener8, where they would convert," Fulle continues. "Then they would send the left eye and right eye along with the cameras to Iloura, where they would render stereoscopically. So 500 of our Ghost Rider shots are literally rendered in stereo. They're truly native stereo shots except for the backgrounds. But it really worked because everyone was terrified on paper but we got into a great groove and I can't imagine doing it any other way at this point. But you have to be willing to make commitments earlier than some filmmakers might want to because we're turning over sequences that are going into visual effects and conversion now, so changes to those sequences become a little more challenging to manage.
"But financially there are benefits because you're not having companies doing duplicative work, which often happens with conversion and visual effects -- they both have to do matchmove, they both have to do roto -- but we shared all that and, again, the great benefit is we're rendering natively in 3-D."
They wanted to be immersive but also mindful of the style of shooting by directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, which is very quick and action-packed. When they needed to they played it safe and shallow and, whenever possible, they pushed it back to provide more depth.
As for the VFX, Australia-based Illoura raised its game for the Ghost Rider sequel. Their signature fire and smoke are the highlight along with lots of environment work. There's a large strip miner in a quarry that Ghost Rider takes control of, which becomes a hell crane. The quarry becomes mostly intense CG.
Iloura also worked on the hell bike, the hell truck, the Blackout character as well along with the design of the mayhem that he inflicts on his victims. Not surprisingly, the biggest challenge for Iloura was defining the look and behavior for the fire in keeping with the new vibe for Ghost Rider and then maintaining a consistency. They continue to use Fume fx. Naturally the process was customized to minimize render overhead and to work within the new hybrid stereo pipeline.
But Fulle says they didn't want to overburden Iloura, so they called upon some other companies to pick up sequences here and there, including Evil Eye, Anibrain and Pixel Magic.
"For me, the highlight occurs in the last act when a chase starts and ends up in a place in Turkey," Fulle suggests. "It was the most challenging and fantastic-looking work. We had Ghost Rider jumping on a truck and turning it into a hell truck, so now its enflamed and has smoke everywhere and there's lots of chasing and car crashing. When we shot that we were in Turkey with limited time so, when we ended up cutting it together, we had to recreate a lot of that highway, where it took place, and Iloura did a great job of stitching it together. We were all worried about how Ghost Rider might look in broad daylight but we were blown away by how [cool] he looks with the smoke and the flares and the 3-D. It all clicked into place for us."
Fulle says there's also a memorable moment when they try to exercise the demon out of Ghost Rider. In fact, the freedom granted the VFX companies in general was a thrilling non-traditional approach that she claims was almost "acid trippy." It was fun for the artists to let their imaginations run wild.
Bill Desowitz is former senior editor of AWN and editor of VFXWorld. His blog is Immersed in Movies (www.billdesowitz.com), he's a regular contributor to Thompson on Hollywood at Indiewire and he's the author of the upcoming James Bond Unmasked (Spies), which chronicles the 50-year evolution of the iconic superspy from Connery to Craig.