Tag Archives: Ghostbusters

‘Ghostbusters’ VFX: Proton streams and monster Rowan

By Christine Holmes

While Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters might not have been the box office blockbuster some had hoped, no one can deny the quality of visual effects featured in the film.

While a number of studios contributed to Ghostbuster’s VFX — including Sony Imageworks and Iloura — we recently reached out to MPC VFX supervisor Dave Seager to discuss his studio’s work on the film. Seager joined Ghostbusters almost a full year before its delivery in the spring 2016.

Dave Seager

Seager and his team at MPC started visual effects pitch work that ultimately led to the creation of the proton streams and the villain in the film’s climax scenes. Read on to find out more about their process, how drones were used in the making of ghosts, and the best part about working on a Ghostbusters

What kind of early development work, if any, was MPC involved with on Ghostbusters?
Pete Travers, the visual effects supervisor from Sony Studios, had approached MPC about doing some pitch work. More specifically, a ghost test to help evaluate the lighting rig that they attached to a drone.

Using a drone operator, they flew lights around the set to capture the interactive lighting. Pete was looking for our pitch to help show everyone why it was worth doing. He sent us a really quick test with [the lighting rig], we mocked up a ghost really quick and put that in.

In addition, our art department created a bunch of concept work on the proton stream. Obviously, from the first film, people know what those proton streams look like, but then we had to figure out how to stay true to those while bringing them into modern-day filmmaking and visual effects.

After the art, we then transitioned to doing the actual test shot. That one, also, was to help establish a look for them. The client built the rig that attached to the front of the props the actors used on set. When the actors activated a trigger, a light would turn on. The interactive lighting on the actors was real and in place, and then we only had to paint out the rig out for them.

Pete and the director Paul Feig responded very positively to those tests, and we offered to do more pitch work. They said, “The final Rowan, what we called the final monster in the film, is still somewhat vague. Would you be willing to do a test on that?”

After the development work for the monster version of Rowan, what were the biggest challenges while working on shots with that character?
Probably the most challenging shots were the scenes where Rowan was taking his form of a realized cartoon character — based on the No Ghost logo — and he grows inside the Mercado building. He then breaks out of it almost like a shell. Very typical of what we do in visual effects, the shots that tick all the boxes for those elements tend to be the most complex.

In addition to that, the perfect example of the silly, fun, whimsical nature of Ghostbusters is that Rowan couldn’t fit in the building. (laughs) But you had to make it look like he could. Paul really wanted this kind of over-the-top look, an almost cartoonish quality to over-reacting as [various parts start to break through the building]. An arm comes out, then a leg punches out and steps on the ground. Then his stomach breaks out, and all these different types of events had to take place. It caused us to have to do a significant amount of custom animation.

Normally, with a character walking down the street, or doing something like the rest of the shots of Rowan, it’s more of a typical animation shot. That one, however, we had to hit those same kind of creative notes, but shove a square peg into a round hole. Luckily, Rowan is meant to be this malleable, squishy inflated ghosty thing, so that played into it.

Did that present some more technical challenges?
There were a number of technical challenges, as far as how does he fit in there, and then simulating both Rowan and the building destruction. We had muscle systems on him, and then cloth simulations on top of him. Then as he breaks through the building, and the debris starts to fly out, the debris needs to be affected by the cloth sim. It’s all the interdependencies. They’re some of my favorite shots in the film.

That group of shots was definitely the most challenging, and I think the most alive shots as far as 3D projection, as well. Those types of shots tend to be easier to dig your teeth into stereoscopically, because you’re not limited by the plates… to a degree.

Were you involved in the conversations and creative decisions made that related to the 3D projections?
Yes, but not a great deal. Ed Marsh was the stereographer on the client side. That was his creative realm. Pete would work with myself, Dan Cramer or any of the other visual effects supervisors at the various facilities. Typically, our primary concern is the mono delivery, because they’re just getting creatives down, what the timing is… the basics. Then as we get closer and the shots started to take hold, that’s where Ed would start to got involved and we began to send versions of the shots to Ed to review. In one of the shots of Rowan breaking down the building, Ed had a bunch of great ideas that weren’t in the original mono, or flat, delivery.

He would approach myself and Pete and we’d talk about it. He’d say, “I think it would be really great if we did this.” We went back and added little things here and there, or made those types of changes to help realize his notes and really amplify the 3D aspect of the shot.

What was your favorite part about working on this film?
There are certain types of films where maybe the whimsical, silly or over-the-top idea would be taboo because they’re trying to be very serious and real. Those things were fair game on Ghostbusters and embraced by Paul and Pete, both of whom have a great sense of humor. It becomes fun when trying these really crazy ideas. We had to make Mrs. Slimer, with her crazy makeup, so we looked at photos of big bouffant hairdos and thought, “Hey, how about we put that on Slimer?” That kind of thing.

It’s silly when you sit there and look at it from afar, but it makes the work more enjoyable. So much of the visual effects work that we tend to do is very serious, or trying to be invisible. I’d say that’s the thing that really resonates with me — the levity that that brought, and it was palpable to the team. Everyone was infected by it, and it was a great deal of fun. My job is easier when my team’s having fun.

Are there any movies that you used as a reference?
Probably, top of the list from Paul was Poltergeist. Obviously, we spent a great deal of time looking at the first two Ghostbusters films, and even the Ghostbusters media that has been generated since then. It’s always good to look through to see how a different group of artists interpreted things.

There was a lot of care taken to pay tribute to the original film that I think is very evident in this one. Paul did a wonderful job from the cameos to little bits of dialogue. We were able to leverage that creatively, as well. Even to the point where we hid, in one of the shots, the statue of the gargoyle that Rick Moranis’ character and Sigourney Weaver’s character break out of in the first film. It’s one of our little Easter eggs that we tossed in there when the building is destroyed and there’s giant debris flying around.

It’s fun and it energizes the crew and, I think, the fans.

Christine Holmes is a freelance artist and manager of animated content. She has worked in the film industry for the last six years.

Jill Bogdanowicz talks color grading and ‘Ghostbusters’

By Randi Altman

Who you gonna call? Well, in my case it was Deluxe’s Jill Bogdanowicz, the colorist on director Paul Feig’s new Ghostbusters. She took time out of her busy schedule — finishing up War Dogs — to walk us through her process on the VFX-heavy film, which is an updated version on the Ivan Reitman classic from 1984.

Bogdanowicz, who works at Deluxe’s Company 3, got involved on Ghostbusters early on, working on camera tests with DP Bob Yeoman — testing cameras, lenses and resolutions. The two had worked together before on Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, even though they did it all remotely, with Bogdanowicz in London and Yeoman in New York.

“He was able to review Grand Budapest and the DCPs, and gave comments to Wes,” she says. “The first time I met him was at the ASC awards after the movie had come out, so it was a good thing that we got to work in the same city for Ghostbusters.”

The positive experience on Grand Budapest led Yeoman to ask Bogdanowicz to join him on Ghostbusters.

It was during those camera tests, which were done on the Sony lot, that Yeoman decided on the Arri Alexa. It was also during this time that both Yeoman and Feig decided they wanted Ghostbusters to feel very filmic, with rich colors and a lot of detail.

“It was also decided that the film would be lit in a way where Bob could do his thing and make it look beautiful, and then I would just enhance that wonderful photography,” explains Bogdanowicz. “You still see the characters’ eyes and faces really well, but we could shape the image in a way where there was nothing distracting the frame. We would make sure that the audience would be looking where you want them to look.”

Another early test they did was deciding on what color of slime would be used in the film.

After shooting began, Bogdanowicz began visual effects tests for Yeoman and his team. In addition, she started looking at different LEDs. “They actually used practical LEDs on a lot of the actors who were going to be playing the ghosts so they could see how that would translate into visual effects,” says Bogdanowicz. “After all those tests were done, I got an edit of the movie. I was able to have a couple days to start going through the movie, smoothing it out, and getting the look set.”

That’s when Yeoman came into her suite and they went through the movie. Shortly after that director Feig joined them. “Paul was very involved. After I started the DI, basically, I took over all the visual effect sessions, so all final visual effects went through me on the big screen. I actually colored them, and they could see what they looked like as a final. It’s part of a process for finishing the visual effects, so when they would need certain parts of visual effects brightened, or darkened, or the color tweaked, I was able to do that live and they would approve the visual effect, and move on, and I could apply that into my final list for the movie.”

Bogdanowicz calls the process on Ghostbusters fun, interactive and collaborative — including the visual effects team, Feig, his editor Brent White and Yeoman. “They were an amazingly fun, and professional team to work with,” she says.

Let’s dig a bit more into Bogdanowicz’s process on the film.

Were there any challenges when working with the VFX shots?
I guess the biggest challenge was making sure I had enough time after all the visual effects were completed and dropped in to be able to fine tune a scene. They did something very smart on this film, which helped my process: toward the end of the process they would fill the scene with all the visual effects, finished or not. They were close enough to be put into the show, and they would keep updating them with the minor changes.

In general, my color was set. They were super organized, and I always had enough time to be able to smooth it out, because usually I had something done ahead of time, before it was absolutely final. (Sony Imageworks was the main house on this one.)

What’s an example of a note that you would get about a scene?
Paul never wanted anything to be too flat or too bright. He always wanted it to feel very rich. It was wonderful to have somebody with such a high taste level working on such a big comedy. So a lot of notes would be like, “Make sure it feels filmic, and rich.” It was really fun for me to be able to find those looks.

Another note would be, “Make sure you can see their eyes.” Certain times we would just brighten the actors’ eyes, so you could see their expressions a little bit more. There was a lot of that happening as well.

Do you think that enhanced the comedy?
I definitely think so, because you catch all the little details. These actresses are awesome, and they have so many tiny little expressions that you don’t want to miss.

Looking back, was there a particular scene that you are most proud of?
The Time Square fight scene toward the end of the movie, which was a combination of the VFX team and me. It’s quite intricate, and there is a lot of detail with the visual effects — all the different ghosts, and all the colors, which we really celebrated. We are not afraid of color in this movie. We go for it, keeping it rich with an almost Technicolor-type of look.

It has sort of a three-strip type of feel, because it’s got all beautiful flesh tones, and we are not afraid of letting that saturation shine through without being overly saturated, flat and garish. It’s really rich and filmic.

In Columbia Pictures' GHOSTBUSTERS.That scene is a dark night scene, but it’s got a lot of detail in it. Nothing is crushed and nothing is clipped, it’s got all this wonderful detail and color, and there’s tons of stuff going on, including visual effects integrating with non-visual effects.

You use both DaVinci Resolve and FilmLight Baselight, but for this one it was Baselight. Can you talk about how it helped in the process?
The Baselight handles multiple resolutions on the timeline, from a workflow standpoint, very elegantly. So in that respect it was very nice because the movie was shot on Alexa. We had the native Alexa resolution (3414) mixed with some of the visual effects resolutions, which most of the time were some form of 2K… not quite 3414. It was nice to be able to have those seamlessly integrated and at the highest resolution possible.

I also did the compositing for all the titles — which you can also do with the Resolve — and it just made everything easy. I used a lot of the tracking tools while I opened up the eyes on the actresses, and the power windows stuck right on their eyes beautifully.

The last time we spoke was about two years ago, and I asked you about your philosophy of color. Has that changed at all?
My philosophy has grown, and I’ve been learning a lot here at Company 3. I find it fascinating to see how other colorists work, and here I work with Stefan Sonnenfeld, Stephen Nakamura and Siggy Ferstl.

I’ve always had the philosophy of creating a really solid base for the image. What I love to do now is I’ll go through, and balance the whole movie to a place where I have something that looks really solid, and then create a look based on how the director or cinematographer, or both, see it.

Gertrude the Ghost in Columbia Pictures' GHOSTBUSTERS.For Ghostbusters I kept everything really rich, and really elegant and filmic. With other movies I like to start with that as my building blocks; it’s almost like building a house. You have to build the foundation and then you slowly pick out the details like the drapes, faucets and things. That is kind of how I think about coloring. I always like to try to build a foundation, which means the most color separation and the richest image that I can create, and then on top of that you can go anywhere.

What’s next for you?
I’m finishing up War Dogs, right now. I recently finished a smaller movie by director Mark Pellington, starring Shirley MacLaine and Amanda Seyfried, called The Last Word. It’s an amazing little film. Mark sent me the script a long time ago, and really wanted my input. That was a great little project.

I also just finished Ouija Origin of Evil with director Michael Flanagan and cinematographer Michael Fimognari. It’s a beautifully shot film with a ‘70s look.