Ghostbusters Calls on MPC to Tackle Ghosts
Linda Romanello
September 5, 2016

Ghostbusters Calls on MPC to Tackle Ghosts

MPC VFX supervisor Dave Seager recently discussed the work his studio completed for director Paul Feig’s reboot of the iconic film Ghostbusters.

In all, the studio completed 250 shots for the film, which primarily were centered around the final battle in Times Square.According to Seager, “This includes a scene in the Mercado lobby where the Ghostbusters confront the villain, Rowan, that has possessed the Ghostbusters' receptionist, Kevin. The action continues as the Ghostbusters battle Rowan, in the form of a giant marauding cartoon monster, on the streets of Times Square.” Here, Seager discusses his studio’s work in more detail, as well as some of the film’s challenges and comparisons to the original version.

Can you describe the work you did on these scenes?

“The work in the Mercado lobby consisted of creating a ghostly portal, proton streams, ghosts and an environment extension of the lobby set. The end of the scene in the lobby sees Rowan taking the form of the no-ghost logo. The logo comes to life as a traditional 2D animated character and transforms into a bigger scarier 3D version. This final form of the Rowan monster is 300-feet tall and covered in a giant dirty sheet-like cloth. Previously in the film, Rowan has transformed Times Square back in time to the 1970s. This required a fully CG environment that needed to extend from the greenscreen back lot. Finally, we were called upon to create the environment on the other side of the portal as a gigantic swirling tornado of ghostly energy.”

What do you consider the most cutting edge work you did on the film?

“One of our biggest challenges was the cloth simulation for the monster form of Rowan. There is a huge difference between the way a six-foot piece of cloth moves as compared to a 300-foot tall piece of cloth. We found that out-of-the-box, most simulations broke the scale of the creature, making him look small. We ended up having to do a lot of work to try and create the complex shapes and motion to sell the fact that Rowan is the size of a building.” 

What was the biggest challenge of doing the VFX for this film?

“The challenge in creating the types of effects as seen in Ghostbusters is often related to the creative design. When asked what a ghost looks like, every person that you meet will describe a different image. This issue is at the heart of creating high concept effects. There is no right or wrong answer, and everybody has a different vision.  It is up to the entire production team to find a common vision. This ranges from the original briefs and vision of the director, Paul Feig, to countless pieces of concept art, to various iterations from all the CG artists, and culminates in the final realization of a given character or effect. The execution of the final concept may often be technically fairly straightforward, but the challenge was in the creative process to find the final vision.  Even the most well thought out design will evolve over the course of production. It can be a very rewarding process because the final product is often greater than any individual contribution.”

How closely did the various VFX vendors work with one another on this film, and with super Peter G. Travers?

“Prior to working at MPC I had worked for Sony Pictures Imageworks for many years doing several films with Pete. This meant that I also knew Dan Kramer, the Imageworks VFX supervisor, and his entire management on the SPI Ghostbusters team. We were able to hit the ground running based upon our pre-existing relationships, and throughout the production we were in constant communication.”

Did you feel a lot of pressure to outdo the effects from the 1984 film, since it was such a huge success?

“There was no pressure to outdo the effects from the 1984 film, but we were all very conscious of the degree to which the original film is held on high by general audiences. We all knew that we could go further with the effects, but the pressure we felt related to the original film was more general. The original film is a fantastic balance of great writing, hilarious performances, classic production design and fun effects. So, in that respect, we understood that we played a part in creating the FX, but the pressure truly fell on the shoulders of Paul Feig to marshal all aspects of the film production to stand up to the original.”

Can you talk about the technology itself and how it’s advanced from 1984 to 2016?

One great example of advancement in technology from 1984 to 2016 is the interactive lighting from the Proton Guns. For the creation of our modern proton stream effect the prop guns were outfitted with an LED attachment that was wired to the actual trigger used by the Ghostbusters. This meant that every time they fired the gun, you would get a cast of red light from the gun tip onto them and their surroundings. Then when we added the actual beam in FX, the overall effect is more believable because of the real lighting in the photography.”

What tools/software did you use?

“The primary tool sets used by MPC were Maya, Renderman, Katana, Nuke, Houdini, Flowline and V-Ray.”

How did the various studios share the assets with one another?

“There was a great deal of sharing amongst all of the various vendors on Ghostbusters. The most common of which was the proton streams. The challenge with an FX-based element like the proton streams is that there is nothing to share with other vendors other than the resulting images. FX pipelines tend to be so specific that, in the end, each vendor has to make a pipeline from scratch matching images. Conversely, for Slimer and the Ecto-1, Sony Pictures Imageworks provided the model and textures to the other vendors. MPC and Imageworks also both had need for modern and 1970s versions of Times Square. In this situation, Times Square was divided, like a big game of Risk, and each vendor shared the subsequent models and textures that they created with the other vendor.”

How do you feel about the final product?

We are very proud with the final results of our work on Ghostbusters. There is always a bit of anxiety when tackling a subject that is so beloved. From the start, we knew that we would be compared against one of the best action comedies of all time. It is hard to know if the general audiences will go into the film with an open mind or if they will have preconceived notions based upon their nostalgic feelings towards the original. The challenge is to find the sweet spot of paying tribute to the original while at the same time trying to create something fresh and exciting.”