Prior to Ghost Rider, Mark Steven Johnson had directed a film that featured visual effects, Daredevil, but nothing really prepared him for the amount of work that goes into helming a movie whose main character appears 1/3 of the time as CG and whose total effects shots are over 600.
"On a film featuring this many effects, you have to throw your trust into the visual effects supervisor," he says. "You have no choice. That is why it's such an important hire."
And Johnson's 'important hire' for Ghost Rider was Sony Pictures Imageworks' Kevin Mack. "Meeting Kevin was ideal because he is so smart," he says. "He has such a big brain and he understands this stuff so well, but he also knows how to explain it. He breaks it down into real simple terms."
The director also liked that Mack is an artist. "Kevin goes more with his eye, his gut and his heart than he does with his brain, and that is invaluable because then you are talking artist to artist, and it makes it so much easier."
While a good amount of the film's effects shots involve the Ghost Rider's fire (see our cover story on page 14), Johnson wanted to make sure that the other characters in the film didn't get short shrift, and he points to the film's The Hidden and the main villain Blackheart.
"I knew we were going to spend so much time and money on Ghost Rider and I wanted to make sure the villains could hold up," he explains. "Ghost Rider is such a great looking character and such a bad ass — he's got a flaming skull and spikes and chains and a hellcycle and a hellfire shotgun. He is overwhelmingly cool, so to come up with something as good was tough, and we didn't want it to become a monster movie, so that was the challenge for Kevin: to help me come up with a look for these guys that wasn't just CG, wasn't just make-up, but make them threatening in a different way."
What they decided was that some of the things that are most scary is what you can't see. "So we wanted to make sure our villain was cloaked a lot in shadows. And the idea Kevin came up with was that once Blackheart transforms at the end of the movie and becomes his ultimate beast self, he would actually carry this blackness with him." This effect, dubbed Soul Mist, is a black inky vapor.
Johnson, who shot Ghost Rider on film, did consider shooting this one digitally until his DP, Russell Boyd, said he wasn't comfortable with it.
"And that's all I needed to hear."
Another example of Johnson putting trust in his crew.