Netflix’s We Have a Ghost follows the Presley family, who become internet sensations after realizing a ghost with a mysterious background is occupying the attic of their new home. Directed by Christopher Landon and starring David Harbour, Anthony Mackie and Jennifer Coolidge, the feature focuses on the family's effort to uncover the ghost's troubled past, which ultimately leads them to become targets of the CIA.
Dneg’s (www.dneg.com) ReDefine served as the primary VFX partner on the feature, breathing life into the protagonist and ghost, Ernest. ReDefine designed the ghost’s overall look and the rules of its ghostly interactions with real-world objects. For the film’s ghostly presence, the director wanted to move away from the typical floating/glowing orb. ReDefine transformed actor David Harbour into a ghost that quickly captivates the Presley’s son, Kevin. VFX supervisors André Bustanoby, Peter Dimitrov and Susheel Peris led ReDefine’s global team, which created more than 850 shots across 43 sequences.
In the film's most memorable scenes, the team used extensive rotoscoping and 2D/3D treatment for Ernest’s interactions with various objects, such as walls, cars and people, necessitating minimal CG replacement. This approach was chosen in order to preserve as much of the in-camera plate of the actor as possible. Ernest’s base looks were adjusted in different environments, such as dark or bright interiors and exteriors, mountain ranges and beaches. The team delivered extensive Ernest reconstruction/deconstruction shots throughout the film, as well as complex transition shots in an epic car chase scene.
In addition to creating Ernest's overall look, the ReDefine team created CG crowds, extensive DMP set extensions, CG police handguns, firing FX and CG cars. According to VFX supervisor André Bustanoby, the team employed 3D Equalizer, Reality Capture, ZBrush, Mari, Photoshop, Maya, Houdini/Mantra, Clarisse and Nuke.
“There are, of course, a myriad of internal/proprietary tools that help us connect up everything and allow for efficient movement through our overall VFX pipeline,” Bustanoby adds.
While there were several challenging sequences in the film, Bustanoby points to one in particular — the ‘Office Spaces’ part of the mob-chase sequence. In it, the film’s heroes are being chased by the local community into the surrounding neighborhood. After several twists and turns, and just ahead of the police and governmental authorities, Ernest takes a left turn into an exterior office building wall. He then finds himself careening through an insurance company, filled with employees in cubicles. Papers and coffee fly everywhere as Ernest moves through everyone and everything in the office. He then travels through an inner wall and into a tattoo parlor, interrupting a job in progress. Ernest then crashes into yet another company's office next door.
“This whole part of the (mob-chase) sequence was challenging on many levels,” says Bustanoby. “Ernest’s ghost look had to be consistent, yet evolved slightly given he’s running at full speed through walls. Also, Ernest now had to interact with not just architecture, but organic people and inorganic objects — ceramics, paper, coffee and furniture. Further, this whole part of the sequence was shot high-speed (in extreme slow motion) so every detail would be under detailed scrutiny.
“We shot multiple dynamically moving passes,” Bustanoby continues. “The (background) plates, Ernest (David Harbour), multiple office employee layers and a myriad of reference passes all had to tie together across all three office spaces. While moving in-between each office area, and in sync with the music track, dynamic re-times were introduced to give a percussive and rhythmic punch to the overall action on-screen.”
Ernest’s ghost look, the multiple ghost FX interactions and all of the multiple pass layers had to be retimed and tied together to give a seamless and organic look to the overall feel of the shots across this part of the sequence.