Los Angeles-based Therapy editor Doobie White and partner design/animation company VisualCreatures team up to inject a spark of blazing intensity into Columbia Pictures and Hyde Park Entertainment’s recently released 3D feature Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. White served as an editor on several of the film’s key sequences and collaborated with VisualCreatures owners/digital artists Ryan McNeely and John Cranston to craft the 2:00 animated sequence that opens the film. The film has already grossed over $44 million in domestic box office sales since its release on February 17th.
Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the film is a follow up to the 2007 hit Ghost Rider and stars Nicolas Cage reprising his role as Johnny Blaze, the cursed daredevil possessed by an ancient soul-sucking demon who acts as the devil’s bounty hunter. As the directing duo progressed deeper into post-production on their biggest feature to date, they turned to longtime colleague White, with whom they had previously worked on Crank: High Voltage and Jonah Hex, to help bolster a handful of the film’s key action scenes. One such effects-heavy sequence features Blaze fighting against his own transformation into the Ghost Rider.
Their renewed collaboration led Neveldine and Taylor to seek White’s guidance in crafting a new opening title sequence that would set up the franchise’s back story in more detail for unfamiliar viewers while also establishing the film’s edgy, rambunctious tone. At this point, White immediately brought Visual Creatures into the mix.
Working from voiceover penned by the film’s writers, White cut together some preliminary storyboards by McNeely and Cranston to screen for test audiences. Once the sequence scored extremely high, Columbia engaged Therapy and Visual Creatures to create the fully-realized sequence, resulting in an eye-popping, impressionistic blend of live action from the film’s originally-intended opening along with animation and graphics that evoke the story’s comic book origins.
Crafting the opening sequence posed some unique creative challenges for the team at VisualCreatures in designing 2D animation with 3D methodology. Notes Cranston the Creative Director on the project, “We created all of our characters in 3D and achieved a 2D look in our shading process. Some of the pieces were separated and cut out to be dealt with in 3D post conversion and some we worked with in our own compositing programs.” The team at VisualCreatures utilized a combination of Maya and Cinema 4D to animate the characters and build the environments and utilized 3rd party plug ins like Turbulance FD and Particular to create fire and weather elements that felt less realistic and more painterly. The Studio crafted the sequence in comic book style with a more artful and organic approach to align with Brian Taylor’s darker perspective on the characters and film as a whole. VisualCreatures took some of their inspirations from Japanimation as well as older more rudimentary forms of animation but attempted to recreate these styles in high-end 3D software to inject a modern twist on the classic Marvel characters.