How Do You Create a Ghost?

A ghost named Ernest, who was trapped in an attic of a house in Chicago, became a social media sensation and captured the world’s attention when We Have a Ghost was released on Netflix. But how did he get there, and who summoned him? It was ReDefine’s work! Let us tell you how we did it.

As the lead VFX partner, ReDefine was responsible for designing and executing the ultimate look of Ernest throughout the entire film. The design of Ernest was inspired by a projection technique developed in 1862 by the English scientist John Pepper, called “Pepper’s Ghost Illusion.” Pepper would reflect his subject onto a refractive surface positioned at a 45-degree angle towards the audience. When lit correctly, it would create an incredibly unique ghostly aberration on that surface, which was slightly transparent. Today, we do not use mirrors or refractive surfaces anymore, which gave us a lot of freedom in terms of where to take the effect towards the end. Our VFX team ended up with a design that Chris Landon, the director, really appreciated.

Our biggest challenge was figuring out what Ernest would look like when he moved or interacted with the other characters or objects in different environments and times, and establishing consistency across scenes.

Our team used extensive rotoscoping and 2D/3D treatment as much as possible, given the client’s requirement of preserving as much of the in-camera plate of the actor as possible, and we tried to minimise CGI replacement to preserve the overall performance.

Have you seen the sequence when Ernest is being chased by the local community and finds himself careening through an insurance company? Papers, furniture, and coffee are flying everywhere as Ernest flies at full speed through everyone and everything in the office. Then, he finds himself blasting through a tattoo parlour and into another company’s office next door. This one was one of the most challenging sequences to produce for one of our VFX Supervisors, Andre Bustanoby.

Ernest’s ghostly look had to be consistent but evolved slightly since he was running at full speed through walls. In this sequence, he was interacting with not just architecture but also organic people and inorganic objects. As it was shot in extreme slow motion, every detail would be under scrutiny. We shot multiple dynamically moving passes, including the BG plates, Ernest (David Harbour), multiple office employee layers, and a myriad of reference passes. All of these had to tie together across all three office spaces. While moving 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 ghostly look, the multiple Ghost-FX interactions, and all of the multiple pass layers had to be retimed and tied together perfectly to give a seamless and organic look to the overall feel of the shots across this part of the mob chase sequence.

Creating this ghost was a global effort, and our studios in Los Angeles, Montreal, Sofia, and Mumbai were all on board. We Have a Ghost was one of the first big projects for Sofia, one of our newest studios. A lot of work was done there – the concept art and FX work – and the team had creative freedom to develop those effects. The scene where Ernest tries to scare Jennifer Coolidge, who ends up jumping out of the window, was one of the most incredibly fun to work on, according to Peter Dimitrov, our VFX Supervisor based in Sofia.

Keen to join our global VFX team and work on some fun shots together? Check out our open positions

ReDefine is definitely a great place to be. I have enjoyed every single day here, the work is truly rewarding. The teams share a great bond and that’s what makes it a great place to work.

Shilpa Bhanushali Head of Production (Animation)

We have top-of-line professionals who are not only creative, but also fun to work with. It has created a lot of possibilities for reinventing workflows.

François Schneider Global Creative Supervisor, North America

The people who form ReDefine have come from varied experiences and all have the potential to develop and deliver world-class projects.

Viral Thakkar Creative Director and VFX Supervisor India