What do you do when you get a call from Ghostbusters? You take it!
Last year, Tom Denier and I got a call from director Paul Feig’s office, asking us to create some ghosts for the Ghostbusters reboot. We had already done two features with Paul at the helm, and working with him is a joy, so we were happy to accept.
Initially, we were hired to create a couple of hero ghosts as well as creating the big finale, where Times Square would be crammed with New York ghouls from all eras. The first ghost we were asked to create was the Subway Ghost. David Allen (of Freaks and Geeks) would play him as a condemned hangman from the mid-1800s. The thing was, they wanted a full test on him in less than two weeks and to start shooting five days after that. Since David lives in Utah, we contacted Todd Masters in L.A. to do the lifecasting.
I headed from our shop in New York to Boston three days later for the production meeting; en route, the concept for the Subway Ghost changed; he would instead be an electrocuted prisoner from the early 1900s, dubbed Sparky. By meeting’s end, we were left with Sparky and just a handful of Times Square ghosts. Still, we had the opportunity to create a character that would really shine. As veterans of practical moviemaking (Poltergeist, The Thing and so many more), Tom and I were excited by the possibilities. With today’s CG technology, we knew this would be a great chance to combine practical and digital.
The lifecasts arrived the day after the meeting, which left nine days before the test. We immediately started breaking down the pieces. The simple approach was best: We created a facial piece (we couldn’t shave Dave’s beard), neck and upper chest, back of head, hands and teeth. While Tom manufactured all the positives, I began sculpting the head. We brought in Eli Livingston to sculpt the hands. Once the sculpt was approved, we floated it and began the breakdown. At this point it was five days and counting. As tired as we were, we were excited with how things were coming along, and yes, the occasional “Who ya gonna call? Us!” was running through our heads.
We decided to make our molds using urethane gel coats, syntactic dough and fiberglass backing. We brought in Jeremy Selenfriend and Jason Milani for a day so we could mold everything at once. By sunrise—tired, sore and covered in our own ectoplasm of sweat, release agents and those lovely little itchy fibers—we had molded the lot. Tick tock! Tom and I came in a few hours later and began cleaning all the molds. Once the face mold was cleaned, Tom began running the silicone pieces. There was no room for error; luckily for us, all the runs were perfect.
The last day, I prepainted two sets of appliances. After we finished the teeth and packed the pieces and our kits, we headed to Boston, set up our stations at the stage and got ready for the next morning’s test.
Over the course of four hours, we locked down a bald cap; the back of the head was preset with two coats of Pros-Aide, as were David’s head and shoulders, then powdered and activated with alcohol. We did our usual dance around David, gluing down the rest with Telesis. David was great: still when we needed him to be, but also funny, talkative and appreciative of the Ozzy and Eagles on our middle-aged-guy playlists. I broke out the airbrush to tie all the pieces together; Tom and I went in with our brushes for final detailing, then popped in the teeth.
Fifteen minutes later, Paul Feig came in wearing his usual suit, tie and smile, and said, “It’s fantastic.” His only notes were, “Let’s lose the bottom teeth and darken the beard.” This was great news—we traveled back to the shop to run five more sets of pieces and return in five days.
We shot David over two days with main unit and three on second unit on the subway set in a Norwood, Massachusetts warehouse. We kept the make-up application at four hours in our own trailer, dubbed The Ghost Factory. David was then outfitted with LED lights under his wardrobe, plus one strapped to his body on a bendable arm, so that it could shine right into his kisser. How good it was to hear Melissa McCarthy and the other stars rave about him and how wonderful it was to have an actual live ghost to work and react with—those are the moments you cherish.
Even being harnessed and hung for 12 hours a day, with only the occasional 355 [adhesive] touch-up around the mouth, David was great: He really enjoyed seeing how much expression he could get with the make-up. After the shoot with David, we were told that this was the end of the practical effects; all the other ghosts would be CG. From there, we headed home with no plans to return, as the visual effects team was handling the Times Square stuff. But we didn’t mind. We knew David would be visually enhanced, and we were excited to see him in all his spectral splendor.
Tom and I have since seen some stills and the trailer; unfortunately, we felt maybe he was a bit over-enhanced, losing a lot of the detail, texture and irregularities that practical make-up has to offer. We were hoping for more of a marriage. That said, we are still excited to see Dave, and couldn’t be happier for Paul. I know there is a lot of flack about a female-driven cast, but he did great things with this formula in Bridesmaids and The Heat, so I think he can pull it off and still make the audience feel like saying, “Who ya gonna call?”
Ghostbusters opened July 15.