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EGG’s VFX team talk ‘Ghosthunters: On Icy Trails’ – in cinemas now
02 Oct 2015 : Seán Brosnan
The effects for main character Hugo created at EGG
With the Ripple World Pictures co-production ‘Ghosthunters: On Icy Trails’ in cinemas now, IFTN catches up with the VFX and animation team responsible for the ghosts, monsters and slime of the family film.

After 1,136,876 rendered frames, 323 VFX shots over 8 months of post production with over 50 artists collaborating, ‘Ghosthunters: On Icy Trails’ is finally ready to hit cinemas and the team at EGG cannot wait for people to see their work.

Based on the best-selling novel Ghost! by Cornelia Funke, the film tells the story of a fearful 11-year-old boy who discovers a green ghost in his cellar. The film is directed by Tobi Baumann and premiered to a very positive response at the Savoy in Dublin on September 26th.

Here, VFX Supervisor Liam Neville and co-founder Gareth Young take us through the process of creating main character Hugo and all the other ghouls in the film.

IFTN: I know Ripple World were co-producers but there were also German and Austrian producers involved as well as a non-Irish director – how did EGG Post land the job for the VFX and animation in what I’m sure was a competitive market?

Liam Neville: ‘From my perspective I think what helped a lot was our previous character work in ‘Sinbad’ which we did for Sky One in 2012. I think they really liked that work initially and then when we met them to discuss the project – they were very responsive to our early ideas and that led to a good relationship and it was smooth sailing from there.’

Gareth Young: ‘We had a good relationship with Ripple World over the years and we were pitching against companies from Canada, Germany and various other territories. In the end – as Liam said – I think it came down to the previous work we had completed as well as the tax break that Section 481 in Ireland could offer.’

Did you receive many notes from director Tobi Baumann or did he allow a certain amount of creative spontaneity on your part?

Liam Neville: ‘A bit of both actually. We had the original recordings of the voice of the main character Hugo (voiced by Bastian Pastewka) that they filmed. He was a very expressive actor and the director Tobi Baumann based a lot of Hugo’s character on Bastian’s performance. They really helped but that was just a starting point. Animation Director Miguel Fuertes and the other animators would suggest visual gags and ideas that the director loved. It got to a point where he was kind of expecting ideas to come from the animators to help the shots. It was really a fantastic collaborative experience between everyone.’

Gareth Young: ‘All there was coming into our guys here was a sketch of what one of the characters should look like and we developed all the other characters to make them more dynamic and interesting.’

Liam Neville: ‘We did an awful lot of research into what these characters should look like. We looked at a lot of animals that had reflective and translucent skin like frogs to get the perfect look.’

And obviously this being a family film meant that your research had to extend to would appeal to kids too?

Liam Neville: ‘Yeah that was a big part of it. There were a lot of segments – such as one with a big, scary ice monster – where we could have really went to town! But we had to tone it down and I think we struck the right balance in the end.’

How long would EGG have been working on ‘Ghosthunters: On Icy Trails’ then? From the first read of the script to sending the material out the door for the last time?

Liam Neville: ‘I think we first read the script in February 2013. Then, after a few months of a bidding process, we got the green light in June/July 2013.’

Gareth Young: ‘We got the green light but we didn’t start shooting until around October 2013 and then we finished around December last year.’

Can you tell us a little about the equipment used then in this film?

Liam Neville: ‘We composited all the layers together (footage and CG) using the NukeX. For the 3D Animation and Lighting, we used Maya and for rendering we used VRay. We used Realflow for the slime effects and we created a lot of the ice and snow using Krakatoa. We used tracking software called Shotgun for keeping the pipeline together. It kept all the information of our 320 shots and ensured the seamless integration between all our departments. I spent about four weeks on set capturing HDRI’s (High Dynamic Range Imagery) for reflections. For colour reference, we used a Macbeth chart and for lighting references, we used grey, white and chrome balls.’

This being a European co-pro obviously means you are not dealing with the budgets of Pixar or Disney but ‘Ghosthunters: On Icy Trails’ VFX and animation still manages to look great – how much of a challenge was that coming into this and working on what I’m sure is a fraction of the budget of your Hollywood counterparts?

Gareth Young: ‘Yeah it certainly was. It was definitely a tight budget compared to the budgets those guys that you mentioned would have. To counter-act this, we spent a lot of time hand-picking people from around Europe and bringing them here. We brought in some fantastic people like our Animation Director Miguel Fuertes who has worked on some really impressive Hollywood films like ‘Happy Feet’ and ‘Avatar’. We were looking to bring that standard into this by bringing in the best people and making this look like it could be a Hollywood feature and I think we succeeded with that.

Liam Neville: Making a movie like this could not happen without a talented and creative crew. They are the heart of everything. Throughout the process we had to approach shots collaboratively within each department to ensure we delivered Tobi's vision while staying on schedule. Budget constraints can make this difficult at times. It's a daily balance to get this right.’

With this film getting such a wide release, are you excited by the international attention that the VFX and Animation department at EGG might receive after the film goes out? Do you consider this film a calling card?

Gareth Young: ‘Oh absolutely. We cultivated the main character in this from absolutely nothing into a very believable and lovable character and we are very proud of that. I think anyone could compare the VFX in this film with a lot of higher budget films and we are absolutely looking to do a lot more work in this area.’

Liam Neville: ‘It’s been tricky trying to keep this under our sleeves for so long because we finished this last December so we had to hold off sending this out into the world until the cinema release. Now that it’s out there, we are really excited and eager to show people what we can do.’

Other than Section 481, what do you think has contributed to a lot of VFX work landing at the doors of Irish post-houses in recent years?

‘Gareth Young: ‘With Ireland attracting high-profile productions like Star Wars and Game of Thrones in the last few years, it is a sign that our domestic industry is growing, and with the help of the S481 tax incentives and support from the Irish Film Board increased growth was inevitable. Our work on ‘Ghosthunters: On Icy Trails’ shows that we can compete internationally with bigger studios for work. We co-founded the VFX Association Ireland (VFXAI) to promote Ireland internationally also

Can you tell us what is next then for the VFX department at EGG?

Gareth Young: ‘We are sitting on about three or four projects that have not been fully green-lit yet so we unfortunately can’t say anything. They are quite big projects and much like we were with ‘Ghosthunters: On Icy Trails’ all year we want to shout about them from the rooftops but we unfortunately have to keep them under our hats [laughs].’

Liam Neville: ‘Hopefully after this film goes out, come Monday we will have a lot more phone calls and e-mails flooding in too!’

‘Ghosthunters: On Icy Trails’ is in cinemas now – check out the trailer below:




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