Ghost Rider made his debut on the season 4 premiere of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. earlier this week, and while the arrival of the hotheaded spirit of vengeance didn't necessarily set the show's ratings on fire, there were plenty of those watching who were amazed at how well the character came off on a weekly television series. Advancements in special effects being what they are, the show managed to pull off impressive-looking digital effects that were comparable to the character's first live-action appearance back in the 2007 Nicolas Cage joint, Ghost Rider.
That film is almost a decade old now and the VFX used to turn Cage's Johnny Blaze into the fiery demon biker have more or less been ported over to ABC's series, which is operating at a fraction of that film's budget. The result, then, is a convincing all-new Ghost Rider who can transform from his human alter ego Robbie Reyes (Gabriel Luna), complete with burning flesh effects, and not only interact but tussle with the likes of Quake in the middle of a junkyard. That brawl was likely the highlight of the season premiere and it may have left viewers wondering just how the special effects department was able to make the spirit of vengeance work on the small screen.
Well, Marvel was nice enough to drop a short video that goes behind the scenes of the process of bringing Ghost Rider to life. In the featurette, visual effect supervisor Mark Kolpack discusses how digital effects are used to create the character's signature flaming visage, while actor Gabriel Luna is still able to provide the body language and a small amount of facial expressions that the animators can then use to give an extra level of realism to the antihero. It's the sort of thing that anyone with a fondness for Blu-ray and DVD extras will be familiar with, as Luna is subjected to the same sort of awkward headgear Cage had to wear on the set of both Ghost Rider films he was a part of. Luna's also given the same dots on his face (though not nearly as many) as, say, Lupita Nyong'o was given when she did her motion capture performance for Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Force Awakens.
Even though the process is likely familiar to those watching, it's still impressive to see the end result being as successful as it is. For anyone who's ever suffered through a film with miserable CGI effects – or watched one of the videos listing the worst offenders – looking at an example of the complex process being done right is always a pleasure. As an added bonus, Kolpack goes over some of the elements that make this version of Ghost Rider a little unique. In addition to having a muscle car instead of a bike, the flaming skull is able to emote a bit more with the "burning coal eyes" and the "eye orbits," or with how the striations on bone (if it is bone) look like "exhaust pipes."
Obviously it takes a lot more work than Kolpack has the time to explain, but those interested will no doubt get the gist. Besides, for those watching, it's more about how well the design is represented on the screen and in what way the animators are able to bring a classic Marvel character – or IP, if you prefer – to life onscreen.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues next Tuesday with 'Meet the New Boss' @10pm on ABC.