GHOSTS is a collection of visions, memories and fragments of what remains of the spectre of Racer 37, Zach Hughes. A psychic echo flickering through time, forever haunting the long-abandoned track.
GHOSTS is a tribute to the original animated short "Hashiru Otoko" created by Yoshiaki Kawajiri. This anime had a tremendous impact on me early in life, and was my gateway into other classics such as Vampire Hunter D, Wicked City, and Ninja Scroll. It's with the utmost respect and admiration for Kawajiri-san's inspiring work that I chose to make this film.
The story of Racer 37, Zach Hughes, and the fall of the Death Circus is one told with a level of abstraction and artistry that I've always connected with. Like every great story, the viewer is given a certain amount of freedom to inject their own interpretation of what transpires. Zach's power is never fully understood, his demise never explained.
It was here that I wanted to start my own continuation of this story. The psychic force that allows Zach to destroy his opponents ultimately destroys himself, as he races against his own past and future. As he is torn apart, an echo of his soul remains, forever trapped between the final rest of death's slumber and the never-ending desire to win, to keep running.
The look and feel of GHOSTS represents my personal vision for a mix of artistic mediums. As well as a painterly hand-made feel I sought to blend it all together with the cinematic qualities of CG. Together they form a unique visual format, excelling as a vehicle for animation and story telling.
With a clear focus on energy, contrast and emotional impact, every frame was painstakingly designed to ensure that no matter where you pause, each image could live on its own as a solitary work of art.
From hand painted background and matte paintings, to 2D FX, smoke and clouds, a blend of CG and 2D elements were composited together to shape the look and feel of each shot. This extends to animation as well, with CG animation being mixed with frame by frame hand-drawn elements.
Channeling the chaotic power of Zach Hughes.
Starting with rough thumbnails at first, I decided to try to achieve a really tight animatic before moving into production. This allowed me to stay loose and move quite quickly in the moment, while the ideas were still fresh.
From my initial sketchbook thumbnails I painted my storyboards in photoshop, considering my compositions, camera choices and initial motion and viewer focus. I then brought it all into After Effects where I further developed my lens choices, fx, camera shake and focus etc. I then cut it all together with an audio scratch track in Premiere, for my final animatic.
Just as an illustrator struggles to maintain the energy of their first expressive lines into the final piece, I too wanted to maintain the energy and emotion in a raw state without being too focused on visual fidelity.
Forcing myself to not move on to any production art before the animatic was solid, I kept to my original roadmap, preserving the energy and emotion from my earliest ideas into the final outcome.
As with any project, GHOSTS started with weeks of rigorous research. Being a bit of an obscure anime, Running Man was not an easy film to find original drawings and production art from.
Finding the likeness of Zach Hughes.
The character of Zach Hughes was a combination of a base mesh from Character Creator, brought into Zbrush and sculpted into the likeness of Zach's original design. His racing suit, gloves, boots and peripherals were a combination of Zmodeler and hand sculpted elements in Zbrush. Hand and facial details were painted in Photoshop.
I used Character Creator because I knew I wanted both nuanced control of facial animation as well as a flexible and easy to use skeletal posing system. By using both Character Creator and its adjoining animation suite, iClone, it was a mostly simple affair to get the motion I wanted.
Exporting the final models into Cinema 4D gave me the sliders I needed for facial animation as well as hands and body movement. Because I knew exactly what kind of motion was required for each shot, I was able to plan accordingly.
Along with smoke and clouds, I hand animated all the dynamic light streaks that are ever so present in Kawajari-san's films. Cigarette smoke, as well as speed and action lines, were also animated frame by frame at 24 fps. Using Photoshop I painted all the 2D elements over pre-rendered composites of the shots. This way I could match the movement of the camera shake and adjust to changing lighting setups already present in the scene.
Passing clouds were painted in Photoshop as 8K textures, with separated elements so I could play with parallax and the interplay between the cloud forms. Once all elements were to my liking, I would re-composite them into the final shot in After Effects for a finished look.
From the start, audio was an extremely important part of the final outcome. To convey the utmost emotional resonance, I enlisted the talents of my friend John Black, founder of the audio collective CYPHER. Along with his partner Joris, they weaved a masterful collection of tones that perfectly enhanced the chaotic psychic echoes of Zach Hughes.
To promote the release of the film, a trailer was made. I also created a number of posters and other imagery.
GHOSTS Created & Directed by / Kristoffer Brady
Sound by / CYPHER
Sound Design & Mix by / John Black
Music by / Joris van Grunsven
© Copyright / Figure Studio