Garraka, the creepy demon in “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” who gives New York a “Death Chill,” was animated by Sony Pictures Imageworks with an eye toward Ray Harryhausen’s legendary stop-motion creatures from “Jason and the Argonauts.” In fact, the team paid particular attention to the skeleton army and Medusa for performance reference. That’s because director Gil Kenan (“Monster House”), who voiced Garraka, wanted to combine puppetry, stop motion, animatronics, and CG to evoke the handcrafted charm of the original “Ghostbusters” from 1984.

In this sequel to “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” the once powerful Garraka, who’s imprisoned in a brass orb by ancient Fire Masters, is inadvertently set free by the Ghostbusters and unleashed on New York. His “Death Chill” breath can freeze his victims and cause them to shatter like tiny crystals. What’s more, Garraka can deep freeze the entire planet, and his plan is to take over by resurrecting an army of the undead.

Turns out that only slacker Nadeem (Kumail Nanjiani), a descendant of the Fire Masters, has the potential to stop Garraka when the Ghostbusters’ proton blasters aren’t strong enough. The final battle between Garraka and Nadeem is highlighted by the photoreal simulated ice and fire displays from the Imageworks VFX team led by supervisor Geoff Baumann.

“We talked about Ray Harryhausen extensively with Gil very early on for Garraka’s movement,” animation supervisor Craig McPherson told IndieWire. “And it took a while to hit that balance because it’s tricky to pull off that movement. This is obviously a modern movie and we have a very sophisticated look for the creature. And filming techniques have evolved so much too. So, to use that kind of older technique, you can’t just rely on references. You have to modernize it and make it palatable for today.”

The Imageworks animation team layered in a lot of nuanced jerkiness, leaning into stop-motion and animatronics, and didn’t let the computer handle any of the in-between. They took a straight-ahead approach, starting a pose with every frame. This provided some wonderful spontaneity for the large, grotesque, menacing Garraka, with his sweeping horns, hollow cheeks, and glowing eyes.

“Being a god waking up from his imprisonment, he doesn’t move on the scale of human time,” McPherson said. “Especially in the beginning, as he is relearning how to move, his movements are slow and purposeful. Nothing he did was smooth or relaxed. Every little movement had to have some tension to it.”

In terms of the character design, it was important that Garraka not look human. “He’s an ancient god, not a man,” continued McPherson. “Withered but strong, he’s all tendon, bone, and muscle with an impossibly long neck and an unnatural jaw. There are no rounded shapes. The musculature is purposefully anatomically incorrect. We placed plausible but inaccurate muscles to connect the joints, and the muscles themselves look more like tendons. Even when flexed, the muscles look like taut ropes.

‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire‘Courtesy of Sony Pictures

“There was definitely some talk about Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and Nosferatu for the hands and long, piercing knives for nails,” he added. “So we had to find ways to pose those. But we had to be careful because the hands can easily take over the scene. A lot of times, we wanted to concentrate on the face. But there’s only so much range that we can hit. Eye shapes are pretty subtle and we had to be really careful about eyebrows. He never gets so riled up that he shows a lot of emotion.”

Meanwhile, the animation team made Garraka a little more mobile during the climactic battle. “He can fight, and he can use his claws, and he can grab,” McPherson said. “But the more mobile we made his center of gravity or his lower body, he started to look silly and less mysterious. We felt the character would be scarier if we did less with him.”

However, there was talk of breaking free from Garraka’s stoic nature for just one moment during Nadeem’s silly slide down a fire station pole. “We definitely had discussions about whether he is part of this joke by making him a straight man,” McPherson added. “We had him give just a slight look. And that was the one. We showed Gil some variations of that shot where he didn’t react. It was a little risky, but I think it turned out to be the right tone for the moment.”

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