Ghost Capture

In 2009, I was a producer of a movie called “Ghosts Don’t Exist”. While we were making the film, I thought it would be a good idea to start working on marketing it.

A year earlier, Apple had opened their App Store to allow developers to make apps for it. Initially, given that the movie was about ghosts, I thought we could partner with an app that centered around them. I checked a few of them out and there were a couple that added ghosts to pictures and even one that was a fake “ghost finder”. Some of the “ghost adding” apps would let you select a ghost to put in a picture. Some would let you select where you put a ghost in a picture. Some even let you select the opacity of the ghost. But none of them did everything.

So, I figure I could try to make one myself. I started to make a version that let you select or take the picture you wanted to add a ghost to. Then, using the UIGestureRecognizer, I added the ability to spin the ghost. Resize the ghost. Move it. Flip it. As well as set the opacity. Once the ghost was all set to how the user wanted it, they could save it, send it to people or submit it to our gallery of user’s pictures.

The app was initially released at a 99c price point. Initially, it didn’t do to well. So for Halloween, I switched it to being a free version. This seemed to help it take off. It also started getting decent reviews, thanks to its user-friendly interface and eerily realistic imagery. The app got an unexpected boost about 6 months after its release, when British tabloids including The Daily Mail ran a story about a builder who had allegedly captured a ghost in a cellphone photo. It quickly became apparent that the “apparition” was actually straight from the Ghost Capture app, and the number of downloads soared. The free version was downloaded over 500,000 times at that point.

I also added a 99c version beck into the store and added 30 more ghosts to it. Having the multiple versions allowed the app to give people a little taste of what the app is and allowed the app to make a little money as well.

After that, celebrity people in the paranormal community started getting caught up in it. First there was Chip Coffey, the psychic/medium from the A&E hit series Paranormal State and Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal. Chip posted a couple of great Ghost Captures of his own to his Twitter page. And then there were a few others in the paranormal community who got fooled by the app.

All of these little things helped to boost the app up and as of 2018, the free version has been downloaded over 2.5 million times.

The app itself was developed fully in Objective C. It was was initially built in a single view with the graphics being slid in and out of the view. With the addition of the gallery and other pieces of marketing for the movie, multiple views were added and set to slide in and out.

At first the ghost pictures were created by putting the original picture and the ghost into a UIView and then scanning and saving the uiview to a JPG file, which I learned from my first app Pricecheckah. Around the release of iOS 6, this ability was removed and I had to re code the app to actually stitch the ghost into the image. The hardest part was matching the onscreen location and orientation to the final output.

With the application doing well, I figure it would be good to start to capitalize on the viral-ness the images could create and came up with idea for putting images into a gallery. Initially, I was having people submit their images to it via email. This soon became a very daunting task of sifting through hundreds of photos almost daily. To make it easier on myself, I built a back end database and ingestion system that would allow people to upload their apps and manage them through the app itself. It also let people rate the photos and share them with friends, family and social networks. This worked really well as we’ve had over 5 million views of the submitted photos.

The back end website and ingestion system was written completely in perl and uses mySQL as the database.


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