Stranger Things 4’s new monster is made with handy effects, some CG and lots of lube

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Stranger Things 4's new monster is made with handy effects, some CG and lots of lube

With terrible beasts like the Demogorgon and the Mind Flayer, stranger things has slowly built an impressive bestiary of monsters. But for the final season, the show is going in a slightly different direction. His new villain named Vecna ​​is less of a mindless beast and more of a classic 80’s movie monster in the form of Freddy or Jason. So showrunners Matt and Ross Duffer tapped into prosthetics designer Barrie Gower to bring their take on an iconic villain to life. “The pretty interesting thing about it stranger things it’s already such a huge property and it has this great sense of design,” says Gower The edge. “They already had a very clear idea of ​​what they wanted to do with this character.”

Gower is no stranger to featuring villains he has previously worked on game of Thrones‘ Night King, among other notable projects ranging from Harry Potter to Chernobyl. But he was a stranger, well, stranger things, having only joined the show in season four. According to makeup head Amy Forsythe, who has worked on the show since its inception, Gower’s experience added another dimension to the show. “Practical effects are such a big deal with ’80s nostalgia and we lost that on our show so much,” she explains. “So finally having someone with Barrie’s expertise really lifts the show.”

Vecna ​​is a slithery black creature that definitely looks like something from the dark world of Upside Down. But he’s also the most humanoid monster to appear on the show to date. According to Gower, the process began with concept art by artist Michael Maher Jr., followed by numerous discussions with Maher, the Duffers, and the visual effects team, among others. One of the main goals, says Gower, “was to make the character as 100 percent practical as possible.”

Instead of a rubber suit, Vecna’s costume consists of a number of different pieces glued directly to the actor’s skin. This brought a few benefits, including more freedom of movement for the actor. Rubber suits are also prone to buckling, which doesn’t look good on camera. However, it also involved a lot of work: the application process took an average of 6.5 to 7 hours.

And there are also some, let’s say, human issues that need to be considered in the design. One is heat. The costume was designed to be as comfortable as possible, but the actor could still be seen hanging out in an air-conditioned tent to cool off between takes. “Most importantly, the actor has to go to the bathroom at some point during the day,” says Gower. “So they have a special chassis that went under a pair of cycling shorts so he could open a special Vecna ​​bag and go to the bathroom.”

Gower notes that although the team had the advantage of more modern materials, many of the techniques used in Vecna’s creation were developed in the ’80s. Some of these helped give the monster its decidedly slimy appearance. The prostheses themselves were painted with a glossy silicone finish, but that wasn’t enough. “He has to be super slimy that day, so we use products like KY Jelly. There’s a product called UltraWet, which is sort of like a clear gel that we put on him,” says Gower. “It’s like on set you put your hand on his shoulder and you regret you did it because you’re covered in slime.” (It should be noted that applying lube is a fairly traditional technique for making monsters.)

That doesn’t mean everything was practical. From the beginning it was planned to add some digital effects to Vecna’s design. Its threadlike tendons, for example, subtly move and twist in an unsettling manner, which was performed by the VFX team. The actor’s nose was also digitally removed. But for the most part, what you see on the show is what the prosthetics and makeup teams built.

“We’ve worked on shows before where we created characters, and as far as you know, that’s how they would play in the final edit,” Gower says. “And then you watch the show and you’re like, ‘Where’s the character that we made? It’s been completely painted over.” That wasn’t the case at all [on Stranger Things]. It was this wonderful collaboration with VFX.”

One of Vecna’s unfortunate victims.
Image: Netflix

From what I’ve seen of Season 4 so far, Vecna ​​also fits seamlessly into the world because of the obvious thought and planning that went into other elements of the show around him. Most notably, its victims all have a distinctive appearance, with horribly broken limbs and gouged eyes. Forsythe explains that this kind of coherent visual style is a result of the close collaboration between the different departments. “The collaborative aspect is so much fun,” she says.

Like most other shows and films in recent years, the production has been challenged by the pandemic. In all, the team filmed for 14 months, but with a six-month hiatus due to COVID protocols. “It was just a wild little 20-month shoot,” says Forsythe. “From start to finish, I could have had two kids.” She notes that the biggest challenge was continuity. “We went through maybe four different makeup teams,” she says. “It is in the nature of the animal. Every time we made progress, we lost someone crucial to our team.”

The advantages of focusing on practical effects and their coherent fusion with digital effects will become clear when watching the new season. More than any previous season stranger things 4 has the feel of a classic 80’s horror movie, complete with a monster that gets scarier the more it’s revealed. Gower also believes that the practical focus has a positive impact on the performances of the various cast members. “I think from their perspective, it’s nice to have something physical and practical on set that they can interact with,” he explains. “It’s not a guy in a mo cap suit or a green suit or anything. There he is in the flesh.”

However, there are downsides. Forsythe recalls snapping a photo of a disguised Vecna ​​sitting in her 1965 Ford Ranchero, with members of the makeup and prosthetics team in the background. “He smeared the driver’s seat of my car,” she says.

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