Stranger Things earned 13 Emmy nominations this season, including Outstanding Drama Series, thanks to the unsung heroes of the show—the below-the-line departments who put in the tireless effort to create the “surreal madness” of the series. From ‘de-aging’ Millie Bobbie Brown to building Vecna and his lair in the Upside Down, the collaboration of the craft departments continues to bring the series to new heights. Here, some of the Emmy-nominated craft department heads give insight into the most important aspects of this season.
One of the most difficult tasks this season was de-aging Eleven for flashback scenes. “Before shooting we explored just about every option, including deepfake, full CG head replacement, smoothing and warping,” says VFX supervisor Michael Maher Jr. “Luckily, our experienced friends at Lola Visual Effects agreed to take on the work and help us out. They arranged a shoot with a special, proprietary camera and lighting rig called an egg. Using a combination of the 2D footage and projection, they were able to graft Millie’s performance onto a different body.”
“The devil is in the details of skin prep,” says department head makeup artist Amy Forsythe. “We played with texture and skin quality for each location in the show. In Hawkins skin reads like skin, acne shows, dull makeup applications look self applied with the applicators the makeup comes with. It shows how basic and humble a town like Hawkins is. In Lenora, CA the skin has a much more luxurious cinematic glow, as if each character is its own ’80s pop culture icon they’re current with, or even setting, the pastel and more pigmented makeup trends. In the Upside Down, we needed to see the challenges that these characters face, so we used a dewy/sweaty sheen on the skin to reflect the moody lighting that flashes all around them. Every single light that hits them in the Upside Down causes a visible reaction on the skin which pulls the viewer into what the character is going through.
“When you do a wig that short, they have to put it in one hair at a time and it has to go in the right direction,” says department head hairstylist Sarah Hindsgaul, “otherwise we cannot style it the right way if it’s not put in correctly, since it’s so short. That took a lot of fittings, just to make sure that the hair growth in the wig was correct and matched season 1. Millie’s buzzcut wig in the desert had to go through sandstorms, which was very difficult as sand gets attached to the lace wig in the front. She also had to go into saltwater tanks, which was very difficult to do since the wig was so fragile. The wig itself, when you hold it up, is completely transparent, you can see through it. That’s how little hair is actually on the wig.”
“The surreal madness of Vecna’s Mind Lair is a testament to how the Art Department can come together with Special Effects, Camera, and Visual Effects to seamlessly create a psychedelically horrifying space that is practical at its core but extends off beautifully into an otherwise impossible distance,” says production designer Chris Trujillo.
The Mind Lair included a “myriad of different kinds of visual effects,” says Maher, “including the CG vines on Max and Vecna, a complicated set extension with full CG floating objects, exploding debris, impacting CG blood simulations on the ground, and the smoke effect simulation of the portal.”
Maher, who worked on Vecna’s concept design in 2019, worked closely with prosthetics designer Barrie Gower to being the villain to life. “Although Vecna was predominantly a practical character makeup on set, it was decided early on that he would have digital elements—some beautiful, undulating tendrils, which would have been impossible to achieve in the same way practically. “They moved so organically,” Gower says.
“After everything was shot practically, VFX worked with our vendors to create the moving vines on his body and remove his missing nose and pupils,” Maher says. “We were very careful to retain as much of Jamie [Campbell Bower]’s performance as possible when augmenting the vines. On several occasions we slowed the crawl speed of the vines in order to preserve what was happening in the shot.”