The VFX And Sound Artists Of ‘Stranger Things’ Created The ‘Otherworldly And Monstrous’ Vecna
Creating the visuals and audio for the antagonist, Vecna, a dangerous vine, was an important part of Stranger Things’ ambitious fourth season. According to Emmy-nominated visual effects supervisor Michael Maher Jr., series creators Matt and Ross Duffer drew early inspiration for the character from the Nightmare on Elm Street and Hellraiser franchises, respectively. Nearly 30 effects vendors contributed to the project’s final tally of 4,400 VFX shots. DNEG, Digital Domain, Rodeo FX, Lola, and Important Looking Pirates are among the companies on this list, as is Scanline, which Netflix purchased in November.
Maher, a concept artist, explains that they went through several designs for Vecna before settling on one that combined elements from both the Upside Down and Dungeons & Dragons to connect the character to the appearance of Henry Creel (Jamie Campbell Bower), who is later revealed to be Vecna.
Head of the special makeup effects department Barrie Gower has been nominated for an Emmy for his work on the series’ prosthetic makeup, which began with the creation of a detailed prosthetic suit. The character’s face and the snaking vine movement around him were enhanced by digital visual effects.
A texture animation was used to add vine motion in the second case. According to Maher, “It took a lot of body matching and painstaking effort to match everything to his on-set performance. [The Duffers] didn’t want him to feel like he’s literally levitating, so we’d always give the vines a little movement to make it look like they’re actually holding him up.” They were very particular about this because they didn’t want him to get the impression he was floating.”
On the other hand, he says, “we were very careful to maintain the actor’s performance.” And whenever we added to the face, especially the nose, we were very careful not to detract from the performance.
To meet script requirements, the effects team created a fully CG Vecna, and many of the final shots include the actor wearing the suit alongside VFX. “Whenever we get into the moments when he’s burning, [those were] complete CG takeovers,” Maher says of the final episode.
Sound editors and mixers, nominated for Emmys, contributed to Vecna’s sinister atmosphere. We took great care to ensure that when you heard Vecna’s voice, you could tell he wasn’t human. It wasn’t just his voice; it was his entire body, from head to toe. Will Files, who worked as a supervising sound editor and rerecording mixer alongside Craig Henighan, says, “We had to make sure that everything about him sounded otherworldly and monstrous.” Mark Paterson (re-recording mixer) and Michael P. Clark (production sound mixer) also contributed key sounds.
Henighan claims that for Vecna’s voice, they manipulated Campbell Bower’s performance so that “the clarity, strength, and power was there.” I wanted it to be a special-sounding bad guy because [Jamie’s] performance was so good, but I couldn’t process it in a way that made it feel to a monastery or too low sounding, because you need to understand every single nuance in Jamie’s voice.”
Meanwhile, Vecna’s footsteps and other sound effects were made to be weighty and damp.”
The Duffers immediately understood that we had to give him a dampened tone. Files say that when Vecna walked, they layered “wet, slimy sounds,” and he processed them to give them a sort of larger-than-life sound. “They always wanted him to sound gooey and always moving and undulating,” Files says, laughing. To paraphrase: “Like, ‘How do I make this sound big, bad, and cool?'” This can be accomplished with the help of many ’60s and ’70s techniques, such as overdriving, analog-style distortion, and saturation.” The group also added a slithering sound to the vines that were wrapped around Vecna’s body.
The show’s creators, Matt and Ross Duffer, told The Hollywood Reporter that Vecna reminded them of horror movie villains they saw as kids. We discussed the cultural landmarks that made me uneasy and tried to figure out why. To paraphrase what Ross says. In contrast, the antagonist represents the Duffer brothers’ never-ending quest to surprise and delight the show’s viewers.
Matt claims that the audience response grows louder with each passing year. “Even if we set out to please everyone, we’d go insane trying.”
The episode “The Massacre at Hawkins Lab,” in which Vecna’s backstory is revealed, is consistent with the Duffer brothers’ willingness to experiment with narrative and structural conventions. We took our time because we wanted to get it right, says Ross. The 98-minute episode was not scheduled for the season. “We went to Netflix and requested an extra episode,” Ross explains. I don’t recall anyone saying, “It’ll be movie length,” but that’s exactly what it was.
This article first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter. Originally published in The Hollywood Reporter magazine’s August issue.
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