Stranger Things’ Vecna is the perfect merger of practical makeup and VFX
The fourth season of Stranger Things is over, and I finally got to watch the finale two days ago. Even if you haven’t watched it yet, I’m sure you’ve seen Vecna, the monster appearing in the series’ latest season. I mean, memes are all over the Internet!
Either way, you may find it interesting to see how this creepy creature was made. It was almost entirely practical effects, with a dash of VFX just to make it extra-terrifying. In this video from Vanity Fair, you’ll see how Vecna was made, what challenges the team faced, and you’ll hear plenty of interesting details from the set. Whether you’re a Stranger Things fan or not, I’m sure you’ll find the video really fun.
The video is narrated by Barry Gower himself, the make-up and special effects artist behind Vecna’s costume. He’s also known for his work in Game of Thrones, Chernobyl, and No Time to Die. Duffer Brothers, the creators of Stranger Things, approached him, wanting something like their own version of Game of Thrones’ Night King. And since Gower made the Night King, he was, obviously, the best choice to make Vecna.
Now before we move on, let me warn you that there might be some spoilers in the video if you haven’t seen the entire show. I’ll do my best not to have any in the text.
Creating the prosthetics
After creating concept art and deciding on the look of the monster, the crew made a full-body cast of the actor Jamie Campbell Bower in plaster of Paris. They painted all over it with soap product first and left it to dry. Then they sculpted parts of Vecna over it using wax modeling clay. When it was done, they submerged the entire thing in water overnight so that the soap could reactivate and release the bits of the sculpture. They ended up with around 25 individual pieces.
Later on, the team made molds of those pieces and injected them with different materials such as silicone and foam latex. This was necessary since Vecna needed to move, so the full-body rubber suit wasn’t an option.
The whole application process lasted an incredible eight and a half hours. The materials they used enabled the costume to be very soft, flexible, and move nicely and smoothly. However, the downside was the weight: Gower explains that only the piece covering the head and shoulders weighed between 10 and 15 kilos (20-30 pounds). The heaviest piece was his left hand, considering that there was the costume and a mechanical hand with Vecna’s long fingers. It was quite challenging making that hand and the team thought it was too heavy when they tried wearing it, but Jamie wore it for hours on set like a boss.
Jamie also wore dentures, contact lenses, and his nose was painted so that it could be removed in post. As the final touch, the team would cover him in KY Jelly and lube to give him the glossy, gooey kind of look and feel. Gower reveals that it would take four hours after applying the costume just to apply the jelly and lube on “Vecna.” And I laughed out loud when he said that people on the set would approach to shake Jamie’s hand while he was in the costume, and regret it immediately.
The color palette
Gower reveals that the team looked at a lot of different color references for Vecna’s skin tones and vines. The concept art served them perfectly, but the challenge was translating the colors from 2D and 3D models into practical makeup. The team used different paints and bases, and always looked at real-life references. This required looking at a lot of photos of severe bruising, burns, and scarring, but as Gower points out, that’s a part of an SFX artist’s job.
Practical makeup meets VFX
Vecna’s suit is incredibly detailed and made almost entirely with practical effects. But remember that nose I mentioned? The team painted it black with some white marking dots. This way, the VFX team could remove his nose in post and add the extra creepiness to an already creepy monster. The vines moving around Vecna were also, of course, made in post. But it was done so subtly and neatly that it matches the monster on screen perfectly.
I didn’t want to reveal all of the details from the video, but I only mentioned some of those that left the biggest impression on me. Make sure to watch it and reveal more details and learn how Vecna’s left hand was made There’s even a bonus: Gower talks about creating the makeup for Victor Creel. Of course, feel free to share your thoughts on this video, and Stranger Things 4 in general!
[How Stranger Things’ SFX Artists Created Vecna | Vanity Fair]
Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.