Barrie Gower admits he was quite worried before the release of Stranger Things Season 4. The special makeup effects department head had a lot to do with the premiere: his team was tasked with bringing the series’ villain, Vecna, to life. He needn’t have worried. Their efforts earned them an Emmy nomination.
But before the molds were cast and the glue dried, show creators Matt and Ross Duffer took inspiration from their childhood iconic villains to create the monster. Including Pinhead, Pennywise and Freddy Krueger. (Robert Englund, who famously portrayed the sadistic “Elm Street” killer, appears as Victor Creel in “Stranger Things”). The result is a meaner, darker, more menacing menace to the people of the small town of Hawkins, using trance-like spells to mentally traumatize its victims before killing them in truly horrific ways. Bones break, eyes go out. The design process began with concept art by Michael Maher Jr., who serves as VFX supervisor (also an Emmy nominee). Those blueprints were sent to Gower in the UK, where the team decided early on that Vecna should be built as a multi-piece prosthetic over something resembling a rubber suit because of its sleek, humanoid shape. Next, Jamie Campbell Bower was cast in the role, across from the other 176 actors who auditioned.
“We knew [Vecna] I needed to feel iconic in a cast that already has a ton of iconic characters and Jamie’s energy, even with scenes not yet from the show [fake sides were provided for the actors], immediately felt like a potential icon,” says casting director Carmen Cuba, who was also nominated for an Emmy. “Jamie just nailed the opening scenes, had an intensity but also a playfulness that really came through. We were very enthusiastic about him right from the start.”
Campbell credits the appointment for helping to create a mood board. “I fell in love with this character straight away,” he says. “When you stumble across a project and it feels right, there’s an energy surrounding it and I felt that from the start. I felt absolutely energized by it.”
With Campbell as the antagonist, the makeup team created a full-body plaster cast and began construction. “We modeled Vecna over it in modeling clay and then figured out where to split it in a jigsaw puzzle of prosthetic pieces,” says Gower. To create Vecna’s molds, about 25 overlapping sections were created, injected with different materials depending on the piece. Medical-grade silicone gel was used for his chest and back because it is translucent when painted and moves without kinking. Foam latex made up the thicker areas like his arms and legs because it’s lightweight, while latex made up the bottoms of his feet so it wouldn’t wear down as he walked.
A mechanical glove with finger extensions and covered in a foam latex sheath was created for Vecna’s long, menacing left hand, which he uses to levitate his victims before penetrating their skulls. “We were concerned that Jamie would tire due to the long fingers, but after an early test where he wore the glove for five hours, he had no complaints,” notes Gower.
Completing the prosthetics consisted of airbrushing an evocative array of purple, black and blue-flecked tones based on the concept art. “We looked to marine life and animal references for the color scheme,” says Gower. And the team couldn’t come by with a single version of Vecna. They made about 25 double sets since removing parts of Campbell’s body destroyed the delicate vinyl edges at the end of the day.
Applying everything to Campbell’s body is a demanding process that took about eight hours to get started. To find his character, the actor listened to heavy metal and thrash metal. The initial transformation was also a lesson for Campbell. “The prostheses are not as sensitive as the skin, so I felt I had to move my face more with them. And then I have these false teeth that changed the way I talk. I was thinking about how to use that, so I started grinding my own teeth because there’s a layer of plastic between the two.” The result produced a deep, raspy voice that’s about as menacing as Vecna’s looks .
While Vecna is a hands-on villain, visual effects came in to add subtle spice. “We applied this effect called UV Crawl, which is a texture movement along the tendrils of Vecna’s body to give it that eerie feeling of crawling tendril movement,” says Maher. “So every shot he’s in is a visual effects shot because we matched every single vine on his body with the practical suit.” VFX also created Previs for all the CG camera movements when Vecna’s his Kills victims, creating full digital body duplicates of the characters as he snaps and twists their bones, sending them to the ground.
Gower says the response has been overwhelming. “We’ve never had that kind of reaction to a character. There is so much love for which we are so grateful. This is all thanks to our team and we are delighted that the work has been recognised.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/awards/story/2022-08-10/special-effects-vecna-stranger-things-emmys Why the evil Vecna is destined for the monster hall of fame