Vines, gore, and rifts galore: Behind Stranger Things’ season 4 VFX

4th season Strange things subjected the kids of Hawkins, Indiana to some of the most terrifying experiences they’ve ever had (which is saying a lot) as they battled a new threat from a sinister dimension known as the Upside Down. He also tested the mettle of the show’s visual effects teams, who were tasked with delivering the most explosive and massive scenes from the Netflix hit yet, as well as some of the most terrifying environments.

Between visual effects studios to work Strange things season four was Scanline VFX, the Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated studio responsible for creating movie magic on HBO game of Thrones and those of Marvel Captain America: The Winter Soldier, among other projects. The Scanline team created more than 220 shots in the season’s eight episodes, including the horrifying aftermath of the Hawkins Lab massacre and various elements of the Upside Down and portal-like “cracks” between our world and that dark dimension. To learn more about his work on the season, Digital Trends spoke with Justin Mitchell, Scanline’s VFX Supervisor at Strange things.

[Note: The following interview includes a discussion of key plot points — and surprises — from season 4 of the series.]

Digital Trends: Your team has been working on the insides of Hawkins Lab after almost everyone has been wiped out, with all the blood, bodies, and destruction. What does such a job entail? It looks creepy.

Justin Mitchell: Most of our work on that series involved digital matte painting. There was a massacre, there were paramedics and children who were all dead on the floor, and there was blood and broken tiles on the walls where people had been crushed against them. There was a lot of disfigurement, broken limbs and the like, because when One, or Vecna, kills his victims, he does it by shooting them in the arms and legs and gouging out their eyes, which is pretty creepy.

With children, we would create three-dimensional digital representations of them, and then create a matte image of their limbs in a broken state. This is because, when they were filmed, the children were in disfigured poses, but without prosthetics and with very little makeup. So the job involved a lot of trying to prove that his bones were broken, as well as increasing the damage in that area.

It’s more than just adding a bloodstain.

Definitely yes.

A broken and bloody body lies on the lab floor in a scene from Stranger Things season 4.A bloody hand lies limp in a scene from Stranger Things season 4.

Moving forward a bit, his team also worked on the Rift of the Upside Down that we see in Eddie’s trailer, and a few others that appear throughout the season. What went into creating the look of those elements?

Yeah, the splits have definitely been a running theme for us this season. We created cracks of all shapes and sizes, and the cracks had to not only appear, but also travel through every possible material. [They had to go through] loft boards, through people, through Eddie’s trailer, and through landscapes, trees, and buildings, finally crashing in downtown Hawkins. There was even a crack that ran through the lake.

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So we had to really explore how to create connective tissue between all these different cracks and make them consistent. It built heavily on a precedent set from previous seasons. Cracks appeared in those seasons, so we borrowed from language that was already established, but they didn’t really look to this point or move in the way that we envisioned them this season.

It’s one thing for them to be present, but actually moving around changes things, I guess.

That works. The elements that formed the cracks were often some kind of rigid body simulation, such as a building collapsing into a crack, the floor splitting open, or wooden planks breaking. But there was also some kind of fleshy mold growing on the edges of the cracks, which helped create a sort of transition zone between the actual photography and the CGI elements.

There were also vines crawling from the Upside Down, through the opening of the rift. The vine is a very important part Strange things, especially this season, as they act as an extension of Vecna, part of his hivemind. And then there was the membrane, a kind of fleshy barrier that stretched the full width of the crack. The membrane basically serves as a passage between the right side up and the wrong side, and when you go through that membrane, you’re on the other side of that world.

The characters from Stranger Things look at a portal in the ceiling of a room.Gooey Nether Stretch from Stranger Things season 4.

And then you have to set everything on fire.

Law. That red and amber light shining from the cracks was an important part of the language of that universe, especially since a lot of our scenes were set at night and it was important to show how the cracks traveled, which was sometimes hard to do. in the dark That red light illuminated the crack itself, but it also illuminated neighboring buildings or trees, things like that.

For Rifts in particular, it feels like you have to fit a lot of elements introduced in previous seasons into one cohesive shot. Is that correct?

I think it’s fair to say yes. I did not work in Strange things before, but our company worked in the third season in an underground Russian base where they dug a crack. We do a lot of research and try to update existing knowledge about Strange things. As a show, they have grown a lot. In the beginning, the budgets were quite small and many things were done practically. Now they’re Netflix’s flagship product, so the budgets are more substantial and there’s more hands-on time and so we’re trying to up the ante a bit.

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A crack forms in the middle of a character leaning against a wall in a scene from Stranger Things.A crack forms in the middle of a character leaning against a wall in a scene from Stranger Things.A crack forms in the middle of a character leaning against a wall in a scene from Stranger Things.

His team did a lot of work on episode 9, including the interiors of the Creel house with its vines and spooky atmosphere. What influenced the creation of the haunted house atmosphere?

In fact, they had the Creel house on the set, so we created a digital replica of what was there, instead of creating the whole thing. What we mainly did at Creel House was add vines that children tread carefully…


Yes of course. It’s not going very well. Eventually, those vines grab them and pin them against the wall, but of course, they manage to escape. So, all the vines were animated. There were some practical vines that were trained on set, and the art department also put vines on the walls, so we tried to match the aesthetic that was there. But the vines trained on set didn’t actually move, while ours did. So we had to match the vines and the base, both of which are important aspects. stranger thingwith…

VFX footage of the interior of the creepy house from Stranger Things season 4.VFX footage of the interior of the creepy house from Stranger Things season 4.


Yes, it’s something that’s almost like snakeskin, that webbed structure that often appears on the edges of crevices and around vines. It’s actually made of melted bubble wrap. We did a digital rendering, but that’s how it’s done on set. So we also had to create a digital lower leg in our sequences. You can see it in Eddie’s trailer when the rift is widening and the scenes where the kids go through the rift. He also appears in the Creel house and in the rainbow room sequence where Eleven fights Uno and ends up carving a crack through him in the wall behind him.

VFX footage of the interior of the creepy house from Stranger Things season 4.VFX footage of the interior of the creepy house from Stranger Things season 4.

You mentioned this scene before, but tell me more about the big destruction sequence at the end of the season with Hawkins separating the four cracks that came together. You had to create it in a night setting and then we see it again in daylight. How did that scene evolve?

We had a digital representation of Hawkins, and sometimes there were [camera-shot] panels used in it, some of which were completely CG. This gave us control over the lighting, but we had to tweak the environment language a bit to make it work during the day. Red lighting doesn’t work as well [in the daytime], for example, because it competes with daylight. The tradeoff is that you can see the reflection of the fleshy mold and the physical nature of the vines and their sliminess during the day. But it was all based on the same environment and language, ultimately.

VFX art showing the four rifts merging in the middle of the city in Stranger Things.VFX art showing the four rifts merging in the middle of the city in Stranger Things.VFX art showing the four rifts merging in the middle of the city in Stranger Things.VFX art showing the four rifts merging in the middle of the city in Stranger Things.

Did some takes turn out weirder than you expected? Any unexpected challenges that came up with certain scenes?

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There are always challenges, but often they are not the things you expect. That big penultimate sequence in Hawkins had a lot of complex elements and layers to work with, so it was complex, but that’s different from being really problematic. The Creel house sequence was a challenge though, because when they filmed that sequence, there was a great atmosphere on the actual set, and the kids were walking around with flashlights and shining the vines to see where they were going. We had to match all the movement of the lamps so that the lighting of the CG elements would change when hit by the lamps in the same way that the practical elements lit up on set.

What made it particularly tricky was that the beam from the flashlight also illuminated dust or smoke in the air. we get along [visual effects] elements in front of and behind the children as they walk, and we also had to match the density of the atmosphere and the light passing through it with the illumination of the actual surfaces. Those things were some of the hardest things to properly integrate.

Gooey Nether Stretch from Stranger Things season 4.

Finally, I have to ask: what is it like to work on such a big project? Strange things? It’s such a cultural cornerstone now that it has to feel a little different on the inside.

Could not be happier. It was great. I was delighted to have the opportunity to continue working Strange things. It’s a show that I loved regardless of the visual effects, which were really great throughout the seasons. I’m a fan. I remember the ’80s as a highlight of my teenage years, so deep down that just adds to the enjoyment of watching the show. I think the Duffers did a great job of creating a balance of genres and styles between Steven Spielberg and Stephen King.

The horror adventure genre is very entertaining and the story is excellent. Sometimes it’s a bit bittersweet as a visual effects artist working on something you really enjoy, because you get spoilers and you know what’s going to happen before anyone else. But she was very excited to work on the play and it was a great experience.

4th season Strange things is now available on Netflix.

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