How Stranger Things 4 Created The Monstrous Vecna

After three years of life-threatening monster battles, the Hawkins kids thought they'd faced the worst of The Upside Down, but they were very wrong. "Stranger Things 4" explored darker territory than previous seasons, focusing on trauma and depression, which called for a vicious antagonist. Inspired by classic slashers like "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Halloween," the Duffer Brothers wanted an iconic monster to match the harsh themes, and they knew the man they wanted for the job.

Barrie Gower created The Night King on "Game of Thrones" and the radiation burns in "Chernobyl," both of which impressed The Duffers, so they recruited his talents for their latest season. Gower joined the "Stranger Things" team to create Vecna, the most powerful villain yet to emerge from The Upside Down.

In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Gower detailed how he used prosthetics, makeup, and a mechanical left arm to create Vecna.

Concept to cast

Prior to Gower joining the series, Michael Mayer created concept art of the dark wizard, which Gower used as a blueprint for the monster. Moving from concept to reality proved to be a complicated process with many steps. The use of a full-body rubber suit would have been the easiest way to create Vecna's costume, but Gower disliked the limitations of that option:

"The character was going to be ... it was going to have a lot of very intense, strenuous kind of movements in the show. He was going to be interacting with a lot of the main cast and we wanted to avoid any kind of buckling that you get with a rubber suit."

This decision meant the implementation of overlapping prosthetics and full-body makeup, which both proved to be complicated processes.

The first step in creating Vecna's prosthetics was to create a life-size cast of the actor portraying Vecna, Jamie Campbell Bower, to ensure the resulting appliances would properly fit. The entire body cast was first covered in soap, and then Vecna was sculpted using modeling clay on top of it. Once the sculpting was finished, the team submerged the sculpture in water, which reactivated the soap and allowed the clay to separate from the cast. The sculpted clay was separated into 24 or 25 different pieces and then injected with silicone latex, which created the prosthetics that created Vecna.

Sea life, bruises, and a mechanical hand

Gower's next task was to create Vecna's full-body makeup and the artist took inspiration from some unlikely sources:

"We looked at a lot of different sea life. We looked at a lot of bruising on people who'd have severe knocks to the skin, lots of greens and blues and purples."

Gower used these references of marine life and trauma to develop Vecna's color scheme:

"We actually had a makeup palette designed by a company called Premiere Products which had 10 different colors that we were able to use as a base each day as well. We'd only have one makeup palette and we had 10 different colors. So those are the colors that we use for the entire Vecna paint scheme in the end."

In addition to prosthetics and body makeup, Gower had to create Vecna's weapon of choice.

The monster kills his victims by penetrating their skulls with his freakishly long fingers, so it was an important piece of the special effects puzzle. Bower had to have control of the fingers for the kill scenes, but that would have been difficult if they used latex appendages, so Bower made the fingers mechanical. In the end, Gower was satisfied with the movement of the mechanical fingers, but their length didn't translate well on screen:

"They looked incredible when he was moving them but they almost became a bit comical when he was trying to penetrate some fingers into the head. So we actually reduced the length of the fingers probably by about four to six inches."

Once the mechanical fingers were shortened, Gower's team struggled with the weight of it during tests and worried Bower wouldn't be able to sustain it for long shooting days. However, the actor came to Gower's workshop to test the hand and wore it for hours without a problem.

Applying Vecna

In addition to a heavy hand, it took 8½ hours to apply prosthetics and makeup to Bower, which added even more heft. He also wore sclera contacts and false teeth. After adding a heavy medical gel that prevents buckling, the head and shoulder prosthetics alone weighed close to 30 pounds, so Bower really pulled his weight on set.

While he physically transformed into Vecna, Bower also used the application time to emotionally transform into the dark wizard. Gower recalls watching the actor get into character:

"For Jamie, in particular, he did go into a zen-like mode. We would start off with music every day and because of the character, I think Jamie liked to listen to some quite aggressive, quite intense death metal. And it would be quite hardcore. There would definitely be a part during the process where he would become Vecna. He was murmuring things under his breath and you could tell he was definitely getting into the Vecna zone."

A lot of respect goes to Gower for his ability to concentrate on the task at hand with Bower mumbling about murder in Vecna's voice.

The blend of Gower's extraordinary practical effects with Bower's dedication to the role provided the Duffers with an iconic monster and the rest of us with nightmare fuel.