How Stranger Things Used Practical Effects To Transform (Spoiler) Into Vecna For Season 4
Vecna delivered new kinds of horrors on Stranger Things, and the prosthetics artist explained how practical effects pulled it off.
Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD for Vol. 1 of Stranger Things Season 4.
Stranger Things fans had to wait nearly three full years for Season 4, and the show rewarded viewers by delivering a new villain who makes the Demogorgon from Season 1 almost pale in comparison. Vecna forms psychic connections with victims in Hawkins without leaving the Upside Down, and punches a new gate with each person he kills. The final episode of Vol. 1 revealed that his identity before he was banished to the Upside Down was One, played by Jamie Campbell Bower. One and Vecna could hardly look more different, so prosthetics makeup artist Barrie Gower broke down how the team transformed Bower’s One into Vecna.
Vecna was actually the third iteration of this one character, as the end of the last episode of Vol. 1 – fittingly titled “The Massacre at Hawkins Lab” – revealed that his origin story went back to the 1950s as Henry Creel, but it was after his killing spree as One that Eleven sent him to the Upside Down, and ultimately turned him into the monstrous villain in the Stranger Things present. Unlike the physical form of the Mind Flayer that was the product of some incredible special effects in Season 3, Vecna is the actor in some remarkable prosthetics, and Barrie Gower broke down why the show went for a practical villain in the record-breaking Season 4:
Matt and Ross Duffer evidently were determined that the villain of Season 4 would be more “grounded” and “practical,” which certainly explains why this season delivered the first Upside Down menace who actually uses language and deliberately torments victims from within their own minds. The Vecna who fans saw in action in the first volume wasn’t fully computer-generated or 100% the product of visual effects, but his look was largely created by the practical prosthetics. That meant a lot of time for the prosthetics makeup team and Jamie Campbell Bower, as Barrie Gower continued to explain:
It’s safe to say that Jamie Cambell Bower's time in the makeup chair to play One for Eleven’s flashbacks was a lot shorter than his transformation into Vecna, but Vecna is sure to go down as one of the most unforgettable parts of the fourth season. He delivers different kinds of scares than the Demogorgon of Season 1 and the incarnations of the Mind Flayer in Seasons 2 and 3, with an almost Freddy Krueger-esque set of powers. (Barrie Gower also opened up about the experience of working with Nightmare on Elm Street’s Robert Englund for Stranger Things.)
So, what started the prosthetics process of transforming Jamie Campbell Bower into Vecna? Barrie Gower explained how it all began and the long process of perfecting the look of the new villain:
There’s a reason why creating the look in the makeup chair each day took between six and nine hours, and Barrie Gower came into the Netflix hit with an impressive list of hit shows to his name as a prosthetics artist, including Game of Thrones, Chernobyl, and The Witcher. Viewers who have already finished Vol. 1 and are anxiously awaiting Vol. 2 can surely appreciate how much work went into the finished product of the villain. After all, few could have guessed that the actor playing One was also the person behind Vecna when first introduced! Gower continued, sharing why they had an advantage with creating the villain for Stranger Things Season 4:
The long hiatus between Season 3 and Season 4 actually resulted in the Duffer brothers having the time to write the entire season before beginning to shoot, which executive producer Shawn Levy revealed was a first in the history of the show. The plans for Vecna were in place for a long time, which helped in the design, as Barrie Gower said:
Vecna’s story isn’t over yet, as Vol. 1 ended with him seemingly more powerful than ever. He has Nancy in his clutches, and Dustin’s theory about him as the Mind Flayer’s “five-star general” creating gates to help the plan to take over the world from the Upside Down puts the promise from the trailer that “war” is coming in a whole new light. The heroes really may need to start reducing that distance between them if they want a shot at saving Hawkins!
Vol. 2 of Stranger Things Season 4 will debut on Friday, July 1 at 12:01 a.m. PT for Netflix subscribers. You can spend the next month revisiting the first three seasons and seven episodes of Season 4, or check out our 2022 TV premiere schedule for some viewing options to help pass the time until Vecna and Co. are back.
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Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. Resident of One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and Northeast Ohio. Will not time travel, but will sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation.
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