The first season of Stranger Things provided the filmmakers with the difficult enough task of authentically replicating the look and feel of the '80s through era-appropriate costumes, sets, and makeup, with each episode diving even further into the series' more unsettling elements and adding even more challenges to the production. With each passing season, the narrative dives even deeper into otherworldly environments, while its fandom also spreads even further, resulting in millions of viewers around the world witnessing the work of the makeup team's attempts to immerse the audience in the nostalgic adventure. In Season 4 of the series, the filmmakers faced their biggest challenges yet, requiring the expert talents of Makeup Department Head Amy L. Forsythe and Co-Department Head Devin Morales.
The storyline of the latest season meant that Forsythe and Morales were tasked not only with embracing the spirit of teenagers in the '80s, but also a full immersion in the Upside Down, as well as a number of other harrowing ordeals our heroes experienced. Given the ambitious and exhilarating storyline this season, this also meant the makeup team had to collaborate with a prosthetics department to create unified looks in a globe-trotting adventure.
ComicBook.com caught up with Forsythe and Morales to talk developing new looks for Season 4, collaborating with other departments, and their favorite experiences on set.
"They care about each other as a family."
ComicBook.com: Since you've been involved in Stranger Things all the way back to Season 1 and had different roles, an evolution over the years, how, if at all, has the whole process changed since you first got involved?
Amy L. Forsythe: Well, Winona [Ryder] brought me in as her personal. It's bonkers, in the beginning, because your agent goes, "Oh, Winona wants you on this thing in Atlanta for six months," and then the next thing you know, you become the department head. I had already seen one of the episodes cut together at that point, and I was like, "Wow, we're making a good show."
So in the beginning, I was only reading her parts, because she was only reading her parts. Certain things were happening on set and we were like, "What is this show?" Like, the monsters coming through the wall. We were like, "What is going on right now?" Then I became department head, and I had to read all the scripts. I went to set and I told [creators Matt and Ross Duffer], I was like, "Wow, these are good." They were like, "Thanks for reading it, Amy."
Ever since I've been the department head, we've really never had a separate prosthetics department, besides big character development teams. Like this season with Barry [Gower] and his team that did Vecna and Mr. Creel. Each season gets bigger, and the scope gets bigger, the needs get bigger. So each season, my team gets bigger, but we're still not prepared for what's about to hit us. It's always a learning curve and a scramble, but everyone really puts in a ton of work, and I think it shows. I think everybody that works on the show cares about the show. And most importantly, they care about each other as a family, so I think those two in combination, along with people's skillset and patience and understanding, all make our show as magical as it can be.prevnext
When it comes to your work, whether it be just specifically on Stranger Things or just your work as a makeup artist in general, what do you think is the most misunderstood part of your job, on set? That, when people are talking to you and they have questions that you say, "Eh, that's not entirely what is within my responsibility,"?
Devin Morales: I think people don't really realize how much logistical and management goes into it all. They think we just do makeup, and then maybe hang out and drink soda all day. I don't know. But we do the makeup, and then we are pouring ourselves into schedules and always working on what's coming up next. So there's really never a dull moment. You're either actively involved in a makeup or you're involved in the planning and organization of making sure whatever's coming up next is going to run smoothly, on the day.
It must be nice when people say, "What's it like just hanging out on set all day?" Wouldn't that be nice if that's how easy it was.
Morales: Oh, my gosh, we always had our computers and our schedules and the work table on set. Just the volume of what we had to do never gave us time to really just hang out.
Forsythe: I am very thankful that our trailer this season, the walls were a whiteboard, so we could literally just spew out all of our information on the wall and both see things and cross things off, and move things around as needed.prevnext
Merging Tattoo Ideas
Eddie Munson has all these tattoos and applying tattoos is within the realm of makeup, but developing them is a whole other part of the development process. There's things like having the puppet master tattoo and then there is the "Master of Puppets" scene in the finale. Could you talk a little bit about that process of developing those tattoos and maybe if there were some other ideas or maybe other Easter eggs that fans might not have picked up on, or that you might have had to cut and redesign for the show?
Forsythe: The design process was pre-COVID and I had only, I think Devin and I only had the first five episodes, at that time. So the end of five is when Steve starts to get attacked by the demobats, so I'm designing these tattoos with a heavy metal kid in mind, somebody that lives in a trailer park, gets kitchen-scratch tattoos. Not the best quality, not really sized the way you're supposed to, you know what I mean? Current day, someone would've gotten it way bigger, on their forearm, it's just like, "Oh, I'm going to center it perfectly." Those weird little nuances.
But with the tattoo designer, I was just like, "Listen. I want this ... Vecna, this is our creature. I really want him to have this puppet hand that's controlling," because he's controlling all of these people and lifting them above the air. Oddly enough, it had nothing to do with "Master of Puppets" and everything to do with me seeing Vecna as a puppet master himself. The tie-in of "Master of Puppets" at the end was completely serendipitous and I love it so much. The bats were just a heavy metal idea, but also I knew that Steve got attacked by bats, so I had no idea that this is how he was going to meet his demise. All of these really cool moments.
And then beyond that, I don't want to say anything because I don't want to ruin all these fan theories. I think they're so great. The amount of attention to detail. I mean, in my brain, I never even realized that the Iron Maiden album cover had Eddie's hand. It's so many things that, now I realize I've seen before, but I wasn't the one drawing the tattoo. I was guiding my artists, so it's like our ideas together created things that are already out there and period-appropriate and heavy metal. I just think that it's the coolest merge of brains and kismet.prevnext
Some of this stuff started happening pre-COVID and there was only supposed to be six months passing in the show, but then ultimately it's a year and a half, two years happen. When so many of your actors that you're putting makeup on should be a little bit younger than what their actual age is, is there much consideration for that, to try to age the characters down, since you're trying to make them appear maybe a little bit younger, but you're not putting prosthetics on them or anything?
Morales: I think we've seen these characters grow up, so we've seen what they look like when they're at events and high fashion. I think in the context of our show, with some of our main characters that are meant to be younger, it's all about a less-is-more approach. We like for real skin to show. Sometimes blemishes can come through, because that's what we were going through as teenagers. I think it's more about taking away some of the details that look modern with them and just keeping things looking real, like they're not made up, is actually more important than what we put on them.
And Amy, on your Instagram, I saw you talking about closing up piercing holes and things like that.
Forsythe: Piercing holes, and then even something as simple as Caleb [McLaughlin], who plays Lucas, he really wanted a mustache. And it's like, "I get it. You're on the basketball team and you're idolizing all these professional basketball players at the time. So yeah, you want a mustache." But the Duffers are like, "No, Patrick has the mustache and that shows that he's older and can have a mustache. And Lucas desperately wants to be older." So it's things like that. They are freshmen. You want to remember that they are younger than everybody else. Because these actors are a little bit older, you want to make sure that you keep them looking younger, and having all these high school kids that look older than them, it really brings the world together and it makes sense.prevnext
Collaborating for the Greater Good
We talked about how prosthetics were incorporated into this season in a much higher degree than previous seasons, and then also visual effects, more CGI is brought in, in a different way. When you're putting together these looks, is there a part of you that maybe the stress is alleviated a little bit when you know, "I'm going to put this look out there, but then CGI might come in, visual effects might come in," or is it sometimes a little bit frustrating when you put this impeccable makeup look on a character, and then the final product, you can't see all of the details of it because of visual effects?
Forsythe: I feel like we have such a communicative relationship with the showrunners, the creators, the directors, VFX, everybody across the board. We've been doing this together for so long that, it's a collaboration, and it's not like ... I was just talking about this with Devin earlier. It's not like a, "This is mine. You can't take it from me," type of thing, in any department. It's a ... The grievers in the woods were supposed to be VFX. I think they realized, the higher-ups realized, "We have so much to do in post right now, we need help. How much does this cost, if we do something on the day, that all we have to do is clean up a little bit and enhance it a little bit?"
It's things like that where, I never thought that those were going to be us, because it was always supposed to be a VFX. Then they're like, "Can you help us?" And I'm like, "Okay, now that's stressful because that happens in two weeks. How can we make this happen?" Jason Collins at Autonomous Effects helped us, sculpted all these pieces. We went back and forth, him and Devin and I, on the design of the sculpts. Then Devin's helping with the prep of the design of the grievers, but I think we had three tests of a lead griever. Then she's putting together these packages for all of our day players to come in on the day, and make it cohesive.
That being said, it didn't happen the first time we were supposed to, they punted that scene. So suddenly, we were fully staffed, ready to go, and they were like, "Actually, we can't do this, because the foliage doesn't look right." So we're like, "Okay." And then down the road in the spring, they say, "In two weeks, we're going to actually do that scene now." It's so busy and it's so hard to find people. There's so many shows right now that are high-prosthetic, high-character work. It's hard to just pick someone for one day. Devin found an incredible team, some of which we kept for the run of show afterwards, and it worked out.
Those things, like those small details, you can't be precious about too many things when it comes to our show, because ultimately you know any decision is for the greater good of the show, and everyone wants it to be the best it can be. I don't know if I actually answered your question. I think I just talked in a giant circle.
I think, especially on social media, sometimes people who aren't actually involved in creating the thing, there ends up being these debates of visual effects versus prosthetic or practical effects and how one is better than the other. You absolutely answered it, because you're speaking to how the entire Stranger Things team, from VFX to filmmakers to practical effects, everybody just wants the best product and everybody's collaborating together.
Forsythe: Right. I mean, even when Eddie died, there were five of us makeup artists killing him in one of the trailers in the trailer park. It took us an hour and a half to put 24 prosthetics on, and we bring him to set, and there's not enough time to cut his clothes open, so we don't see any of it. But you know what? That doesn't matter. Like, yeah, yeah, we did it, but the gore of how he died doesn't matter, it's his facial expressions. You see the stuff on his face. He's having that moment with Dustin. That's what matters, so you have to learn to let go of those things.
It's the tiny, subtle details that matter to us, like a small scar on Fred's cheek. The wounds on Steve, after being dragged in the lake, in the bat-bite fight. That is part of his look, it's not like a one-off, "I'm dying," and whatever. Those are the details that matter, and they are a crossover between character makeup and prosthetics. So it's just being able to marry the two, in a way, where it's not noticeable, I think is the fun part.prevnext
"Stranger Things is a dream job."
Amy had her fingers in Stranger Things since the beginning. For you Devin, coming on later in the series, was there any part of you that was a little apprehensive of, "Well now I don't get to watch it as a fan, and I'm going to know the spoilers, and I'm going to see how the sausage is made," or was it, "Hell no, I want to get involved, as much as I can,"?
Morales: As an artist, Stranger Things is a dream job. Like Amy said, you're doing prosthetics one minute, you're doing a beauty makeup. You're covering somebody in slime. So I was just super excited about the possibility of working on a period show, and doing something as creative as Stranger Things. I had been in and out for a couple of days, here and there, on other seasons, so I definitely had a little behind-the-scenes information, because it's one big community here. But no, it was, like I said, just a dream.
And honestly, it was still exciting to see it all cut together, because there was so much happening at different times that there were scenes that I wasn't there for. So there were still things that surprised me as an audience member. So I got to still live in that, a little.prevnext
Whether it be because of the energy they bring or the music they want to listen to in the trailer, who was your favorite or who is someone that you always loved to hang out with in the trailer, to do their makeup for?
Morales: Oh man. There's no way I could pick a favorite. Don't do that to me. I will say that, one thing that I got to see that was exciting is my friend Mason [Dye], who played Jason. I always called him Mason, Jason. We had worked together on a small project years ago, so when I saw his name come through, I was super excited for him. Because in this industry, we meet a lot of people along the way, so it was super exciting to see a friend get a big break, to do an awesome role that he got. A big congrats to Mason.
But yeah, everybody's super fun. Everyone brings a different energy. There's a lot of musicians in our cast, so there's always a lot of music. As a Broadway fan, I totally geek out when Gaten [Matarazzo] starts singing in the trailer. So there's just a lot of fun moments with everyone, and there's so many different groups of people, that it's fun to have the energy of the different groups coming in. You've got the teenagers, and then you've got the group of Russian prisoners, and we went to Lithuania. So we just met so many different people along the way. Yeah, there's no way to choose.
Forsythe: Well, I'll say that over the years, who spends the most time in my chair each season changes so much, that I'm just grateful. I know this is not answering your question, but I'm just grateful to get the time each season with different cast members and get to know them a little bit more than I had before. I got to know a lot of the kids when they were coming of age, and now they're all adults, and they're in all these other people's chairs. Now I'm dealing more with the teens and the grownups and it's just nice to meet everybody after being on hiatus and catching up and seeing what they've been up to.
And yeah, there's no favorites. I do know that there is one new cast member that everyone was fighting to get into their chair, and that is Yuri, Niko [Djuricko] that plays Yuri. He's just a very fun, new energy to have in the trailer. So because of our show, and how big it became, and how many units we had and how many cities we had, a lot of people switched chairs a lot. Especially with COVID being a thing, I wanted to make sure everyone in the trailer knew how to do everyone's makeup, just in case they went down. It was a preservation thing, but also, it's like, "You can't be precious about your actor, because you might end up on this unit. Your actor might be on this unit."
I feel like everyone did really get to know each other this season, as opposed to previous seasons, where people only had one artist. So I think it really, even though we didn't have as much of a social circle because of COVID, in our trailer, everyone got to know each other a little bit more, because of COVID. Which is, I think, special.prevnext
"What is our life?"
This is going to be another "favorite" question, but there's no personalities that are necessarily involved, so hopefully I can get a little more specific than, "Everybody is incredible and amazing all the time." As far as favorite looks to get to bring to life, because you do get to have the more glamorous looks for Nancy and Robin when they're pretending to be students going to the mental institution or doing the more gruesome gore effects, or even just a favorite day on set to get to observe how your look that you're putting together is coming to life right in front of you. Do you have favorite looks or favorite days on set?
Morales: The Nancy and Robin glow-up, for sure, was a good thing to touch on. I will say, that could also touch on my favorite day on set, because I was with Nancy through most of that, and the scene where they were with Robert Englund. You can't help but geek out when you're touching up Nancy and Freddy Krueger's just having conversations behind you. You just internalize it, but it's special moments like that that make our job fun. Yeah, that's definitely a favorite.
And I would say my other favorite, another glam moment, was bringing Virginia Creel to life. Who knew we would get into the '50s, on an '80s show? So that was a really fun makeup, and a little bit of an unexpected challenge, because she's not a natural blonde. Amy bleached her eyebrows, we had to tone that, to do the wig, so we really did transform her look, so that was a lot of fun.
Forsythe: And then she had to come back and we couldn't bleach her eyebrows, so we had to put lace eyebrows on her. We had to block her brows, and then put lace eyebrows on her. It's just those weird little moments where it's like, "Oh, we established this makeup, and then now we have to recreate it, when it can't literally be what's on your face already." But those are so, it's a fun challenge. It's just like, "How can I make this seamless, without anybody knowing?"
I'd say it would have to be some of the gulag stuff [was my favorite]. I just really love the textures, and the grime and the teeth and the tattoos, and all that stuff that ... You don't really see any of it, singularly. But just the feel of it all, and the costumes, the way the actors were. We did a lot in Lithuania, but then when we brought it to Atlanta, we were on the stage, and we did the big cell scene, and the last supper, and the Demogorgon pit. Where, all that stuff, we're all joking off set, on the sidelines, and goofing off and doing whatever, having some fun. And then there's these really heavy moments, and it's just the juxtaposition between trying to keep it light, while these people are getting ready for their death scene. "It's really fun," question mark?
But I have a video of an actor pulling a goof on Devin where he had a rubber hand in his sleeve, and he was like, "Oh, Devin, I hurt my hand." Then he pulls his finger, and it just keeps stretching. The makeups are fun, texturally. You're taking all the skin tone out of their faces, like the healthy skin tones. You're adding another texture on top of that, so the light can't really reflect off of their skin, and just make them look a little bit more dead inside. Just having those moments, then also being able to have a little bit of fun on the sidelines. I think it's a really special thing.
Anytime you get to answer a question with, "Probably my favorite day was the gulag," to get to have that job of, "Well, there's slime on some days, and a gulag on another day. And we're killing Eddie in a trailer. Five of us gathered around to kill Eddie." There's worse jobs to have.
Yeah, these are the conversations we have. It just sounds so normal, in our conversations, but people are like, "What?" But yeah, it's like roller-skating rink to gulag. Like, what is our life?
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.prev