daylong How did you come to work on Stranger Things?
Çubuk Amy L. Forsythe: Winona Ryder brought me on for the first season as her personal, and I became the department head at the end of season one. I’ve had such a surreal journey with the show.
Devin Morales: Amy and I worked together previously and I worked on the show a bit in between other jobs. I was so happy to join the team as co-department head for season 4. It was a big season that filmed with multiple units running, multiple locations and we needed the support of each other and our team to get the job done.
How closely did you work with Winona Ryder to create Joyce’s makeup design?
AF: Winona and I were on the same page about Joyce from day one. Each season she starts off more polished than the last but winds up with a deconstructed look by the end. I loved her arc this season with the dirt and blood we were able to play with; my favorite shot was her and Hopper clutching each other in the Demogorgon pit as the helicopter comes to save them.
Eleven has really come into her own this past season. How did you approach evolving her look over the series?
AF: Eleven has been a “no makeup” makeup unless we want to add something different to her story. For instance, in season 2, the punks give Eleven her first real makeover, then she adopts that style with colors from the Wheeler ladies’ palette for the snowball dance. In season 3, she is brought to the mall, exposed to what a normal adolescent girl is exposed to, and we see her choose her own look for the first time. In season 4, she has a moment where we see her make the effort to go pick up her boyfriend from the airport only for it to end in tragedy. Without the minimal makeup she had put on, it wouldn’t have given us that ability to convey the sadness as her mascara leaves a tear streak down her cheek.
You use some unconventional products to create the show’s many looks. What are some of those items you always have on hand?
AF: Each season brings another supernatural element to put into the recipe box: Season 1 introduced interdimensional slime; Season 2 added a mud creation with espresso grounds mixed in for grit; Season 3 was all about MAC Llipglass on the flayed characters and the delicious espresso and granola fertilizer; this past season we used a lot of Tatcha Dew Spray and sunscreens in the Upside Down to reflect the lighting off the characters’ skin.
DM: We love mixing our own formulas for our supernatural world. We use a lot of MAC Lipglass and KY Jelly for shine. Monistat Chafing Gel is great for the last step in making sure tattoos aren’t sticky.
The authenticity of the makeup design really comes into focus when you look at the background as well as the main characters’ looks. Was there anything especially challenging about creating such a large amount of designs?
AF: The Duffers want to have the luxury of pushing in on any background actor at any moment and having it read authentic. Because of this, we have a very detailed approach to our background world. There are no modern lash extensions or nails, an array of period-correct polishes, eyeshadows, and blushes are always in the tent. Because of Covid, we were able to have fittings with every background actor this season. This really gave us time on the day of shooting to focus on bringing these characters to life. My favorite moments are like the sunburned couple in the Lenora airport – just little added bonuses of what would really be happening in the world surrounding our main characters.
DM: There are definitely some challenges to erasing any modern traces from a large group. That means effectively communicating your expectations with the background actors and the makeup artist coming in. We are always looking for modern elements that take you out of that ‘80s moment like ear piercings or tattoos that don’t make sense for the time.
Did the design change much for the characters after they moved to California?AF: The background world changed exponentially in that we wanted to immerse our Hawkins characters in a world unknown to them as if they’ve been plopped into an ‘80s movie where everyone around them is a perfect cinematic version of themselves. Skin prep was important to show a glowing quality that the residents of Hawkins aren’t capable of possessing.
Stranger Things is one of the most iconic television projects that has come around in years and your work has received accolades from the start of the series. Have you felt any pressure to outdo yourself each season due to all of the attention the series has received?
AF: We don’t feel pressured to outdo ourselves per se, but there is a bar we’ve set that we want to stay true to the characters and the world we’ve created. Each season gets bigger and more demanding so we try to elevate ourselves and give the fans the production value that they deserve.
Each season we unveil a little more of the world surrounding our main characters, which is fun, attempting to give who they come across each their own iconic ‘80s look, whether it be glam, weathered, innocent, bully or revealing more about the upside down creatures and the manner in which they attack. Growing up in the ‘80s really gives me that nostalgia to pull from characters that made lasting effects on me, hoping that the evolution of these looks in our characters gives our viewers the same moments to grow up with.
DM: I can’t speak for the design of previous seasons – but everyone who watches the show can see that this season had so many really epic moments. The Duffers gave us a lot to work within their writing that presented lots of opportunities to have fun as artists. We were just bringing to life what had been given to us. When you join the team you quickly learn that after years of doing this Amy has a keen eye for details. It’s important that the characters remain authentic so it’s not all blue eyeshadow and 80’s glam in our trailer it’s more about details like filling in ear holes and changing skin textures for different worlds and lighting- and a little bit of blue eyeshadow when it makes sense.
Tell me about the different types of blood you use on the show – nose blood vs Eleven’s tears of blood?
AF: The nose blood is all about the speed at which we want it to drip depending on the moment we’re trying to achieve. When it drips on camera sometimes we want it to be more dramatic and have it stop just before it hits the lip and other moments we want to merely suggest it and have it stop almost immediately.
When it isn’t possible to show the drip due to resets and potentially breaking Millie from character, we will set the drip and VFX will do what we call a “heal and reveal” and can manipulate it in post to start and stop when it makes the most sense.
The eye blood is a little different as we don’t see it pouring from the eyes. Adding a little gloss sealer to the blood to give a little more tear-like transparence was key on Eleven. The dead numbers were shown after their deaths so it was more about keeping the lines thin with the detail applicator tips and making sure the blood patterns matched with how they landed.
DM: There are three different formulas of nose blood that Amy created for earlier seasons. We use a lot of the same brands of blood but mix thickening agents in them to control how fast they drop. For the tears it’s more about the applicator that you use to get the streaks thin enough. Using the small detail tip blood applicators gave us enough control to set the tear pattern on Millie and all the others in the rainbow room to get that treatment.
What was your process like for the men’s makeup design and the tattoos?
AF: Men’s makeup design is all about facial hair, sideburns, and skin texture. We gave Chief Powell a mustache this season as a nod to his fallen friend Hopper. We had a lot of fun with Yuri and his weathered mechanic look, keeping the mustache and scruff and adding some coffee-stained teeth with gold molars to go with his maniacal laugh. His facial hair made it easier to bring Murray to a different place when he was passing as Yuri; a defined mustache as a disguise is a lot more visually stimulating coming from a full beard than just shaving completely. Some of the guards in the gulag were allowed to have squirrely-looking mustaches, the prisoners were all shaved in intervals so their facial hair and their head shaves were meant to match accordingly. Texturally, the asylum, the lab, and the gulag all had healthy tones stripped from their skin with a small layer of Bluebird Old Age to take any potential sheen away.
The tattoos were a blast. I always collaborate with my good friend Jeremy Sutton when it comes to my tattoos for film/TV. The idea for the puppet master tattoo came from my want to incorporate Vecna controlling his victims into a cool metal/D&D art-type tattoo. We went through a few variations because I had a specific idea of what I needed it to be. Jeremy made a flash page for the rest of the possible Eddie tattoos. The spider and the other chest piece were pulled from this. Lastly, I needed a final splash on Eddie’s elbow, and bats came to mind as I knew Steve was getting mauled by them at the end of episode 5, which was the last episode script I had been given when the tattoo design was happening. Very cool that Master of Puppets was played by Eddie in the finale and that he met his demise by a demobat. The foreshadowing of his character via his tattoos couldn’t have been more serendipitous.
Words: Shannon Levy
Photos: Courtesy of Netflix