Watching Netflix’s supernatural sensation Stranger Things, have you ever wondered how much work goes in behind the scenes on a series of its ilk, in which visual effects play such a prominent role? The answer, as you might expect, is: A lot.
“We have only one mode to work, and that’s full throttle—give it everything you’ve got,” Stranger Things VFX supervisor Paul Graff shares. “Any shot is an opportunity to learn something. What’s wrong here? What can be better, and how can we do it stronger?”
Joined by visual effects producer Christina Graff, the visual effects supervisor appeared in this week’s edition of Deadline’s Production Value video series to discuss the nuances of his craft, and bringing the dark side of the Duffer Brothers’ world to life.
Speaking to the producer’s side of things, Christina Graff cleared up a common misconception up front. “I think often people think of producers or visual effects producers as less creative, but that’s not my role,” she said. “My role was to be as creatively involved [as possible], from pre-production into post-production.”
With visual effects, the goal is to arrive at visuals that are as real and as understated in their embellishments as possible. “When we start a shot we say, ‘What’s reasonable to do practical?’ And then if we cannot be practical, and we have interaction, what are we going to do to give the actor something to play with and to react upon?” Paul Graff explains. “Then we just basically flesh it out later in CG.”
For the collaborators, who have partnered on everything from Life of Pi to Game of Thrones, storyboarding has proved to be an integral part of the creative process. On a show of Stranger Things’ ambition, the practice has proved essential. “We try to storyboard as much as possible, in order for every department—hair, makeup, camera—to all understand for complex scenes what’s going to be shot, and how it’s going to be shot, so that we can eliminate a lot of these questions. Because we’re on such a tight schedule,” Christina Graff notes.
In terms of interdisciplinary collaboration, at top of mind for the pair is the relationship between visual effects and cinematography—the need for an open dialogue to seamlessly fuse what is shot practically, and what will be realized in post. “It’s all about, if you want to blend two things, they need to be made from the same cloth,” Paul Graff says. “So if one of them is invisible, you need to know, how is that invisible thing affecting the visible parts?”
When it comes to passion for their craft, both Christina and Paul Graff relish the opportunity to create something that wasn’t there before. “Every job, every movie, every shot is almost like a new endeavor, a new expedition into unknown territory,” the latter Graff says. “It always is a puzzle, and it’s really cool to just be on this journey.”
For more from our conversation with the leaders of Stranger Things’ visual effects team, click above.