Barrie Gower (‘Stranger Things’ special makeup effects designer) on villain Vecna: ‘I always wanted to be a monster maker’ [Exclusive Video Interview]

“I always wanted to be a monster maker,” reveals special makeup effects designer Barrie Gower. “It was my childhood dream.” The Emmy-winner has made that dream a reality with his impressive prosthetic work on projects like “Game of Thrones,” “The Green Knight” and “Chernobyl.” His latest creation is Vecna, the terrifying new villain who stalks the kids of Hawkins, Indiana during Season 4 of “Stranger Things.” Watch the exclusive video interview above.

“It was super exciting to get the call to join ‘Stranger Things,’” gushes Gower, who notes that his family was a group of super fans. The Duffer Brothers were fans of his work, particularly with the impressive build for The Night King on “Game of Thrones.” “They were looking to have their own iconic villain,” explains the makeup designer. Despite not having worked on the Netflix series prior to Season 4, Gower says the creatives quickly made him feel right at home. “Everybody knew each other so well, there was a shorthand, it was a really happy family,” describes the designer, “it was a really overwhelming welcome.”

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While it was made clear that Vecna would involve a close collaboration between makeup and visual effects, the Duffers were adamant that the ghoul be a practical being. Previous villains from The Upside Down were CGI monsters, but Vecna would be their first humanoid Big Bad. Realism and believability were necessary for the intended terror this character had to evoke. So, the tendrils that latch into Vecna’s back are animated with visual effects, but the rest of the design is all a product of Gower’s prosthetics. “What you see on the screen is about 90% practical, and then he’s very subtly augmented with digital,” explains the designer.

Vecna is comprised of roughly 25 prosthetic appliances which cover the actor’s head and body. The application initially took about eight hours between gluing and painting, though Gower notes that the team eventually got the time down thanks to a highly choreographed process. “It was a marathon,” he exclaims, but it was “fine tuned to about 6 and a half hours.”

This season of “Stranger Things” draws inspiration from Wes Craven’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” films, so Vecna comes complete with an enlarged left hand which sports sharp claws. They’re much bigger than Freddy Kreuger’s blades, but that didn’t stop Gower’s commitment to using practical makeup effects. “We made a mechanical glove for the actor’s left hand, which had extended aluminum fingers,” details the artist. A series of mechanized knuckles allowed the digits on this glove to move in tandem with the performer’s fingers. The actor had full control to articulate this appendage and give a successful nod to “Elm Street.”

The hard work behind all this painstaking detail paid off when Gower stepped on set. It’s always easier for actors to play off a real monster rather than a green tennis ball which will be digitally replaced in post-production. The first time Sadie Sink saw the Vecna actor in full makeup was the first time he walked on set to film his terrifying encounter with Max. “So the reaction you get from her is genuine,” divulges Gower. “To step on set and get gasps from the other crew members, it was so rewarding.”

Gower is a three-time Emmy Award winner for his work on “Game of Thrones.” He has three additional Emmy nominations, two for “Game of Thrones” and one for “Chernobyl.”

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