“What was most exciting was knowing that we were going to get to visit the wider world,” explains “Stranger Things production designer Chris Trujillo on Season 4’s immense scope. “It was a really nice change.” The latest season goes beyond the familiar locales to explore the deep interiors of a secret lab, a brutalist Russian prison, and a haunted house that exists across worlds. The massive undertaking earned the designer an Emmy nomination for Best Production Design of a Narrative Period or Fantasy Program. Watch our exclusive video interview above.
The scope of Trujillo’s work is perhaps best embodied in the Creel House, home to the new series villain Vecna. “The Creel house existed in a past, pristine state. And then it existed in a dilapidated state in the Right Side Up. Then it also existed in the Upside Down. Then it also had an iteration where it was the base layer of Venca’s mindscape,” describes Trujillo. The nominee believes that fully realizing all these variants of this location was his greatest challenge of the season.
“It was our chance to do the ‘Stranger Things’ version of the quintessential haunted house,” he reveals, but he didn’t want any carbon copy of iconic spooky manors from film history. Instead the team went on a location search and found perfect inspiration at home in Rome, Georgia which had “an imposing presence.” The strong architecture, sweeping staircase, and foreboding façade made the house stand out whether it was in a flashback, or existing in a deconstructed state inside Vecna’s mind lair.
While the Creel house is an extreme example, Trujillo is used to creating dark, alternate versions of his “Stranger Things” sets. “Since the first season, we kind of knew that any and all real world locations were liable to end up with an Upside Down version,” he reveals. He refers to the process as “nether-izing” based on a Season 1 reference to the Upside Down as “The Nether.” The many vines that strangle this world are all physical creations, with the production designer divulging that the team has tested out countless materials for their construction. Depending on the effect and articulation needed, the vines might be built on a sturdy metal frame or they could be gussied up pool noodles.
This year, Trujillo is nominated for “Chapter Seven: The Massacre at Hawkins Lab,” which features many flashbacks to the sterile innards of the titular laboratory. He looked at many Scandinavian children’s homes and hospitals for inspiration. The space is composed of clean lines and hard antiseptic surfaces, a place where comfort is impossible to find. The Rainbow Room at the heart of the lab is evidence that “an attempt was made to make it feel appropriate for children,” says Trujillo, noting the set’s only glimpse of color. “But it’s just fundamentally this cold unpleasant space.”
This marks Trujillo’s second Emmy nomination for Production Design, having been previously nominated for Season 1 of “Stranger Things.” The series has also netted him two nominations from the Art Directors Guild.
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