Interiors is an Online Publication about the space between Architecture and Film, published by Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian. Interiors runs an exclusive column for ArchDaily that analyzes and diagrams films in terms of space.
The first season of Stranger Things, which debuted on Netflix in July 2016, pulls its influences from the likes of Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, and Stephen King, and stands on its own merits as a result of the inventiveness of its creators, filmmaking duo Matt and Ross Duffer.
Interiors spoke with Production Designer Chris Trujillo on the visuals of the series and several of the core spaces used throughout the first season, including Hawkins Laboratory, Will Byers’ house and, of course, the mysterious world of the Upside Down, which takes bits and pieces of the real world and twists them into a space entirely its own, one that exists both as part of, and outside of, the real world.
Stranger Things was filmed outside of Atlanta in small towns like Douglasville, Jackson, and Stockbridge, with the hope that the setting would feel “instantly familiar” and could stand in for virtually any town in the United States. Atlanta was the ideal choice for the filmmakers because the city and its surrounding towns represented a broad spectrum of archetypal Americana. In terms of production design, the production could create the look of 1970s and 1980s American life with very little modification to the existing locations.
Hawkins Laboratory, for instance, functions as a cold and imposing entity—a location that looms in the backdrop of Hawkins, Indiana. In this sense, its proximity to the center of the characters’ lives factors heavily into the narrative of the series. Chris Trujillo notes that the space “works as a physical reflection of the Reagan Era,” and effectively hints at the Cold War anxiety lying under the surface of the town.
The design of the interior spaces of the characters’ homes, specifically Will Byers’ house, required a different approach. The filmmakers started with the characters themselves and reverse-engineered what the spaces would look like. “We start with the characters, who they are emotionally, culturally, socioeconomically, and we figure out how all of these factors would have been expressed in the context of the trappings of American life” in the given time period. This is best seen with the character of Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder), who uses Christmas lights, which she can barely afford, to communicate with her son Will, who has found himself trapped in the Upside Down. Joyce decorates the interior space of her home with these lights—and covers an entire wall with the alphabet—as her home becomes a tool for communication with Will. The Byers’ house becomes more and more tarnished but it is all for the sake of finding Will.
The next step in the process for the filmmakers was laying out the interior space and constructing camera movements around it, which was discussed between the directors, cinematographer, and production designer. The floor plan was designed accordingly, with considerable thought being put into the proximity of each of the rooms, while consciously thinking about how the camera would navigate these spaces throughout the series. The space itself was also designed with the Upside Down in mind, for later scenes that show the house being transformed when entering the mysterious parallel world. In essence, the Upside Down is an alternate dimension; while it possesses the same general layout and infrastructure of the real world, it’s much more ominous. In scenes where Will is trapped in the Upside Down, we can clearly see that he is in the “same” space as his mother, who is in their family home, albeit in an alternative version of the space. Different types of portal exist between the real world and the Upside Down to make the audience understand that these are two different, but very similar, worlds. Will discovers that he can communicate with his mother by manipulating certain elements of the Upside Down; for instance, he finds that he can manipulate electricity and communicate to her through the Christmas lights she has set up in her home.
Interiors has designed a Floor Plan of Will Byers’ house that depicts the moment when Will’s Mom, Joyce Byers, first makes contact with Will through Christmas lights after he has gone missing. This is a pivotal scene within the show because it is the moment in which Joyce realizes that she can communicate with Will and that he is alive. Additionally, the Byers’ House becomes a significant location in the show after this scene, as Will knows he can communicate with his family from there.
The space of the Upside Down became, for the filmmakers, “the most creatively laborious and painstaking collaboration of the entire season.” This was primarily because the production had to turn a “shared fantasy”—one that was developed extensively even before the series was picked up—into a true physical space.
The final look of the Upside Down came as a result of teamwork between physical effects and visual effects. Chris Trujillo states that the creation and design of the Upside Down spoke well about the entire filmmaking process: “after all the logistical ups and downs, all the creative ins and outs, and after passing through a thousand different contributing hands,” the ultimate conclusion was what the team hoped it’d be.
Stranger Things, as a result, is a marriage of ideas—its preexisting influences with the modern sensibilities of its filmmakers. The first season is wholly original, while also reliant on the cinema of the 1970s and 1980s.
Architectural Drawings and Graphics were created by Interiors (www.INTJournal.com).
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