“Stranger Things” is one of TV’s most visual effects-heavy shows — the recent Season 4 finale featured more VFX shots than the entire third season combined. While some of these VFX shots are obvious – the ground splitting into lava, a horde of demon bats attacking the heroes – others are designed to be hidden from the public eye.
For example, one of the season’s most memorable scenes featured a return appearance from Dacre Montgomery, whose character Billy died last season, as a vision torturing his half-sister Max (Sadie Sink). However, Montgomery was unable to physically return to shoot the season due to COVID-19; the season started in 2020, amid the pandemic, and Australia’s strict lockdown rules prevented Montgomery from leaving his home country. In order to work around the issue, series editor Dean Zimmerman said the team used editing and digital engineering tricks to insert Montgomery into the scenes with Max.
“We actually had to film the Max side of the cemetery in Atlanta and then digitally track the plates and then send them to Australia to set up some sort of stage for him to walk on, and we edited them with Max,” said said Zimmerman. .
Zimmerman spoke during a panel with fellow “Stranger Things” editors Katheryn Naranjo and Casey Cichocki at a Microsoft Production Summit in Burbank, Calif., in July. During the panel, moderated by Avid Technology’s Raymond Thompson, the three talked about their work on the show, the technology they used to edit the show, and discussed some behind-the-scenes secrets that went into the show. .
During the panel, Zimmerman also discussed the challenges of editing the series during Season 4, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Zimmerman, production ran eight weeks past the season 4 schedule, but the release date remained unchanged, causing publishers to lose eight weeks from their schedule. Additionally, one of the editors had to abandon work on the season, forcing Zimmerman to reshoot his episodes as well as those he was already assigned to work on.
“Having to catch up to 300 days of filming in a couple of weeks has been really difficult and challenging, because I’m really proud of working and being a perfectionist at fault, it’s one of those things where it’s just how it was taught and I don’t really know any other way,” Zimmerman said. “It was a very tough season, but the reward was definitely worth it.”
Zimmerman also said that the show’s VFX editors faced an even worse slump during the season, due to the amount of work required by them for the visual effects-heavy show. According to him, the work for the show was so demanding that Netflix asked some visual effects editors to stop working on other shows they were producing to devote more resources to “Stranger Things.”
“Netflix was creating a lot of stress and anxiety with just, ‘How are we going to finish shooting to get the show out?'” Zimmerman said.
And even with the season ending for three weeks, the editors’ job is still not done; According to Zimmerman, editors are always uploading new plans for episodes to Netflix with updated visual effects because the show’s creators, the Duffer Brothers, want the show to be as perfect as possible.
“There are shots that were fine, you wouldn’t notice the issues, but the Duffer Brothers, just for the record, want to replace them. So we’re still uploading photos,” Zimmerman said. “It’s all about the details for them.”
Season 4 of “Stranger Things” is currently streaming on Netflix.