Fantastical Creatures and How to Print Them: The making of the Demogorgon from Stranger Things
A distressed woman is painting the alphabet on the main wall of her living room. All of her frantic energy is directed at aligning the letters with the Christmas lights that hang there as well as all across her disheveled house. Moments after she’s done, she begins addressing someone she can’t see. She wants to know where they are, so she can come find them. Even though the electricity is off, the lights start to flicker. Then, they light up one by one, spelling out the words “R-I-G-H-T H-E-R-E.” She’s excited, but needs more information and inquires about what that means. Before she can get an answer, the lights tell her to “R-U-N.”
Stranger Things is one of Netflix’s most popular shows. The famous scene marks a pivotal moment in the series; Joyce Byers is finally introduced to the Demogorgon — a tall, white, terrifying creature from a parallel world called the Upside Down — the thing that took her son. The emotional impact of the scene, given the stirring performance by Winona Ryder, is noteworthy. But, the creature itself is also pretty impressive. The fantastical hybrid of 3D printing and visual effects was instrumental in helping Ryder create a moment that tugs at the heartstrings and gives viewers goosebumps all at the same time.
The show is written and directed by the Duffer brothers, who are notorious fans of the 1980s. The entires series is one massive tribute to the decade, which is full of nods to the many films that inspired them. So, it comes as no surprise that they also wanted to mimic some of the techniques that would have been used in the 1980s to make their show, had it been filmed then. They approached Sims Creative founder Aaron Sims to assist them with making the process as practical as possible. A video from Formlabs gives an inside look at the creation of the Demogorgon from Stranger Things, Season 1.
“Working in clay has mostly been phased out by most studios due to time and cost,” writes Corey Plante in Inverse, “back in those days, visual effects designs used clay maquettes and a more collaborative effort between VFX studio and film studio.” So, instead, Sims decided to use 3D printing to make the creature. The first thing he did was sketch an image of the Demogorgon using the very “non-specific guidelines provided by Stranger Things executives.” Then, once the character sketch was approved, the team moved on to stereolithography (SL, or 3D layering) — one of several methods used to create 3D-printed objects.
Although nearly all methods utilize computer aided design (CAD) files, or digitalized representations of an object, “CAD files must be translated into a ‘language,’ or file type, that 3D printing machines can understand.” Because “additive manufacturing works by adding one layer of material on top of another, CAD models must be broken up into layers before being printed in three dimensions.” Furthermore, “SLA [ stereolithography apparatus] machines don't extrude ink or some other liquid onto a surface. Instead an SLA machine starts with an excess of liquid plastic, some of which is cured, or hardened, to form a solid object.”
For Stranger Things, “the studio started off with smaller prototypes before moving on to printing and assembling a large scale model to present to the directors. With several ideas coming together, the benefit of using a physical piece rather than a digital model on screen, meant that iterations were easier to identify and the overall process of development could be sped up.” Indeed, “the team ended up going on to create several other parts for the show, including the Upside Down world aspect, applying a blend of modern and traditional methods to give the series its retro feel.” And the result speaks for itself.