Stranger Things returned for its fourth season and expanded on the mythology and locales of the series that was once primarily located in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana. The Duffer Brothers’ scripts for the new season offered many challenging and unique opportunities for series production designer Chris Trujillo, Emmy-nominated for his designs in the season four episode “Chapter 7: The Massacre at Hawkins Lab.”
While the tone of season four shifts dramatically, Trujillo’s designs primarily opened up spaces familiar to fans of the series.
“For the most part, a number of things have changed. We’ve been able to elaborate on them. We’ve expanded them and gotten more familiar with them. The Wheeler house, obviously… It’s exciting to see the Wheeler house in the Upside Down,” Trujillo explained. “Then obviously, the Hawkins lab. We’ve been sort of teasing that out over the previous seasons, and we always knew that we were going to do a deeper dive into the backstory of Hawkins lab and really see more of the labyrinth and get to really see the Rainbow Room in its glory. It was really exciting to really finally realize those spaces.”
Instead of shifting much of the design to reflect the new horror-focused tone of season four, Trujillo and team used darker color pallets to emphasize the peril and turmoil the characters experience in several locations. Hawkins lab remains a bleak location as does the newly introduced Russian prison in which Hopper (David Harbor) is held.
With the Hawkins lab, Trujillo and team designed a sick and twisted variation of what scientists think a child would love, all set in a sanitized and sterile research facility. That’s where the infamous Rainbow Room comes into play.
“A lot of our inspiration was from research we did into the sort of institutional facilities geared towards children throughout the 20th century. We looked at a million different sort of iterations of child psychiatric facilities and hospitals and landed in a very almost Scandinavian place in terms of the lines, the colors, and the materials,” Trujillo said. “It’s all about creating this unsettlingly antiseptic environment that has this overlay of a scientist’s misguided sense of what a child might be more comfortable with.You’ve got the rainbow and the carpet-wrapped furniture and these weird toys for gifted children kind of thing. It was just about creating this hard antiseptic surface with this veneer of ‘Oh, it’s for children.’ ”
Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) continues her training in a subterranean bunker located in the desert. One of the most amusing touches of the series is seeing the entrance to the facility, a single door and slanted stairwell leading into the ground. Architecturally, the underground research facility is inspired by decommissioned missile silos. Trujillo and team focused on creating the bunker’s series of interconnected hallways, slightly reminiscent of the futuristic military base in 1986’s Aliens. They covered its walls with specialized blast panels, again inspired by actual designs of an American missile silo. Finally, the entire set was given a decommissioned look and feel, one that reflected the fact that the location had been in disuse for a very long time.
And, of course, he was able to introduce the Creel house, the stuff nightmares are made of.
“The Creel house is Stranger Things‘ take on the classic haunted house and being able to see it in so many iterations from pristine past to the dilapidated present to the Upside Down to the base layer of Vecna’s mindscape,” Trujillo remarked. “It was in the story. All of the sets were just a little bit darker and a little bit scarier by virtue of the plot.”
The 1950s version of the Creel house was filmed on location near Rome, Georgia. To create the decay and Upside Down versions, Trujillo and team built a replica of the Rome house on a soundstage. As with other locations replicated in reality (or as Trujillo calls the “right side up” world) and in the Upside Down, they dressed the set for the present day version to shoot first. Then, they applied the Upside Down treatment: a series of vines, spores, and VFX reflecting that decaying world.