American Horror Stories: Peek behind the curtain with VFX supervisor John Decker

AHStories -- Pictured: VFX Image. CR: FX
AHStories -- Pictured: VFX Image. CR: FX /
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American Horror Stories
American Horror Stories — Pictured: VFX Image. CR: FX /

Are you one of those people who likes to peer behind the curtain and find out how all that television and movie magic is made? 1428 Elm had the opportunity to chat with the American Horror Stories VFX supervisor John Decker, of FuseFX, about how he and his team enhanced and created the twisted terror we see throughout the show’s first season.

Peek behind the curtain with John Decker: What did he and his team do to enhance the special effects used in American Horror Stories?

John Decker: They sometimes fall under the category of “invisible stuff.” We did a lot of the knife blades and the “stabby” things used in the show, primarily for actor safety. So for a lot of the slashing and stabbing, the actors are just holding the hilt, they’ve cut the blade off, and then we put the blade back in. When it’s Chad in “Drive In” with the scissors, it’s just a stump.

1428 Elm: That’s interesting. I always assumed it was something plastic, and then you guys added to it later.

John Decker: They used to use those ones that were spring-loaded, but as the technology has gotten better, then it becomes an easier thing. Especially with those spring-loaded ones, they can jam, and it’s not a serious injury, but they might be like, “that actually kind of hurt.”

What works is we work with stunts, and we work with the prop department to figure out which shots we can use the real blade and which shots where we would replace it so that in many cases, you see an attack where it’s real blade, real blade, one CG blade, and then real blade again and your mind fills in the whole thing. That becomes our bread and butter.

And because we’re doing the blade, oftentimes, we are adding the blood from the stab or enhancing what the special effects team has set up. Like if there is a blood rig, we paint the tube out, so you don’t see the tube, and then we add some extra blood because maybe the rig didn’t do quite what everyone wanted, so we move on, and VFX might add extra spray because it’s going to squirt.

American Horror Stories
American Horror Stories — Pictured: VFX Image. CR: FX /
American Horror Stories
American Horror Stories — Pictured: VFX Image. CR: FX /

Sometimes what happens if we’re in, like the Murder House, we can’t actually spray blood all over the walls because it’s not our house. There might be a special effects spray that’s practical, and then we’re adding the splatter on the wall or the rug.

In the last episode, when Ruby gets stabbed and is bleeding out on the rug, that’s all our blood. It’s either we can’t because it’s not our house, or if we want to reset and do it again, we have to get a new rug or wait ten minutes to wash the rug. It becomes sort of a “well, let’s just have visual effects do it!”

Behind-the-scenes of American Horror Stories: “Drive In” and “The Naughty List”

John Decker: We did a lot of work to make the drive-in feel more remote because the drive-in is in El Monte, which is more like an industrial park these days. Aesthetically-wise it didn’t look nice to see warehouses and things, so we painted all of that out and put in some palm trees in distant views of the mountains, so it felt more scenic.

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And for the bro house episode, “The Naughty List,” all of the footage of them goofing off and what-not that was then seen on televisions and things–in many cases we shoot things out of order–we were shooting that party scene before they had shot the footage of them goofing off on the lawn, so most of the laptops and the screens and the phones, that’s all us.

We were taking the YouTube-y footage, building the interface for it, the subscribe buttons and all of that and creating something that looks like a social media portal but isn’t a real one, and then laying that into all of the laptops, so it’s all consistent.