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 /

American Horror Stories: Let’s talk about “Ba’al”

1428 Elm: This was my favorite episode. 

John Decker: Yeah, it was nice because it was like vintage creepiness, not normal.

1428 Elm: Right, it felt like Rosemary’s Baby

John Decker: Most of [what we worked on] was the demon. We worked very closely with Jason Hammer, who led the special effects team. Jason’s team and my team had many discussions about which one of us was going to do what. He does the costuming and prosthetics, and we realized quickly that Jason should handle the makeup part of the demon. He designed the face and prosthetics and the color scheme.

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Then we worked with him to design wings that would fit in with his practical prosthetics. There was a lot of back and forth with us seeing the progress of his demon and then us doing the wings and copy/pasting them together, figuring out the size and whatnot.

We did the wings for both the fake Ba’al and the real Ba’al, which were two different actors and two different makeup applications. On set, I basically had two big green sticks that we could put behind our demon actor so that we could all understand how big the wings were going to be when they were open, which then allows the director and the cameraman to be like, “well you can’t stand him in the corner, because his wings don’t have anywhere to go.”

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

The cameraman can then understand, “okay if that’s how big his wings are going to be, then I can go a bit wider to see this and then we’ll see all the wings.” The only practical thing we had on set was these two green screen sticks that went out at an angle on either side like a big V behind him.

Then we collect measurements on set and do all the photo references to rebuild the environment within the digital world to match the lighting and moonlight coming through the window, so he feels like the wings are there and part of the actor who is there.

1428 Elm: When you were creating Ba’al, did you draw inspiration from any classic horror monsters? He looked influenced by older horror movies.

John Decker: I think one thing we talked about was the movie Legend, which isn’t really a horror movie but has a classically styled demon. We also looked a lot at the drawings and sketches of the classical demon look.

1428 Elm: He almost looked like a gargoyle.

John Decker: Right, because they were going for the woodcuts and the vintage engravings of demons. I don’t believe we ever looked. I certainly didn’t look back at actual movies or specific portrayals. Because it was about creating our own demon, I try not to look at that stuff too much, so it doesn’t influence me, so instead looked at the classic representations.

1428 Elm: I think that comes across and makes him more sinister because he doesn’t look cartoony at all like you sometimes see. 

John Decker: That was a little bit of the approach with the fake demon, which you only saw a couple of times outside that window. That was a little deliberate to move him into that stereotypical demon look because it was okay since these are Hollywood people, and that’s what they do. So [the fake demon] has more of a Hollywood look, whereas Ba’al needed to feel more classic.