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 /

Behind the return to Murder House in American Horror Stories

1428 Elm: I know you touched on it a little bit, but the Murder House, is the original house still there or did you guys have to rebuild it?

John Decker: The house is still there, and for the most part, one thing that was a little interesting. Going back to Season 1, and even as recently as when the house was seen in Season 8, there is a very prominent cedar tree in the yard, and since then, that tree has been cut down in the past four-five years.

In the first two episodes, we did a CG version of the tree to feel like the classic Season 1 house. That was one of the main changes to the look of the house that we did. A lot of the other stuff was minor cleanup because the house hasn’t really changed that much.

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

1428 Elm: Is the interior of the house from the show a separate set, or is it actually part of the Murder House?

John Decker: Most of the interior is inside the house. For the two-parter opening, the kitchen is a set, and then we reconstructed Scarlet’s bedroom as a set simply because we were spending so much time there. They duplicated it to be the same because we were doing so much, and it was the only practical way to hang the Rubber Man from the ceiling is to build it on a stage where we could have access from the top.

1428 Elm: To wrap up, what is one thing you are really proud of about how it turned out on this show?

John Decker: I think my favorite episode is the drive-in episode. I think that did a good job of capturing that classic B-movie zombie-at-the-drive-in experience. I feel all of our work was represented well [in that episode]. It has a lot of invisible stuff where you would probably go, “I had no idea that was something you would have done!”

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

Like all that stuff in the parking lot with people diving through windows and jumping on cars, there was an incredible amount of clean-up. It all cuts together well and has a nice energy to it.

I liked the [scene] with [Larry] Bitterman inside the trailer at the very end when everything was on fire, that was all shot on a stage, and we added all of the fire in visual effects, and I was really happy with how all of that came out inside of the trailer. That was the episode that I enjoyed the most, and that was the scene in that episode that the team did a really great job on.

1428 Elm: That was one of my favorite episodes, along with Episode 5. How much were you guys working on the “Feral” episode, or was that mostly practical? 

John Decker: That was mostly practical. There were a lot of discussions, we were at the ready to do a lot more, but a lot of the practical stuff worked out in-camera great. I’m always happy to let the real stuff be real. I never want to do a visual effect just to do one, so if we can capture it all in-camera, that’s great.

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

For us, on that, it was little things, adding blood to scenes where people get attacked and cleaning up some of the forest shots because you could see off the set a little bit and see part of a trailer or something. That was, I think, our smallest episode.

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The entire first season of American Horror Stories is now streaming via FX on Hulu.