How do you match the lo-fi brilliance of Joyce Byers making an Ouija board on her wall with black paint and Christmas lights? Well, if you’re working on the second season of Stranger Things, you create an entire map made of single sheets of paper covering the floor, walls, and ceiling of the house.
“We wanted to harken back to the crazy set piece and the lights, but we wanted to do it in a way that was meaningful and served the story rather than just, ‘Oh we have to do something crazy in the Byers house again,’” said Chris Trujillo, the production designer for the show. “I think it’s a pretty elegant way of achieving that callback to the Christmas lights.”
While Stranger Things 2 upped the ante in terms of visual effects, the set piece that best captured the show’s whimsy and DIY spirit was made with thousands of sheets of paper. In the fourth episode, “Will the Wise,” little Will Byers, channeling the knowledge of the Shadow Monster, begins coloring on sheet after sheet of paper, eventually forming a map of the tunnel system that snakes underneath the town of Hawkins. Although it was a simple idea, the execution itself was grueling. “That was a slightly laborious creative process to arrive at the drawings of the tunnel system,” said Trujillo. “It was an ordeal.”
First, they had to actually map the tunnel system of the Upside Down to a corresponding map of Hawkins. “We invented a map of Hawkins last season and we refined it this season, so there is a working sense of what the geography of Hawkins is,” said Trujillo. “We had to hone in on how representational and true to scale what he was drawing could be, based on the square footage of the interior of the house and how big Hawkins is. We really did our best to try and ground it in some sort of consistent, rational physics.”
The production designers used the script to decide where to begin the map. Since they knew that Bob would realize that the heart-shaped cluster of images in Joyce’s bedroom was Lovers Lake, it became a reference point for the map’s other landmarks. Trujillo’s team then worked on a smaller model before scaling up to the actual house. “It was a little mind-bending, because you’re taking something that is essentially should be two-dimensional and you’re figuring out how to lay that into the surface area of the house with the walls and the floor and the ceiling,” he said.
All told, according to the property master Lynda Reiss, there were about 3,000 sheets of paper for a single iteration of the map. They had to create multiple copies because the sheets would inevitably get damaged during production. “You can’t just leave them there unprotected because if you walk, you’ll tear the paper,” Matt Duffer told Vulture’s Jen Chaney in their Duffer-cap interviews about Stranger Things 2. “They had cardboard all over the floors. I mean, it was a nightmare, I’m not going to lie.”
In terms of execution, the drawings were done by the scenic artists, who would use crayon, colored pencils, and other materials that would be readily accessible to the Byers household. They wanted to maintain realism as much as possible. “If you look closely, some of these drawings are done on newspaper and the back of wrapping paper,” said Trujillo. “We were tearing up phone books after we went through what would be a believable amount of drawing supplies for Will.”
Noah Schnapp, the actor who plays Will, even did his fair share of drawings. “He was there drawing for hours,” said Trujillo. “In most cases, we put a mostly finished drawing in front of him and he was just scribbling for the last minute. He definitely got a real workout with his little arm there.”
What does it mean for the Byers house in season three? “Listen, we’re never going to have Joyce trash her house again!” said Matt Duffer. “We’ve done it twice, we’re done. Never putting anything up on the walls again, swear to god! But I don’t regret it, because I actually think it looks really cool.”