VFX in American Horror Stories
September 15, 2021

VFX in American Horror Stories

FuseFX is providing visual effects services for the new anthology series American Horror Stories. The show, which is a spin-off from American Horror Story, will have a new story every episode, rather than every season. Streaming exclusively on FX on Hulu, the first two episodes were released on July 15, with a new episode dropping weekly. 

John Decker is a VFX supervisor at FuseFX and recently took some time to share details on the studio’s work, which included bringing back elements from past AHS seasons, including the infamous Murder House. The Los Angeles neighborhood where the house is located has changed over the last 10 years, so the visual effects team had to the make it look as it did during the show’s first season. FuseFX was also responsible for creating the effects of a seven-foot-tall demon, specifically working on its wings to make them look bat-like. 

Here, Decker shares insight into the studio’s VFX contributions.

How do VFX help contribute to American Horror Stories?
“I believe visual effects are at their best when they serve the story, which allows them to blend into the background and feel natural and intentional. Each episode of American Horror Stories had its own unique needs, but what was shared was figuring out how we could help the director tell the story the way they wanted to tell it. Some of that is working to help streamline the shooting day, like creating blood splatter in VFX so we can reduce costume resets, and sometimes it is creating giant demon wings!”

Can you talk about the work on the demon?
“The VFX team worked very closely with the SPFX make-up team, led by Jason Hamer. Working from the initial design, we collaborated on which parts of Ba’al would work best as prosthetics, and what would look best as a visual effect. We had an on-set proxy setup for the wings when we were shooting, that were essentially just some big green sticks. These helped guide the actors blocking, and also allowed the camera operators to know how big they would be and where to look. We shot references of the room lighting and took measurements of the walls for casting the shadows from the wings. We color-matched our CGI wings to the painted prosthetic of the demon actor, and put it all together.”

What other VFX elements did FuseFX contribute to the series? 
“One of the more subtle sequences we did is the large cedar tree in the front yard of the Murder House. The tree got sick and was cut down a few years ago after its appearance in Season 8. We wanted the house in the opening of the first episode to feel just like everyone remembered from 10 years ago, so we re-created that tree and added it to the front yard. It felt as if it had never left! Episode 3 required a slightly more remote feeling drive-in than our location permitted, so all of the surrounding industrial warehouses and manufacturing plants were replaced with trees and distant hills to evoke a more isolated site.”
Did you have to research past seasons of the show?
“A lot of research was going back to watch older AHS seasons. We had many discussions about what elements of the Season 1 Murder House we wanted to bring back, and how to stay faithful to the original characters from seasons past that made their cameos.”

What was the biggest challenge for this project?

“One exciting challenge was starting over with each new episode. As an anthology show, we couldn’t build on our VFX from episode to episode. Every script had a new setting, new characters and new challenges to solve within the short production period. A bit scary sometimes, but (it was) also refreshing to have a new set of puzzles to solve every few weeks.”
How was the experience working on the show?
“It’s always fun to work on a Season 1 of something, to help establish the look and feel of a show, and to whet the appetite for what’s to come. It was neat to have such a large back catalogue of ideas and elements to pull from, but also to create brand new things in the American Horror universe.”