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How Stranger Things Manages To Get That Signature '80s Look

With four harrowing seasons of sci-fi insanity under its belt, and a final mad dash through the Upside Down on the way, "Stranger Things" will likely rank among the biggest original series Netflix ever produces when all is said and done. It'll almost certainly go down as one of the streamer's biggest hits. The series will remain both the launching pad for the careers of several of Hollywood's biggest young stars, and the spark behind the career resurgences of Winona Ryder, David Harbour, and Matthew Modine, among others. And it just so happens to be a massive hit with both critics and audiences (per Rotten Tomatoes). 

"Stranger Things" has also been widely praised for its hauntingly authentic depiction of life in small-town America circa the 1980s. Fans can thank the "Stranger Things" creative team (spearheaded by series creators Matt and Ross Duffer) for that stunning effect, with the crew vividly building out the world of the series via period-appropriate costumes, music, slang, automobiles, film and TV references, and product placement. The cumulative effect of that hyper-specific '80s onslaught is to transplant viewers to a time in American history unlike any other. 

It seems, however, that the Duffers' masterstroke in giving "Stranger Things" its signature, vintage '80s look came by way of a seriously clever post-production trick.    

Stranger Things creatives use a lot of tricks to achieve that vintage '80s look

As it stands, Matt and Ross Duffer have never been particularly shy about the myriad influences that went into the creation of "Stranger Things." And chief among them is their love of the sci-fi and horror flicks they discovered via VHS during their formative years. In a 2022 interview with Collider, the brothers even claimed they've been trying to talk Netflix into releasing an alternate version of their streaming hit dressed up to look like an old-school, pan-and-scan VHS release.

For the uninitiated, "pan and scan" was a technique used largely by television networks and VHS manufacturers to transfer film shot in a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio into images suitable for old-school 4:3 television screens (per Studio Binder). Save for a few notable exceptions (per No Film School), Netflix generally requires their in-house productions ("Stranger Things" included) to shoot digitally, so the Duffers' desired VHS effect would require some major post-production trickery.

The "Stranger Things" masterminds may be ahead of that game already as they explained to Entertainment Weekly in 2016 that the show has employed a similar post-production trick to help create its signature '80s look. "Although we shot the show on a digital RED camera, we wanted it to have a vintage film look," they said, adding, "To achieve this look, our incredible colorist Skip Kimball employed many tricks, including adding a layer of scanned '80s film grain." 

That's a supremely cool way for the Duffers to pay homage to their series' 1980s influences. And if you've ever seen a single frame of "Stranger Things," you know it could not be any more effective.