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SYFY WIRE Interviews

Exclusive: The Duffer Brothers blended nostalgia with modernity for the logo of their Upside Down production company

SYFY WIRE exclusively sits down with lead creative, Rob Slychuk.

By Josh Weiss
Upside Down Productions Logo

With the fifth and final season of Stranger Things looming just over the horizon like the dreaded Mind Flayer, Matt and Ross Duffer (jointly known as the Duffer Brothers) have begun to set their sights beyond the world of Hawkins, Indiana. Well, almost. You can take the Duffers out of Hawkins, but you can't take the Hawkins out of the Duffers.

Aside from a top-secret Stranger Things spinoff, as well as a stage play production set within the world of the hit Netflix show, the sibling filmmakers are also set to produce to an adaptation of Stephen King and Peter Straub's Talisman; a live-action take on Death Note; and a mystery title from The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance co-creators, Jeffrey Addiss and Will Matthews. Things have gotten so busy (and strange) for the Duffers, that they needed to manifest an entire alternate reality... we mean production company, to house all of their new Hollywood responsibilities. And so, Upside Down Pictures was officially  born, clawing its way into our dimension with the ferocity of a hungry Demogorgon.

To construct the logo (or "mark," as it's referred to by those working in the industry) and accompanying animation for their new production entity, Matt and Ross turned to the talented folks over at Imaginary Forces, the award-winning design and creative studio behind the iconic opening titles for Stranger Things.

"The best way to create the mark is, in my opinion, always just in a black and white format — stripped down, no effects, nothing," Senior Art Director Rob Slychuk exclusively tells SYFY WIRE over Zoom. "How does just this logo-type look? How can it behave on its own merits? That's how we started, we just had sheets of different directions and different ways of going with the font. Some of them were designs, they weren't actually written out. Sometimes, ‘Down’ was flipped; and sometimes ‘Upside’ was flipped; and sometimes, just a letter was flipped. We tried a lot of different ways to bring in the idea of ‘Upside Down’ into the logo."

He continues: "What we ended up doing was having the ‘Upside’ flipped and then the ‘Down’ is the mirror image of that. But the ‘Down’ if you notice, the ‘W’ has this sharpness to it, so that represents the Upside Down. That's the mirror reflection that has some teeth, it's a little bit more dangerous version of of the ‘Upside’ that's being reflected." You can thank the early films of Wes Craven and Sam Raimi for that razor-sharp aesthetic. "You can see a little bit of Evil Dead in the logo as well. There’s some of that sharp feel."

Check out the full animation below:

Named for the sinister parallel universe that resides just below the fabric of Hawkins, Upside Down Pictures required an emblem with a hint of retro flare that would conjure up images of classic adventure and coming-of-age touchstones that heavily influenced the world of Stranger Things. The logos for Cannon Films, Orion Pictures, TriStar Pictures, and, of course, Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, all served as inspiration.

"All the references we were going off [were from] that era — late ‘70s into the '80s," Slychuk explains. "All the old film production logos, that’s the feeling [they wanted]. What they didn't want to have is something that felt like like it was made out of metal; the very modern looking-logo. They didn't want to have something that felt too contemporary, they wanted it to be their own and have a little bit of grime to it."

The addition of "breaking and film gate and jumping" completed the old school allusion nicely. "The idea is you're looking at a modern animated logo through the lens of an old ‘80s camera," Slychuk reveals. "The process to create the animation is modern, but the effect of the final lockup has that nostalgic feel to it."

At the same time, the goal was to avoid something "gimmicky" and hammer down a final product that could stand on its own two feet, beyond the Duffers' first major success. "We didn't want it to be like, ‘This is the Stranger Things Company,’" Slychuk says. "It was finding a way to bring in some of that narrative, but have the mark be more agnostic and live by itself and be able to live in front of not just the next season of Stranger Things, but live in front of a different movie or something that's not even genre-based."

With that said, the current logo can be tweaked and amended, depending on the project it appears in front of. "As more things get produced, the logo will live on. I'm really excited to see it live in different forms," Slychuk admits. "There was one version of the logo that was very red and they loved it. I loved it, too, but it leaned a little to genre; it looked kind of like [overt horror] and it wasn't agnostic. But if they make, say, a movie that is horror or something, they could use a red version of that logo."

While the Duffers were working hard to wrap up Season 4 during the logo's refinement, they never failed to bring endless amounts of enthusiasm to their calls the Imaginary Forces team. "Whenever they would have the meeting [with us], they were like, ‘Oh, this is my favorite meeting of the week, because it's just fun. We can just look at this and kind of play.’ The whole project kind of felt like that," recalls the art director. "They have really good insight and they're very decisive, which was great because they would see something and they’d be like, 'No, not that.’ And they’d see another thing and say, ‘Yes, let’s put this with this.’ They know what they like and they know what they want."

As an added bonus, Slychuk got plenty of "inside information" on the latest batch of episodes before they premiered over Memorial Day weekend. "At the time, I couldn't share it but now, it's all out," he concludes. "They were very happy to just talk about it. They wouldn’t ruin the season, but they definitely talked lot of behind-the-scenes stuff, and it was really cool."

The first four seasons of Stranger Things are now available to stream on Netflix.

Looking for more sci-fi TV? Check out shows like Resident Alien, Brave New World, Project Blue Book, Eureka, Heroes, Intergalactic, and more streaming now on Peacock. Looking ahead, SYFY has the new series The Ark in the works from original Stargate film producer Dean Devlin, as well as Stargate SG-1 producer Jonathan Glassner.