Making of 'The Last of Us' (2023) - full transcript

An all-access documentary detailing the daunting behind-the-scenes efforts that went into the production of the hit series The Last of Us.

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One of the things
that we talked about for a while,

"How do you start this show?"

It was an enormous undertaking
for everyone.

I wouldn't want to deliver CG...

but to deliver reality.

Three, two, one, action!

Negative degree temperatures
with the wind machine

going like this.

Yeah, so that was hard.

And fun. It was so fun.

The amount of detail, it's incredible.



The color schemes, the textures,
how things would flourish.

There's everything on this show,
from big scopes of airplanes

to smaller tendrils.

You're immediately just so immersed in
"The Last of Us" world.

Shooting in Canada,
we're not doing anything small.

It was quite the endeavor.

I remember when the game came out,
there were so many people saying

this needs to be made into a live–action.

I was in conflict with it at first because
I was like, "We've already done it.

"We've shot it, we've performed it,
we've edited it.

Why do we need to go in
and do this again?"

Neil said, "At the end of the day,
"here are people out there

"that will never pick up a controller,

"and they will never experience
the story.



And I think our story is special enough
to bring it to them."

The HBO series, I don't remember
when I first heard about it,

but when I did, I was like,

"Mommy want that,"

'cause I knew
it was gonna be spectacular,

especially when I heard
that it was a collaboration

and that Neil would also be involved.

When you're casting
these iconic characters,

these characters are iconic
in a cinematic way already.

So, now, it's like
we need to find someone that can

elevate it or make it their own
in a really interesting way,

so it doesn't feel like they're just
duplicating this other medium.

I learned very quickly

the massive fan base
that I was stepping into.

I called my sister to tell her
about the possibility of the job,

and she was in the car
with my nephews.

I didn't even get the "s" and "t" out
from the word "Last" when I said it.

"There's this job.
It's based on a video game.

"It's called The La––"
And they were like, "The Last of Us"?!

And I was like,
"Okay, I definitely have to do this."

I was actually advised
not to play the game,

so that I wouldn't try and, like, copy
Ashley Johnson's version of Ellie,

which is, like, incredible,

but I just watched some of the gameplay,
though, secretly, on my own.

When I met Bella for the first time,
I was so excited because, obviously,

I'd seen her in "Game of Thrones,"

and seeing her in person,
and even just seeing her on set,

and doing scenes, like, she has
the essence of Ellie already in her.

Seven, eight. Fuck you.

What's incredible about what
they've done with these scripts

was to be able to explore
and nourish things that,

I think, are very much a part
of the experience of the game.

One of those things is the internal life
of these characters,

and to really get into the flesh
of what's happening inside of them.

You wanna know what the biggest
surprise of adapting "The Last of Us" is?

It's that Neil Druckmann, the genius
who made the game in the first place,

who created this story,
these characters, the whole world,

he was so generous,
and flexible, and smart

about how to re–present "The Last of Us"
in a different format

to a whole new audience.

The scientific vision that
the show presents to people

is based absolutely in reality.

That fungus is real.
It does those things to insects.

And if it were to be able
to infect humans,

it would go like that. It's terrifying.

We want people to feel the reality
of the science here.

Cordyceps. It's a fungus.

And what that fungus does

is it attaches to the brain stem
of an ant,

takes motor control of the ant's body,

and then attacks the rest
of the ant colony,

spreading the disease,
and devouring the other ants.

Fungus is a funny word, but there's
so much more of it than we realize.

Pretty much anywhere you see grass,
there's fungus right underneath it.

They're connected.

More than you know.

One of the changes that Neil and I
felt we needed to make early on

was the way the fungus would spread.

We loved the idea of biting. We thought
that that was primal and violent.

But we started looking
at something called mycelium,

which are these threads
that make up fungus,

and those threads,
if they get into an insect, for instance,

that's what starts to worm its way
towards the insect's brain.

Barrie Gower and his team
did this beautiful work

to mesh humans and fungus together.

Initially,
we'd created various practical tendrils,

which was basically like a dental plate

that we had inside
the infected character's mouth,

which had all these little
silicone cords joined to.

And as soon as he pulled away,
everything started to––

Practically, it looked great.

I think the reality of it

was going to be
the reset ability on the day.

Having huge,
big fungal pieces all over the heads.

As soon as you took the eyebrows
away, you started veering

into zombie territory.

When it has more of a human side,
more of a beautiful side,

it makes it even scarier.

As a person,
you can relate to it more.

From an infected point of view,
we had the first–stage Infected.

Very shortly after they've been bitten,

there's a lot of redness,
a lot of tenderness around the skin.

Stage two, tiny little things
start breaking through the skin.

They're a bit like the cordyceps
you actually see on ants or spiders

when they're taken over by the fungus.

Stage three is
a slightly bigger version of that

where you've got real mushrooms
that you can begin to see

until you get to stage five
where the head shape is distorting.

Just basically breaks through
the cranium

and just splits
the skull down the front.

And you have these huge sort
of blooms, these sort of petals.

Well, I didn't wanna look at them.

I didn't want that in my head
to go home and sleep.

And then, you have to be kinda...
You're like, "Hi, how are you?"

And it's not just kind of
what they look like.

It's the physicality

in the way that they moveis what makes
them so creepy, but impressive.

Not just the prosthetic, obviously,
but the inhabiting of it.

Coming from visual effects,
I think the clicker performances

can be quite challenging
just 'cause they're very specific.

He just had this really amazing
performance and movement

study to him.

Those are the type of things that is
quite difficult to reproduce digitally.

These are a lot of our
very early concepts and busts.

We're following real reference
and real nature

of real fungus and real mushrooms,

and just down to the shapes of the petals.

Underneath, you've got all these slits,
which are called gills.

And we always had to make sure
that the orientation

was as such that all the gills were
facing downwards.

And occasionally, you'd have a piece
which looked really, really great,

but the mushrooms around
the wrong way,

and so it's just like
just move that over a little bit.

The sound of the clickers,
we worked so hard

to make sure they sounded
just like the game.

Why don't we try some good
old–fashioned clicking in the dark?

Let me just practice a few,
so we can make--

Yeah, sure.

Misty was the originator
of the sound itself.

And she did these amazing,
like, throat sounds,

which were like, "That's it!"

And they were like,

"Now we gotta find somebody
who can do it, too, like a guy."

And then, I was like, I figured it out.

Mr. and Mrs. Clicker, the original,
the Adam and Eve of clicking.

– It's also here. Like––
– Yeah.

I think it's that first little bit, right?
It's just the initial...

which, I think, isn't bad here.

– I just want the real thing.
– Sure.

Let's do some clickin'.

That was good stuff.

– Thank you.
– I like that.

I love sound,

but it's like I don't actually think
I've ever had anything like this,

where there was somebody who knew
how to do this incredibly specific thing,

and I had the incredibly specific thing
people doing the incredible...

Ah, this is so cool.

All right, I think it might be time
to go to the bullpen,

and bring in the old lefty.

– Yeah, that was a good one.
– Yeah, that was a good one.

– I was back here goin', "Oh!"
– That felt, that felt juicy.

When we made the game,

we don't make
any physical things, it's all digital.

It's all two–dimensional on the screen.

The first time I walked on set,
it was Joel's house.

There's Sarah's room,
there's their living room,

there's the sheets
that are just like the game.

And you already got to see
the love this crew had

for the original material.

And I was, like,
emotionally moved by it.

The sets have just been
so fucking incredible.

I mean,
you just don't even appreciate it

until you're in the space that you can,
like, just fucking shoot things in 360

because everything is, like, magic.

In the practical shooting of it,

there was, strangely,
little left to the imagination

because of the quality of its production.

The game is beautifully realized,
and has a beautiful tone and story.

"The Last of Us" is about a journey

going across the United States, and
so, having that variety of landscape

really helps make it feel
as authentic as possible.

Fort Macleod was a good stand–in
for Austin, Texas.

We really tried to go to town
there with neon,

colors you wouldn't see
once the infection starts.

The QZ, that was
a challenge to make the wall,

built it out of actual concrete,
and I could have people walk on it.

I think it really lended a lot
to the realism of things.

Edmonton was a key
for the State House.

The Firefly set was stunning
'cause now we're outside the QZ.

It's way more run–down.

When we're going through the tunnel,
like the underground,

and up to the office, and we're standing
behind about to get through the door,

and I look down, and there's,
like, little sesame seeds

to look like mouse poo on the ground.

The detail is like from this to, like...

That you put that there

it's just amazing.

They created a village, I mean.

Bill's town, the way it was written
is very particular,

the action involved and the look
of the town and the feel of the town.

And I kinda had it
in the back of my mind

that this location existed
after the floods in High River in 2013.

It's on kind of the wrong side
of the berm

and they had to tear all the homes down.

And what was left was all the streets,

and the sidewalks,
and the infrastructure.

There's a town here, Canmore,

that stood in quite nicely
for Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

This is a town that's self–sufficient.

My favorite part of that
was building the paddock

and the stables and everything in the
parking lot right in the middle of town.

I was just like, "There's a bank!

And there's a studio! Lights!"
I was like...

It's like everything was like...
I was like, "They got everything!"

I was really impressed with
our production design

and everything was just

so faithful to the game,
and so detailed and specific.

But the mall was, I think,
one of the most amazing

sets there is, you know?

And we had to get a carousel.
We had to do a Halloween store.

We had to do a Victoria's Secret store.

Even though this was
an abandoned mall before,

the authenticity
of what the mall looks like,

it's really cool.

Plants growin' everywhere.
There's algae.

It's just a mess.

So this location
has been perfect to shoot in

because they were gonna tear down
this mall anyway.

So, that's given the amazing
art department, like,

free rein to completely destroy it
and make it their own,

so as soon as we finish this,
like, this mall is gone.

And let's cut.

Okotoks, the challenge was

that we needed
a cul–de–sac neighborhood

to situate this big action scene.

And it's actually a bit freaky
in terms of how perfect it fits

within the visuals within the game.

When we scouted,
it was exactly what we wanted.

We had extreme winds.
We literally...

You couldn't stand up.

When Craig was there,
I mean, he was just like,

"This is what I wrote," and that's
the best compliment you can get.

We went to Waterton

because it was known to have
a massive amount of snow.

And what happened was,
there was no snow.

There was drifts
up against some buildings,

but all the roads, all the grass,

everywhere that ya looked,
the snow was gone.

You couldn't bring in snow
from outside the park.

I had to use whatever was
in the town.

So, in three days,
we did 350 dump trucks of snow.

Shoveling, brooming, raking,
snow blowers to cover 10 city blocks.

That night, it snowed.

There was a day of shooting,
and we were out in the elements,

and there was snow everywhere,
and we were on the side of a mountain,

and it was really cold,
and there was a trek through the snow,

and there were three or four
house–size wind machines.

I loved it. I love it. I wanna go back.

– For me.
– Sí, for you.

Gustavo Santaolalla, our composer,

has such a different way of working.

The way I worked with Gustavo,

starting with the game, and now,
continuing with the show,

is pitch him the story.

And Gustavo as well is, like,
very much about minimalism.

Like, what's the least we need
to do to achieve this moment,

which is very much mine
and Craig's philosophy as well.

The whole thing in the music
of "The Last of Us" from what I do,

is to preserve this organic element,

and of minimalism
'cause I have to play less.

The pipes, the cans, all that
has a little bit to do with the reality

of a post–disaster world

of found objects, broken things,
but it's very organic.

It's almost like
a primitive folk instrument,

like a modern, primitive folk.

The beginning, you know,
was trying to find

how to translate the language
from the game to the series,

but I think we have found, now,
something that, that kind of like flows.

He would go off and he'd come back
with an hour or more of music.

And we just sit here listening,

and he's just like,
"Here's, like, this moment

"that you talked about
has inspired this theme."

And that's very much what it's like
working with Gustavo,

is, like, starting with a lot,

and then continue
to trim it down, trim it down,

and find the right elements
and how they fit.

There's stuff that was created
for the game

that you can just take it and put it,
and it works fantastic,

which, for me, says a lot
also about what they have done,

'cause it means that there is
a connection between the game

and what the series is.

Visual effects
is a big part of this show.

Every shot that we shoot
needs to be touched,

in some way, by visual effects.

There's such an effort
to really push the boundaries

on both what is practical
and what is a visual effect.

Right from the get–go,

the impetus was to try
and do as much practical as possible.

Alex understands that the dovetail
between practical and visual effects,

when you make it seamless,
that's the magic.

It was very interesting
working with Alex and the VFX team.

The visual effects department is probably
the one department

we work probably the closest
with on any given show or film.

They benefit a lot more from having
something there and on the day,

which they could either manipulate
or augment in post,

or they've got something there
that needs a touch.

There's everything on this show
from airplane crashes

to big environments

to war–torn destruction in a big city

to smaller tendrils.

So there's a lot for visual effects
to work on.

Because there's a lot of environments,

we've actually
used a lot of drone scanning,

so that we're able to
recreate it digitally.

On this show, we used a combination
of drones and Lidar.

Lidar scanning is light imaging,
distance ranging.

And it basically gives you a 3D model
of what you're scanning.

We knew that there would be a lot of
environment work in line with the game.

There's a lot of overgrowth,
and everything's deteriorated

and we knew that
we would have to pretty much

help out in every episode,
in that respect.

So there's a couple
of different types of scanning

that we're doing on the show.

One of them is cyber scanning.

It's a circle of cameras and lights
that flash simultaneously.

We scan every character
that's on a show

in case we need to build
a digital version of them.

For all the gamers,

I know everyone knows this scene
when they're escaping,

and they're in the car
and you can watch everything,

what's happening
from Sarah's perspective.

The amazing thing with that scene
is that it's very true to the game.

We feel like we're with Sarah and Joel
in Tommy's truck the entire time.

And because of our desire working 360,

it was a big challenge
how should we do that.

So, the car was built
with a stunt pod on top.

So, the stunt driver
was sitting on the rooftop driving a car

while actors could do their thing.

Tilt up.

Run!

The cul–de–sac sequence

was certainly the toughest sequence
that we had to do.

And the combination of the effects

and the choreography
and the explosions

just the craziness of it all, really.

And this used to just be a field.
This was nothing but grass.

Craig wrote this amazing sequence
where our cast,

they walk their way onto
this seemingly innocent cul–de–sac,

and come under attack.

And then, behind them, a whole convoy
of rebels come up behind them.

So, at that point, we actually opened
this up into the main road behind,

and that gave us all that extra distance
out there in the real world,

and a real road for the convoy

to get up to speed,
and start chasing them.

These trucks come through.
There's a "run" truck

that just plows through
all these vehicles,

knocking them all over the place.

Yeah, it was a big deal
plowing through all these cars,

making it look realistic.

We had to reinforce the plow
because the first night, it broke.

And then,
it was the driving into the house

without destroying the building

because the building
was prepped for fire,

meaning that, post–crash,
we would pull the truck out

and put another truck in there
that would then explode.

Special effects did an amazing job

piping those houses
and vehicles with propane.

But we'll go in there and just add
the finishing touches.

In the big climactic battle scene,

most of that was done practically
with real performers.

However, we felt like
we needed to triple that amount,

so everything in addition
was visual effects.

When we need to make
these creatures in CG,

it's always good to have a reference
from the actual performers themselves,

so an animator doesn't have
to do it frame–by–frame.

MoCap is a methodology of
capturing movement of characters.

We did a MoCap session, try to
record as many different movements

from the stuntmen
as we possibly could.

We had multiple cameras set up.

So much of what we do
in post with animation

depends on the performances.

We shot a library of their movements,

and we selected the best ones
that we could have.

Of course, we tried to do as much
practically as possible.

The makeup people were awesome.

The design work from
Barrie Gower's team was complete.

We took these designs
and we scanned 'em

and this helped create
digital assets for us in post.

With the Infected, we started exploring
all these other paint schemes.

Once we knew what the colors were,
then we would paint a suit to match.

We would glue all the mushrooms
and everything onto the suits,

and then, the suits would go over
to Sage and her team,

and they would cut the costumes for
the mushrooms to be growing through,

and the sort of dripping stains

as they kind of came through the skin
and the flesh broke down.

Each clicker is designed individually

and the costume
had to be durable enough

to go through all
of the crazy contortionist,

sort of, moves that the clickers have,
and the fight scenes.

Then they run it through
the breakdown department,

so it looks like they've been rotting
and molding for months or years.

And so, when you see the whole thing
together with the prosthetics,

and the sort of muddy,
drippy costume

that's coming off them,
just looks so amazing.

You never go into battle with
one costume, but these guys did.

So, you know, makeup,
effects, and costumes

would be sitting on set,
biting their nails,

just hoping that everything
stays together.

So one thing we did
for a lot of our shots

was we actually had a little area
that we could remove

from the crown of the clicker's appliance.

We would either have
complete vision for the actors

and you'd see their eyes
looking through,

which would then be replaced in post,

or we'd be able to do
some more close–up stuff,

and put that plug back in.

The amount of work they had to do
just to get the 200 we had in there,

it was amazing.

There are several creatures

that we had to make the decision
fairly early on

whether they'd be done
practically with prosthetics

and visual effects entirely,

or if it might be a hybrid approach
of the both.

In the case of the Bloater itself,
because it's an enormous creature,

it's meant to stand
about seven feet tall,

you can get a man and put him
in a prosthetic suit, which they did.

At the end of the day,

there's only a certain amount
of mobility in this prosthetic suit.

As good as it looked,

he just couldn't do the things
that he needed to do as the Bloater.

Very early on, we kind of planned
for doing it, practically, on set

in a prosthetic suit
that Barrie Gower made,

but we reserved the option,
and shot a lot of clean plates,

which means we took the Bloater,
the physical Bloater out of the shot,

so that we had a clean background
to use

in case we wanted to go the CG route
in some or in all the cases.

Barrie Gower and his team
did a fantastic job

creating the Bloater suit
with so much detail.

However, we found that

what we needed was the Bloater
to be a little bit bigger,

and needed to move
a little faster as well.

This CG creature is doing
some very fantastical things,

things that a normal human
couldn't do.

We ended up just feeling like
it was necessary

to create a full,
digital version of the Bloater.

In the case of the child clicker,
very much like the Bloater early on,

what we did was we sussed out a
person that could play the role,

and in this case, it happened to be
a girl from Toronto called Skye

who was also a contortionist,

so she could move her body
very, very effectively

and do all sorts of clickery,
kinda stuttery motions.

What we did was we shot Skye on set,
like the Bloater.

And then, we also decided to
sort of change the design

just ever so slightly,
in terms of the prosthetic makeup.

We wanted to feel
frightened by her character,

but also have a sense
of sympathy for her.

We had more of her face exposed.

We could see her long hair,
her pigtails.

These were all the aspects that
were important to Craig and Neil.

What started out as just replacing
Skye's head as a CG element,

we realized we might as well
go a full CG body on it,

and then we can get thischild clicker
to do exactly what we want it to do.

So, you know, she's able to do that
in a much more fantastical way

because we went CG with it.

The fight at the Silver Lake Steakhouse,

special effects did an excellent job
of essentially piping the entire set.

Of course,
we can see some of this piping,

which this is where
visual effects will come in

and remove the piping,
and also blend in more flames.

At one point,we were not gonna do
any practical fire

because the discussion was that
it was too much money,

and we couldn't do it
in the time we had.

That's where I come in
and say, "No, we can do it."

Basically, I said, you can have,
of this size of set,

you can have a quarter of it on fire.

Joel Whist,
our special effects supervisor,

is amazing,
and he designed that entire set

to be fireproof in the areas
that we needed it to be,

and that helped,
immeasurably, for us.

Shooting with Nabo the giraffe

will certainly be one
of my favorite experiences.

What I quickly learned
after doing the research on the game,

was just how critically important
this one moment is

to the whole story of the game.

Giraffes are pretty massive.

It's like a spiritual experience almost

being so close to such
a magnificent animal.

Yes, you can create a giraffe in visual
effects, but it's just not the same.

Fortunately, the one thing
Alberta does have

is a zoo with giraffes,
and we spent quite a while

putting things in the enclosure,

so that we could shoot it
and getting the giraffes acclimated.

Like, panels with blue screen,

so that we could go in there
and just shoot the giraffe,

and have Ellie feed the giraffe.

And then, visual effects in
all the other pieces around it.

Something that was so fascinating
about this experience

was that the visual effects
and the special effects,

and all of the departments
working together,

building all of these
practical elements,

to be able to actually see it
in front of you was everything,

in terms of the playing
of these characters,

and the being in this
fungus apocalypse 20 years in.

I don't know how to describe
this feeling of pride,

and I can't wait for everybody
at Naughty Dog

that worked so hard on the game

and realize that the first time
to see this version, like,

does all their work justice.

There's something really beautiful
and moving about that.

When people talk to me about the game,
we are same, we understand each other.

We have a shared language.

Arts are so important because it holds
a mirror to our social condition

and it helps us
have better understanding

for someone who doesn't look
or act like us,

who might come
from a different culture.

And I think that we'll be able to

jump over some of these
skyscraper high hurdles

that we have in the things that divide us,

and that will never end.

That right there,
is the crux of "The Last of Us."

One of the most exciting experiences
of my life was getting this job.

To come back to HBO,
which basically raised me,

to meet Craig, to meet Bella,
all of our different actors,

there was something of where I knew
this was going to be

the hardest
and the best experience of my life.

And weirdly,
there was something that I knew

was special and terrifying,
and it all came true.

On the first day,
I set a fairly reasonable goal

to make the best television show ever.

That was our reasonable goal.

I just wanna say, thank you.

I love you guys. Thank you.

And that's the end of the story.

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