“No one works with creatures like Wētā does,” said Craig Mazin, co-creator of HBO’s “The Last of Us,” on the official podcast for the video game adaptation series. If you had a chance to watch the scene in episode five, chances are you’d agree with him.
It makes sense that HBO has approached Wētā FX to be the primary provider of creature work. Formerly known as Weta Digital, the New Zealand-based digital visual effects company has worked on some of the best-known franchises including “Lord of the Rings,” “King Kong” and “Avatar.” In fact, the team recently won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects on “Avatar: The Way of Water.”
TechCrunch spoke with VFX Supervisor Simon Jung and Animation Supervisor Dennis Yoo, who discussed the teams’ contributions to the HBO series, which included the digital recreation of the live-action fan’s prosthetics, the computer generated (CG) animal creation and scenery morphing to make it look covered in plant life and cordyceps mushrooms. The company also digitally replaced the live-action clickers in episode two and the clicker child character in episode five.
Other members of the Wētā FX team who worked on “The Last of Us” included VFX Producer Aaron Cowan, Associate VFX Producer Dave Hampton, FX Supervisor Claude Schitter, CG Supervisor Ben Campbell, and Compositing Supervisor. Ben Roberts.
According to the company, Wētā FX worked on six of the nine episodes, bringing Wētā’s total VFX shots to 456. There were more than a dozen other VFX houses working on the show, and approximately 250 shots of visual effects per episode, Alex Wang, VFX supervisor at HBO, told Vulture. There were around 2,500 shots in the entire series.
(Warning: This TechCrunch story contains spoilers..)
In the original game, the bloater, which is one of the final stages for victims infected with the cordyceps fungus, is one of the most difficult enemies to defeat due to its heavy fungus coating that acts as armor. Fortunately, on the show, Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) make it out of Dodge in one piece. Other characters weren’t so lucky.
The Kansas City cul-de-sac scene was definitely one of the bloodiest scenes in the entire series. Onlookers watched as a grotesque, bulbous fungus-infested monster smashed and hurled bodies like rag dolls. And who can forget the part where he ripped Perry’s (played by Jeffrey Pierce) head off as Sid from “Toy Story.”
The Barrie Gower prosthetic design, known for his work on “Game of Thrones” and “Stranger Things,” achieved the bloated look. We should also mention the performance of stuntman Adam Basil, who wore the roughly 88-pound suit made of foam rubber and foam latex, according to a Variety interview. According to Gower, the suit had to be covered in a slimy lubricant to make it look like a mushroom.
Jung said that overall the prosthetics were a great help and made his job much easier. However, because the prosthetics are made of rubber material, the fungal pieces attached to the suit did not move quite as expected.
“Movement was restricted with this giant rubber suit, and the things that were attached to it were wobbling a bit,” Yoo added. Yoo also said that HBO wanted a seven foot tall creature, while Basil (an ordinary man) is 6’4”.
This is where Wētā FX and the power of visual effects and CGI come in.
Jung explained that in order for the team to digitally recreate the bloater’s prosthetics, “we had to take the skin, then clean up that geometry, and then re-texture it and apply shaders to it. I just try to match the look as closely as possible,” she said. “Something that prosthetics can’t do as well or at all, for example, is have light penetrate the material as a subsurface scattering effect. So that’s the advantage of going digital.”
In the same scene as the shooter, Wētā FX also takes credit for the special effects of fire, destruction, over 50 CG clickers emerging from the sinkhole, as well as the child clicker who gets into the car with Ellie and ends up smashing Ellie’s car. Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey). ), leader of the resistance group.
The child clicker was another memorable and haunting part of episode five. At one point, Kathleen tells Henry (Lamar Johnson), “Kids die, Henry, they die all the time,” referring to Henry’s deaf brother Sam (Keivonn Woodard), who had cancer. “The idea that she is ultimately killed by a child felt like a kind of circular conclusion to that story,” Mazin said on the HBO podcast.
The child clicker, played by nine-year-old gymnast and contortionist Skye Newton, was also a digital recreation.
“Initially, [with the child clicker] there was just going to be a head replacement,” Jung said. “But we found that getting the proportions right and making sure that creature qualified as a child or what used to be a child was really difficult because so much of the face is covered in fungus.”
“To put that further into perspective, the actor with a prosthetic head had some sort of helmet-sized clicker head,” Yoo chimed in. “That blew it out of proportion from the beginning. So, there was always this back and forth trying to figure out what we were going to do. It ended up being all CG…we just had to do some modeling magic to make it look like it was supposed to look.”
Moving on to the final episode, which premiered this past Sunday, March 12, the scene with the giraffes was probably a sweet treat for players of the game. Ellie, shaken by her experience with cannibals in Colorado, stumbles upon a herd of giraffes that seem to cheer her up, if only for a moment. Little did she know, however, that the tall mammal is considered a symbol of orientation, as they tend to see danger before other vertically challenged animals.
The giraffe that Ellie feeds is actually an actual giraffe named Turnip who resides at the Calgary Zoo in Alberta, Canada. But the pack, as well as the Salt Lake City baseball field they roam on, are thanks to Wētā.
“So with the giraffes, we had a reference to the actual Nabo giraffe that was filmed in a zoo,” Jung said. “In addition, we took a field trip to our zoo here in Wellington, which also has three giraffes, and we spent an afternoon studying them and taking multiple angles of reference images and even scanning them with 3D scans of them when [they were] stopping just long enough for us to do it. We collect as many reference prints as possible and try to implement them and match them and make them look as realistic as possible.”
Wētā also did the CG monkeys in episode six.
Not only was the giraffe scene shot entirely at the Calgary Zoo, but the entire series was shot in Canada, making Wētā’s work that much more impressive. The company transformed and expanded environments and sets, including iconic Boston venues like The Bostonian Museum and Faneuil Hall, which were featured in episode two, “Infected.” The company said it also aged buildings throughout the University of Colorado.
Also, in the second episode, Wētā said that the crew replaced some of the live-action clickers, while other scenes were practical or had partial CG head replacements to make the mushroom prosthetics look more realistic by adding broadcast footage. light and scattering below the surface.
HBO’s “The Last of Us” averaged 30.4 million viewers in its first six episodes, according to HBO’s own data and Nielsen. Episode five, titled “Endure and Survive,” was the most watched episode of the season, with 11.6 million viewers. The finale, “Busca la luz”, was the second most viewed, with 8.2 million viewers.