The Last of Us: from video game to series
From a Bandicoot to a Clicker, there is only one step
Founded in 1984 by Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin, the Naughty Dog studio – formerly known as JAM Software – is one of the pillar studios in the history of video games. It is at the origin of great sagas of which the Crash Bandicoot trilogy which allowed them a repurchase of their structure by Playstation at the beginning of the millennium.
Following this event, the studio lost the rights to their mascot. The team then decided to create their new Jak and Daxter franchise for the Playstation 2. Despite this new success, the company wants to create a new, more realistic game for the Playstation 3: Uncharted.
This transition allowed them to explore new genres by drawing on the codes of Hollywood cinema.
After the success of Uncharted 2: Among the Thief, Neil Druckmann – the game’s lead game designer – was asked to create a new IP within the studio.
Since its inception, the Naughty Dog team has been dedicated to only one project at a time. Following the release of the secondUncharted opus, it was split in two. One dedicated to the development of theUncharted sequel, and the other to the future project led by Bruce Straley, director of the future game and Neil Druckmann, promoted to creative director.
The idea for the game was born during Neil’s university years. At that time he had the idea to merge the gameplay of Ico in a post-apocalyptic universe, that is to say to control a character accompanied by an NPC having a strong impact on the gameplay and the story.
With his partner expecting children at the time of writing, Neil imagined The Last of Us as a coming-of-age story. Focusing on the relationship between a young girl learning to survive, Ellie, and a man with a father’s will to save his child (Joel).
The relationship between Joel and Ellie has become the driving force of the story. As for the universe, it has been grafted around them. Infecting the world with cordyceps came later, after watching a BBC documentary on the fungus: Planet Earth.
Apocalyptic road trip
In order to emotionally impact the player in this story, Neil Druckmann and his teams spent a lot of time creating a believable universe:
“We spent a lot of time researching the world and the disease, and how institutions respond to a pandemic .”Excerpt from the interview at Playstation Blog for the release of the game in 2013
The choice of the United States was an obvious one as it allowed the different story arcs to be anchored in various environments known to a country. It creates an evolution in the relationship between Ellie and Joel during their journey.
In 2033, the world as we know it is infected by cordyceps, a fungus that turns humans into aggressive creatures. Joel living in the quarantine zone of Boston is entrusted with a young girl Ellie, immune to the disease. He must take her to the Fireflies – a group of rebels – so that they can study her and create a vaccine. Unfortunately, everything does not go as planned, forcing Joel and Ellie to travel across the United States from East to West in search of these famous Fireflies.
In addition to Boston, the player will discover the cities of Austin, Lincoln, Pittsburgh, Jackson and Salt Lake City.
The reproductions of these cities are not 100% faithful to reality. Naughty Dog wanted to find a middle ground by including real monuments to anchor its story without distorting it.
Alberta: an American look
When it was released in 2013, The Last of Us was a critical and public success. A big screen adaptation was quickly envisaged the following year. But it is only in 2023, after several failed attempts, that a concrete project is born, a TV series adaptation by HBO.
It is then that the choice of the places of shooting was posed. Jason Nolan, director of the series, had heard about the Alberta region through a file proposing their region as a filming location. Nolan quickly approved the idea because the great strength of this Canadian region is the diversity of environments that the territory offers:
“The story starts in Texas, then goes from Boston to Wyoming. Alberta has the big cities, the small towns, the prairies, the forests, the mountains, which are all featured in the show. We have pretty much every environment you can imagine other than the ocean, so I think that was our winning angle.”Extract from an interview with Jason Nolan by MAclean’s
Real places of the region were made up in order to match as well as possible the environments present in the basic game.
One of the most notable examples is the capitol building in Boston. It is an important place in the plot since it is the meeting point of Joel, Tess and Ellie with the Fireflies.
Unable to use the actual Massachusetts States House in Boston, Nolan and his crews used the Alberta Legislative Building for the exterior and some interior scenes. The result is very faithful to the original work.
The capitol is not the only Boston building to appear on screen in the game and series. On their way through the city to their rendezvous point, the heroes must pass through the ruins of the Bostonian Museum. But in reality it is a fictional museum inspired by other museums in the city. For the series, the teams created their own vision of the museum based on two Boston museums, the Old State House and Faneuil Hall Marketplace.
After leaving Boston, Joel and Ellie’s new goal before finding the Fireflies is to find Tommy. This is how players and the public (from episode 6 onwards) discover a place of great importance in the story of The Last of Us: the Jackson colony.
As the story unfolds, the devastated urban setting gradually gives way to a natural environment.
“We had a desire to recreate the landscapes of the Midwest, with a natural beauty and that feeling of literally being in the middle of America.Statement from John Piano, production designer, to the Los Angeles Times
The game is really inspired by the town of Jackson Hole, known for its architectural style reminiscent of the conquest of the West. Unfortunately, for the teams of the series, it was impossible to really shoot in this city because of its high number of tourists. They chose the town of Canmore in Alberta, Canada.
Overall, while the teams were unable to shoot at the actual locations visited by the game – such as theUniversity of Colorado which is the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, or the city of Salt Lake City and its fictitious hospital which is represented on the screen by the Queen Elizabeth II in Grande Prairie – they have done a real work of reproduction of the sets in order to respect the original work as well as possible.
Export of Cordyceps
In addition to telling the story of his video game on the small screen, The Last of Us series allows Neil Druckman to deepen the lore of his work by telling us the origin of the apocalypse through flashbacks.
From episode 2, this flashback introduces us to a scientist having lunch in an Indian restaurant in New Delhi, before being escorted later to the first infected.
This is the first appearance of a country other than the United States in an official work of the license. Here again, we are talking about the Alberta region and more specifically the city of Calgary.
The largest production in Canada
As you can see, the Alberta region was the ideal setting for this series. With close to $100 million spread over nine episodes, The Last of Us is considered by the industry to be the largest production in Canadian history.
However, it may only be for a short time because season 2 (probably adapted from the second game) has already been announced, and it is likely that Alberta will once again be the main shooting location.
The Canadian region is not ready to eradicate cordyceps from its lands…
Discover all the shooting locations of The Last of Us series
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By Damien Biju
Passionné par le cinéma, les séries d'animations et les jeux vidéo, il rêve secrètement de voyager à travers le monde à la recherche des lieux les plus emblématiques de la pop culture à bord d'une Delorean.