The Last of Us show’s finale recreates some of the source material’s best moments, but one that stuck out to many was the scene where Joel and Ellie meet a giraffe in what remains of Salt Lake City.
In the game, this scene is so iconic as it gives us a moment of joy after Winter, one of the game’s darkest sections, and helps bring Ellie back after she falls into a deep depressive state. It’s one of the most widely beloved scenes in the series and has remained so in the decade since its launch. And as improbable as it might seem, actors Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey weren’t acting with a CGI giraffe in the show, as HBO and PlayStation Productions got an actual giraffe to work with the crew to try and capture the magic of the original scene.
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Now that the season is over, HBO has released a short documentary called The Making of The Last of Us that goes through a few key moments across the nine episodes. One of the last highlighted segments is the giraffe scene which delves into how the crew captured this moment. It turns out, there was some CGI involved, but it wasn’t for the giraffe itself. The scene takes place in a dilapidated building, and the giraffe peeks in through a hole in the side to eat some of the overgrowth. Here, Joel and Ellie feed it and make a new friend before they continue their journey toward the Firefly hospital. But CGI was used to recreate the broken building, rather than the giraffe. Instead, the crew tracked down Nabo, who performed the role.
The show was shot in Alberta, and the crew lucked out in that there was a zoo nearby with a giraffe that was down to let them borrow said giraffe to shoot the scene. Recreating the set for the show was just a matter of outfitting the space with blue screen panels so the effects team could fill in the gaps.
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Pascal goes on to say that having those practical moments on top of the CGI moments was “everything” for him as an actor because it helped him feel grounded in the world in a way acting in front of a green screen can’t replicate. Pascal has been subject to similar smoke and mirrors on The Mandalorian, which uses LED screens and Unreal Engine environments to give actors a sense of what their surroundings will look like in the final cut. This has become a recurring issue in Hollywood as franchises like Marvel often opt to have actors perform on green screens. Big names like Thor: Love and Thunder actor Christian Bale have spoken out against the practice, and from the sound of it, The Last of Us wasn’t as heavily reliant on it as other projects have been as of late. Even the bloater in episode five was made real by an 80-pound suit worn by a performer rather than with CGI.