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How 'The Last of Us' SFX Artists Created the Infected

"The irony of it is, I hate mushrooms." The Last of Us makeup designer and visual effects artist Barrie Gower breaks down the extensive work that went into bringing the terrifying fungi-controlled monsters to the screen. From gathering inspiration from the original video game created by Neil Druckmann to taking a full body scan of stunt performer Adam Basil for the Bloater suit, Barrie explains the whole process that went into creating every type of Infected. Director: Anna O'Donohue Director of Photography: Steve Montgomery Editor: Evan Allen Producer: Funmi Sunmonu Line Producer: Romeeka Powell Associate Producer: Rafael Vasquez Production Manager: Natasha Soto-Albors, James Pipitone Director, Talent : Lauren Mendoza Camera Operator: Jess Averback Production Assistant: Anne Schmitz Post Production Supervisor: Edward Taylor Post Production Coordinator: Jovan James Supervising Editor: Kameron Key Assistant Editor: Justin Symonds Gaffer: James Foreman Sound: Niall Farrelly DIT: Abbie Lucas

Released on 08/25/2023


The irony of it is, I hate mushrooms.

I can't stand mushrooms.

I won't eat mushrooms.

I can't stand the smell or the texture of them.

So it's typical that we land a project

which is all centered around mushrooms and fungus.

Hi, my name is Barrie Gower,

and I'm gonna break down how we designed

and created the infected for The Last of Us.

Cordyceps is a natural parasite

that is a real thing in the real world.

So, the idea and the science behind The Last of Us

is that what happens if this infected the human world?

[light music] [creature trilling]

[creature screeching]

We were incredibly inspired

by the original video game,

created by Neil Druckmann and Naughty Dog.

We went back to Neil and said,

Do you have, in theory, what's like a greatest hits

of your favorite art from the original video game?

So he sent us a folder of about 10 to 15 images,

and we used that with a combination of our own artwork

and of real funguses, real mushrooms, real mold slimes.

When we looked at a lot of this fungus,

there's a very repetitive pattern.

There's lots of holes, lots of clusters of shapes and forms.

And it's something my daughter and I suffer from,

phobia against lots of holes, or lots of parallel patterns.

Very interesting to the eye, but I think it's also something

which would trigger that phobia.

And if we did that,

I feel we're probably quite successful.

[gentle music]

With the infected characters,

we used the leaf miner shapes to create

all this beautiful, organic network of veins, raised veins.

We also used a lot of reference of shelf mushrooms,

which are mushrooms which grow very parallel

trees and environments.

For the Clickers, we used a lot of reference for

Chicken of the Woods,

which is a large mushroom which grows

with these soft, rounded petals,

which are usually vibrant oranges and yellows.

We also reversed the colors as well.

[creatures trilling]

In episode two, we have a sequence where Ellie, Joel,

and Tess enter a a Bostonian museum set.

And as they come through the doorway,

they're met with a plethora of cordyceps

and fungus and mushrooms, and eventually get to a staircase,

which all our cast walk up through

all these kind of decomposing, infected bodies

which have become part of the environment.

To do that, we worked, again, with John

and the art department, and with visual effects as well

to decide what we would need to create practically,

and what would necessarily be extended digitally

to go up the walls and onto the ceilings.

And actually what we ended up filming

was pretty much pretty close to about 80 to 100% practical

that our team created.

It's almost like vinyl,

it's like a retro effect we've had

where productions have started leaning more towards

practical effects again.

So, we've been very fortunate

with our last so many projects,

especially something like The Last of Us,

or something like Stranger Things or Chernobyl

or Game of Thrones,

where we worked very heavily with visual effects.

and we've been asked to provide

as much as we can on camera.

[gentle music]

Having worked with Craig Mazin before

on Chernobyl for HBO,

we worked very closely with him

in developing a series of stages for radiation burn victims,

and we had about four or five different stages

over that show.

With The Last of Us, it was very similar

that we wanted to establish a series of different stages,

going from recently infected human,

up to the Clicker and then the Bloaters.

We spent probably the best part

of about three or four months

developing all the different stages for the infected,

and we would start initially with

what was two-dimensional straight makeup,

to adding products around the eyes

and the nostrils and the mouth,

to almost suggest conjunctivitis,

and some kind of infection to the eyes and orifices.

To our first prosthetic stage, as such,

was a very shallow but raised network of veins on the face,

which gave the suggestion that this parasite,

the cordyceps inside the human body,

was actually making a race

and a channel for the brain to infect the host.

From there, we would start getting

a little bit more extensive.

We'd have our stage two, stage three.

We would start introducing silicone appliances,

which would have little shelf mushrooms

and little sprouts of things coming out the skin.

As we started to get to stages four and five,

there would be more and more extensive appliances,

more extensive coverage.

Be it further over the head going into the scalp.

They're glued so well to the actual skin

that if we would just try and tear them off the skin,

we'd probably take a layer of skin with them.

We had an infected character played by a stunt performer

who was pretty much fused to a wall.

We had him sitting there for several hours

whilst we got him in place.

We have to remember,

we're dealing with a human at the end of the day.

And it's always important that we're keeping them hydrated,

we're making sure they're comfortable.

It's always taking that into consideration.

We then jump into our Clickers.

Their anatomy and the design of the character

has this huge kind of floral petals, organic shapes,

which are breaking out the cranium.

[creatures shrieking]

One of our biggest sequences for the first season

was in episode five,

which we coined the cul-de-sac sequence,

and that's when we have all of our main cast

who are spread over this cul-de-sac set

with cars and various bits of rubble between them.

And we have this truck

which sort of breaks into this building,

and there's a huge explosion.

It creates this crater in the ground.

And from this crater erupts this absolute flood

of infected characters and Clickers.

And we have two actors, two Canadian incredible actors,

one called Samuel, one called Olivia,

who played those Clickers.

They wore fully practical foam latex crayons

on the top of the head.

And because we had very low light source,

we could actually Velcro that out of the appliance,

and all their eye area would be free

so they'd have complete vision.

So, for an awful lot of the cul-de-sac sequence,

these stunt performers are running past frame,

they're climbing over cars, and jumping onto each other.

And there's a lot of combat as well.

They had their eye areas removed,

so anything that you catch in camera or close-up,

they would have that area augmented

and replaced in post-production.

The Bloater is potentially

the most extensive infected character that we have

in the first season.

We had the task to create a full body suit

for a UK stunt performer called Adam Basil

who, I think Adam's about 6'8.

And we took a complete body scan of Adam

and a life cast of his head and hands,

and assembled it here in the workshop.

So, we had a duplicate copy of Adam,

and we sculpted the entire Bloated suit

over his body former in a modeling clay.

It's basically like Adam wearing a sofa,

and walking around in this huge, massive rubber sofa.

The weight is pretty extensive,

but it's very elastic, it's very stretchy.

It gives him a lot of freedom of movement.

The build in total from start to finish,

creating the Bloater suit,

was probably the best part of about nine to 10 weeks.

They scanned Adam fully and had a three-dimensional file,

and, as an asset, that they were able to work

with the digital company, Weta Digital,

who created a fully digital Bloater for the final sequence.

[Bloater grunting]

[gentle music]

Throughout my career, I've drawn inspiration

from a lot of makeup effects artists.

I mean, most notably, probably I'd say

Dick Smith and Rick Baker are the two.

I was very lucky a few years ago

to work for Rick Baker on the remake of The Wolfman,

and it was just incredible to have firsthand experience

with somebody like Rick Baker showing me

how to do all the direction of this fur,

how to dress it, how to comb it, how to trim it.

It's been great being able to work for a lot

of my peers as well,

and try and nurture a lot of their experiences,

and then try and hone that into a lot of the work

that we do here at BGFX.

I think every project we do, I always learn something new.

I mean, one thing we als always say

that is the next project you go on,

nine times out of 10,

it's something we've never made before.

And that's definitely the case with The Last of Us.

We've never made an army of people

covered in mushrooms before.

[creatures screeching]

[gentle music]