Warning: spoilers ahead for The Last of Us episode 5.
It was the moment fans of The Last of Us video game and newcomers alike had been waiting for, a moment in the TV show that viewers had been dreading and looking forward to in equal measure.
In episode 5 of the series, Joel (Pedro Pascal), Ellie (Bella Ramsey) and their new allies Henry (Lamar Johnson) and Sam (Keivonn Woodard) find themselves embroiled in a battle of epic proportions opposite revolutionary leader Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey) as well as – more terrifyingly – a swarm of infected, with a monstrous Bloater to boot.
The warzone quickly descends into a bloodbath, with people being bitten and ripped apart while striving desperately to survive – and during a recent chat with Metro.co.uk, director of photography Eben Bolter opened up about how the complex sequence came together, from the difficult lighting to the creation of the Bloater, a rare and powerful form of an infected.
Describing episode five as a ‘huge technical challenge’, Eben explained that one of the biggest obstacles that they faced was making sure that the moonlight shining down on the characters felt natural, as in real life, the moonlight wouldn’t have lit them up effectively enough.
Working on an exterior set, shooting nights across four weeks while dealing with a ‘huge fire’ and ‘massive action’ meant that there were ‘many elements’ that the crew had to grapple with, he outlined.
Eben took us back to the very beginning of the scene, starting with Joel, Ellie, Henry and Sam in a ‘walk and talk’ scene, when they make it to outer Kansas during their escape plan and are using torches in the middle of the night.
‘As a cinematographer, moonlight is one of the hardest but also most fun things to do, because every little molecule of light that you see is fake, is created, is from us. Moonlight doesn’t really exist. You can’t shoot with the real moon and just hope it looks good,’ he said, adding that this particular sequence featured ‘the most difficult lighting job I’ve ever had to do’.
‘I was trying to be as naturalistic as possible with the moonlight so people don’t really think about it. I didn’t want it to look like the real cheesy version of moonlight. Naturalistic moonlight is difficult, particularly on a huge scale, particularly outside where we’ve got winds that could get up to 70 miles per hour,’ he continued.
‘So we really had to lay it out with a model and track where they would walk and track what we’d need to build. That was just a green field, and we had to pour the concrete for the road. They built 19 houses. It’s just stacking layers upon layers of coordination and artistic intent.’
Eben worked with the episode’s director, Jeremy Webb, to storyboard the whole sequence, from where the characters hid behind a car to the location of the sniper’s house, Joel’s route to get up to the shooter, where the vehicles would be coming from and how close the trucks could safely come to the young actors running in front of them.
‘For me, the hardest thing on this shoot was that sequence,’ he stated, having worked as the director of photography on episodes three, four and five, as well as providing additional photography across the entire series.
Now we need to address the hulking monster in the room – the Bloater that crawls menacingly from underground with the rest of the infected, boasting incredible strength, the ability to use echolocation and a near-impenetrable exterior.
In the lore of The Last of Us, when a person becomes infected, they can go through several different stages of infection, if they survive that long – Runner, Stalker, Clicker and then Bloater.
While practical shots were used when filming the battle sequence, in the end, Eben was amazed by the work of the VFX department, who replaced everything with visual effects for the final image, including the Bloater.
‘The very final shot, the Bloater roars in the street and they all chase off the remaining soldiers. We shot that as a practical shot, and I think it went great. We were all happy with it,’ he recalled.
‘But that’s 100% VFX replacement now, so every single thing in that image is VFX, which is just mind-blowing to me. Every infected, every human, all of the houses are a VFX recreation, because they wanted to basically amp it up a little bit, change the action of a few things, and it got to a certain point where VFX painting on top of what we had shot didn’t make sense anymore, and they just did a full replacement.’
The cinematographer stressed that he feels very strongly in ‘whatever the best is wins’, and so didn’t feel ‘any sense of competition or wanting it to be my way or the highway’.
‘I love the shot that we did practically, and they’ve built upon that and made an even better shot completely digitally. Love it,’ he added.
While chatting to Metro.co.uk, Henry actor Lamar also spoke about what it was like to be a part of the battle sequence, saying that it was ‘definitely very scary’ at times’.
‘Everything was quite practical. So everything that you see there was real. There were a whole bunch of stuntmen, stuntwomen, extras, all the makeup, the revolutionaries. They’re all there with the guns and all of Kathleen’s crew… everything was there and provided for us,’ he shared.
‘You can only imagine after watching it, imagine being there in real life and actually seeing these Clickers come out of the floor. Seeing all of the fight choreography happening, people getting shot off of cars – it was insane. It was amazing to be a part of truly, and then to see it come to life on the episode… it was great. I think the fans are really, really gonna love that moment.’
The Last of Us is available to watch on Sky and NOW, with new episodes released on Mondays.
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