The co-creator of TV show The Last of Us has heaped generous praise on New Zealand company Wētā FX for its “phenomenal” work on the acclaimed latest episode.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Last of Us S01E05.
In the episode’s climactic scene, a terrifying swarm of infected bursts from a sinkhole in Kansas City and overwhelms an armed militia group led by Kiwi actor Melanie Lynskey’s Kathleen as they’re about to capture and presumably execute lead characters Joel and Ellie along with their allies Henry and Sam.
It’s the first time the TV show has featured a ‘bloater’; a very large and fearsome beast that is a person who has been infected with Cordyceps for years without perishing.
An artificial cul-de-sac was constructed for the scene and it featured a lot of practical effects, but Wētā FX – formally Weta Digital – provided visual effects (VFX) in post-production.
Craig Mazin co-created the series along with Neil Druckmann, who was the creative director on The Last of Us games. In the official podcast for the TV show, Mazin talked about how complicated and difficult the scene’s practical elements were to film, before saying: “We have to talk about Wētā.”
Mazin said there is a global shortage of skilled VFX workers which means VFX companies can pick and choose which projects they work on.
“One of the great things for us is that all of these places we talked to were like ‘Whoa! The Last of Us!’. There’s a huge overlap in VFX and gaming. So we got the best of the best,” said Mazin.
“For this sequence – nobody, nobody does creature work the way Wētā does. Nobody. They are the best and what they did here is so phenomenal.
“If you study it carefully, there will maybe be moments where you’re like ‘OK that one’s VFX but that one’s real’, but I guarantee you won’t get it all right. It’s really beautifully blended.”
Mazin also revealed in the podcast that he had intended for the bloater’s killing of Perry to be much more graphic.
“I was overly ambitious. I had this thing where I wanted the bloater to pick Perry up and rip him in half at the waist,” he said.
“The more Wētā tried to do it the more you realise that people don’t rip along the waist. It’s just really hard to do, ha ha!
“It got close. It came close. But ultimately [we decided that doing] something that felt more grounded anatomically would be more effective. And then, of course, we were like, ‘Well, the bloater [in the game] has this head-rip that is iconic, it’s great and it’s terrifying’.”
The Last of Us is produced by HBO, owned by Warner Bros. Discovery, which also owns Newshub.
In Aotearoa, the series is available to stream via Neon. The full podcast episode in which Mazin talks about Wētā is embedded below: