The Last of Us VFX Artist Reveals How They Created Realistic Cordyceps Victims

The sight of millions of Cordyceps encompassing the humans in The Last of Us is enough to send shivers down the spine of even the toughest out there. An SFX artist of the show has just given us a sneak peek into how the show managed to create such realistic visuals. 

The Last of Us is a saga that portrays the aftermath of a deadly fungal outbreak that has converted everyone into the Walking Dead. 

Twenty years later, a grizzled survivor named Joel (Pedro Pascal) has a mission: to escort a young girl named Ellie (Bella Ramsey) across the country because she holds the key to a cure. She is immune to the fungus and the only hope for humanity. 

However, their journey is treacherous, as death is always a step away as they embark on this impossible mission.

So, how does the show create such gory visuals? Let’s find out!

Vanity Fair speaks to Barrie Gower, the makeup designer and VFX artist behind the show, and he reveals the secrets of his innovative craft. 

Gower says that he started by taking cues from Neil Druckmann, the man behind the game franchise, and tried replicating his favorite game elements.

He then studied various types of mushrooms and fungi to create a realistic model of the cordyceps, which would also be horrific to the eyes. 

They had to trigger a primal fear in the audience, and they found the perfect way to do it: exploiting a common phobia of holes and patterns. Bower used these elements to design the different stages of infection, from the human-like runners to the grotesque bloaters. 

The VFX artist explains how he designed different stages of infection for the show. Here is what he said:

The best part about three or four months developing all the different stages for the infected. We would start initially with what was two-dimensional straight makeup to adding projects around the eyes and the mostrils and the mouth to almost suggest conjunctivitus. Infection to the eye and orifices.

Our first prosthetics research was a very shallow but raised network of veins on the face, which gave the suggestion that this parasite… was actually making a race in the channel for the brain to infect the host. There, we would start getting a little bit more extensive with stage two, stage three.

We would start introducing silicone appliances… As we start to get to stages four and five, there would be more and more expensive appliances. More expensive coverages… They’re glued so well to the actor’s skin that if we would try to tear them off the skin, we would take off the skin with them.

Season 1 faced much criticism for not having enough infected on screen. The story focused more on how the humans survived the apocalypse while the infected were mainly in the shadows. 

We saw Joel and Ellie come within touching distance of getting infected, but they always managed to get away, sometimes at a terrible cost, like losing Tess, Sam, and Henry. The infected were more like the hidden forces that drove everything from the background but were rarely seen taking center stage.

The Last of Us season 2 will take us deeper into the post-apocalyptic world, where the infected are more than just mindless walkers (zombies with a brain?). 

Creator Craig Mazin has teased that the infected will lurk in every nook and cranny, and we will see the wrath of the Cordyceps hive mind. 

The season will also have the opportunity to bring more variety to the infected and just be more imaginative in general. The SAG-AFTRA strike might just be a blessing in disguise, as it gives the VFX team more time to brainstorm and develop innovative new creatures to rob us of our night’s sleep!

All in all, we expect The Last of Us season 2 to outperform the already successful pilot and show the true wrath of the Cordyceps!

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About The Last Of Us

The Last of Us is an HBO TV series adaptation of the award-winning video game of the same name originally developed by Naughty Dog.

It is set in 2033, as a fungal infestation plagues humans, turning them feral and blind before finally finishing them off. The series follows Joel’s journey to escort an immune 14-year-old Ellie to the Fireflies, who hope to study her to procure a vaccine.

The cast comprises Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey, both famed for their roles in Games of Thrones, along with Gabriel Luna, Merle Dandridge, and Nico Parker. The show was renewed for season 2.

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