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What The Last Of Us Looks Like In Real Life

It's easy to get lost in a game like "The Last of Us." The amazing graphics, animations, character models, and environments in the game blew fans away when it was originally released in 2013 for the PlayStation 3. And as noted by the PlayStation blog, the game's motion capture was so impressive that the same recordings were used when crafting 2022's critically acclaimed remake, "The Last Of Us Part 1." 

In addition to its gorgeous visuals and acting, the game also boasts a beautifully written story which follows a man named Joel as he is tasked with smuggling a teenaged girl name Ellie across the country in the hopes that she is the key to curing a virus that has swept the world. It's an immersive and engaging game, and one that players aren't likely to forget. On the surface, "The Last of Us" is an impressive achievement in gaming. But when you go behind the scenes, it becomes even more impressive.

During its development, "The Last of Us" required a team of talented actors to actually perform their scenes on a set, much like they would on a live-action film. As a result, the talent involved used their imaginations and acting skills to the best of their abilities in order to provide the kind of performances that endeared the game to audiences. Here's what some of these iconic performances looked like in real life.

Beware of spoilers ahead for "The Last of Us."

Sarah's death was just as emotional on-set

The opening sequence of "The Last of Us" follows Joel attempting to escape the onset of the cordyceps virus along with his daughter Sarah and his brother Tommy. Unfortunately, things go badly and their escape is thwarted amidst the chaos. Upon reaching the edge of the city limits, Joel and Sarah are intercepted by the U.S. military, which fires upon the two in order to prevent a potential spread of the disease. Joel is unharmed by the bullets and the troop who fired upon them is killed by Tommy, but Sarah is mortally wounded and succumbs to her injuries in Joel's arms.

It's an intense and emotional scene that immediately sets the tone for the rest of the game. And behind the scenes, it was just as intense for the actors involved. Troy Baker — the actor who plays Joel — recalled the emotional process of getting into the scene in a behind the scenes clip. "I knew I was gonna have to go this place that you don't really want to go to as an actor," Baker said. "You want to find some aspect of reality you can empathetically draw from, you know?" For the actress portraying Sarah, Hana Hayes, it was just as intense. According to Hayes, she drew from the memory of her deceased grandfather to become emotionally distraught. 

In clips of the performance capture session, it looks like it takes Baker and Hayes just a few extra moments to shake off the heavy emotions of the scene (before T-posing in a surreal moment). According to Troy Baker, he found himself still crying between the multiple takes of the scene.

The cast had to imagine some objects

Recording motion capture for a video game is pretty different from filming a traditional CGI-free movie, which typically have elaborate sets and props that allow actors to feel immersed into a scene. When "The Last of Us" was being shot, much like with other video game shoots, the actors had to pantomime many of the objects with which their characters interact.

A good example of this is when Joel and Ellie get a car from Bill and begin driving across the country to their destination. Ellie reveals that she had stolen a rather explicit magazine from Bill's stash and begins perusing through it, making witty quips as Joel struggles to persuade her to put it down. One would think that behind the scenes, Ashley Johnson — Ellie's actress — would be holding onto a real book or magazine. However, as seen in a behind-the-scenes video of game's creation, Johnson isn't holding anything at all, and instead has to imagine holding an object. 

Another example can be seen in the behind the scenes footage of the prior sequence in which Bill detains both Ellie and Joel. In the game, he handcuffs both of them until he can make sure neither of them are infected. When filming, there were no actual handcuffs.

Some audio lines were recorded while playing the game

As noted by VoiceOverVoiceActor, performers in video games and animated projects that are early in development are often only given a small frame of reference for what their character will look like, such as a sketch. However, more often than not, a voice actor can have little idea of what to expect from the final product. Instead, reliance on the director of these recording sessions may be all a performer can expect.

The actors often had to use their imaginations while on set, but the cast of "The Last of Us" would be given a better frame of reference when it came time to get in the studio and record some of their dialogue. One example of this can be seen in clips of Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker recording lines in the studio together. As opposed to having to imagine the environment Joel and Ellie are in, an in-progress build of the game was played on a screen to give Baker and Johnson some reference as to what their characters are describing. From there, the two began to record their lines about life before the virus — something Ellie never experienced.

A secret epilogue was in the live play

For years, the implications of the ending to "The Last of Us" remained one of the biggest unanswered questions about the game. Unbeknownst to Ellie, Joel killed members of the Fireflies militia upon learning that she would die during the operation required to find a cure for the cordyceps virus. When Ellie confronts him about the circumstances surrounding her rescue, Joel swears that he has told her the truth about the Fireflies. Ellie pauses for a bit, then lets out a reserved "Okay." Immediately after this, the credits roll.

However, this was only part of the ending. in 2014, Neil Druckmann directed a live performance of the game, entitled "The Last of Us: One Night Live," which recreated many of the scenes from the game with Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker reprising their roles. The live performance was streamed on YouTube, quite literally showing the audience what the game would look like in real life well before there were ever talks of an HBO adaptation. However, a key part of it was omitted from the stream — a secret epilogue.

According to members of the NeoGAF forums that were in attendance, a deleted scene was included in the end that wasn't permitted to be filmed by the audience. The scene, as described by Polygon, shows Bakers' Joel playing guitar while singing a song to Ellie about how much she means to him. Ellie feeds Joel one of her signature puns before he gives her the guitar and promises to teach her one day.

A similar scene later appears in "The Last of Us Part 2."