Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have likely noticed the fanfare around HBO’s new series the Last of Us, which barely two weeks into January was already dubbed the TV event of the year by critics. The series has been adapted from Naughty Dog’s original game of the same name. It follows two unlikely companions – gritty middle-aged Joel and spiky teenager Ellie – as they navigate a post-apocalyptic America teeming with ‘infected’, in other words the undead, on a mission to save humanity. Released to widespread acclaim in 2013, it became the studio’s runaway success story and cemented its place as an industry leader when it comes to narrative storytelling in games.
From what we’ve seen so far, the core aspects (and even some frames) have been translated directly from game to TV, but one crucial element of the story is different in the adaptation: the very nature of the infection and how it is transmitted. In the game, spores are vectors for the disease, alongside the more traditional zombie thriller method of a bite. Given that spores and gas masks would be difficult to incorporate into a TV scenario, the disease in the adaptation – a mind-controlling fungus called Cordyceps – becomes more of a physical, visible enemy. This provided ample inspiration for the artists who worked across the show, including Elastic, the California-based studio that created the title sequence.
The idea was to “build a world overtaken by fungi”, the project’s creative directors, Andy Hall and Nadia Tzuo, tell us. The team at Elastic worked on the title sequence in close collaboration with the show’s creators: Neil Druckmann, co-president of Naughty Dog and architect of the original game; Craig Mazin, whose experience capturing life-threatening disasters on screen tracks back to his time as a showrunner on Chernobyl; and executive producer Carolyn Strauss, who helped to bring us influential series including The Sopranos and Game of Thrones.