You can visit The last of usbreakout star at the Calgary Zoo, and no, it’s not Pedro Pascal or Bella Ramsey. As it turns out, the HBO series’ giraffe scene, taken directly from the games, was created with a real giraffe and filmed at the Calgary Zoo. The zoo has few giraffes, but Nabo – a 12-year-old male Masai giraffe who, at 17 feet, is the tallest of the bunch – was chosen for the role.
The scene is undoubtedly one of the most important in the video game and show; it’s the culmination of hours of unrelenting violence, a moment of reprieve before Joel (Pascal) and Ellie (Ramsey) with more of The last of uspatented brutality. HBO placed the scene in the game’s ninth episode, the first season finale. Ellie recovers from a particularly traumatic encounter with a group of cannibals, removed from her usual wit and humor. At just the right moment she stumbles upon the giraffe – a reminder of the beauty and power of nature. It was important to HBO’s production team to get this moment right, which meant using a real giraffe.
“What I quickly learned after researching the game was how crucial this one moment is to the game’s entire story,” said location manager Matt Palmer in HBO’s Making of The Last of Us documentary. “Yes, you can create a giraffe in visual effects, but it’s just not the same.”
Of course, there were some people on social media who thought the giraffe was completely fake, completely CGI, as so many animals on screen are these days. Others even went so far as to criticize the CGI, unaware that the giraffe is an animal actor, Nabo. Possibly tripping people: there used to be used a host of visual effects to make the scene come into its own.
HBO took over production The last of us to the Calgary Zoo to film the scene. Nabo’s enclosure was paneled in blue to create a blue screen. The set-up took about a month, says production designer John Paino Varietyso the giraffe could feel comfortable in the changed environment and with a bunch of new people, including Pascal and Ramsey, feeding the giraffe into the scene. And it does make an impression; even Ramsey said in the documentary that it was almost “spiritual” to be so close to a huge animal. So yes, the giraffe is real, but the environment isn’t – that’s a CGI background led by visual effects supervisor Alex Wang.
“That’s Hollywood magic of Alex isolating the giraffes and putting them on our set,” Paino said. “That was probably the most complicated piece of VFX stage, set and location I’ve worked on.”