Is the giraffe in The Last of Us real? Episode 9 adapted one of the original game’s best scenes: Joel and Ellie feeding a giraffe – but is it real, or is it CGI?
Out of all of the moments to be transferred to HBO’s show, fans were hoping for one in particular: as Joel and Ellie make their way through Salt Lake City, they find a giraffe munching some greenery on the side of a building.
Just like in the game, Joel assures Ellie he won’t scare it away, before handing her a branch to feed it. As she giggles in awe of the wild animal, Joel looks on contently, happily, in a brief moment of peace.
However, after the finale aired on HBO this week, viewers were left asking: is the giraffe real, or was it created using CGI?
Is the giraffe real in The Last of Us?
Yes! The giraffe is very much real in The Last of Us finale.
While there’s certainly some VFX in the scene – elements of the staging feature CGI, such as the blue-screen background – the team used real giraffes from Calgary Zoo.
In an interview with Variety, production designer John Paino explained: “I’m sure Alex Wang, visual effects supervisor, could have made a CGI giraffe if we had the time.
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“We needed to see if we could acclimate the giraffe to strangers feeding it, with a very small film crew there. There was the indoor enclosure with a balcony and an outdoor one where the keepers would take care of it.”
Joel and Ellie see the giraffe through a damaged opening on the building, just like in the game, so the balcony helped with evoking the same aesthetic and feeling of the original scene.
In order to keep the giraffes comfortable, Paino’s team spent a month-and-a-half setting up green screen panels around their enclosure, working in tandem with the keepers and trainers on set.
“The trainers worked to get them to eat out of a stranger’s hand. So, when Ellie and Joel walk up at the enclosure, that’s the giraffe eating those branches of food,” Paino added.
“That’s Hollywood magic of Alex isolating the giraffes and putting them on our set. That was probably the most complicated piecing of VFX stage, scenery and location I’ve worked on.”
The Last of Us Season 1 is available to stream in its entirety now. You can find out more about Season 2 here.