The Last of Us production designer says he was ‘shocked’ at ‘clean’ Alberta

The HBO series was filmed throughout the Canadian province for an entire year

The Last of Us Joel

Ever since it was revealed that Alberta would be home to the production of HBO’s The Last of Us series, many have made jokes about how the Canadian province is the perfect fit for a post-apocalyptic setting.

However, one of the key players behind bringing the PlayStation video game’s zombie-infested world to life feels differently.

Speaking to Vanity Fair, John Paino, production designer on The Last of Us, praised Alberta for its beauty. Over the course of a year, the series was shot all around the province, including in Edmonton, Calgary, High River and Canmore, so he clearly spent a lot of time there.

Neil Druckmann on The Last of Us set

Co-creator Neil Druckmann on the set of The Last of Us.

To start, Paino notes that it was easy to find Western-looking towns around Alberta to stand in for Texas during the show’s pre-pandemic opening scenes. But for many of the parts of the show that required run-down areas, Paino said they ran into some challenges:

“When you go to major areas, cities, states, there’s always a liminal area that used to be an army base, or maybe it was an old factory. Children of Men, they shot a lot of that in old factory areas and old shipping yards. And I thought, Oh, Canada’s got lots of that, there’ll be a bunch of places that we’re going to just run around and augment it. We couldn’t find any of that. I swear to you, we couldn’t even find an abandoned gas station. We had a slow realization that many things that we thought we would just shoot on location, we would be building. Also, the architecture just wasn’t there. If we’re careening down streets and knocking things down—I was really shocked. It’s a very clean country. There’s like no, “Oh, yeah, over there, there’s all these abandoned buildings.” No American, uh, grit. [Laughs]”

Therefore, this meant that he and his team had to actually build a lot of the sets from scratch. Given that the series is believed to be the biggest TV production in Canadian history with a Game of Thrones-level budget, they certainly had the resources to do so.

Joel (Pedro Pascal), Tess (Anna Torv) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) in The Last of Us.

Joel (Pedro Pascal), Tess (Anna Torv) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) in The Last of Us.

This work includes the construction of a 20-foot (6.1-metre) wall for the quarantine zone (QZ) that’s featured in the pilot. Of the QZ, Paino said the following:

“I would say that that was at least two or three acres of scenery, and that was just one backlot. Just the amounts of things we had to order! And in Calgary, you’re kind of in the middle of Canada, so there’s not a lot there. It’s kind of like if you were working in the middle of the United States; you’d go to the coasts to get things. Canada is cold and rainy and a lot of our sets are outdoors. In the QZ, there is electricity for certain times of the day because it’s a bastion of civilization, for what it’s worth. So making the hodgepodge lights and things like that, making them feel like they’ve been reworked and repaired—kind of like the chairs, that idea, that metaphor was throughout.”

Overall, the interview is a really interesting read, offering a lot of insight into the kind of work that goes into creating the look and feel of a big-budget show. In particular, Paino mentions how he played some of the game for reference but looked more towards images from real-life refugee camps, slum areas and council housing in the likes of England, India and France. He also notes that there wasn’t “an extensive amount of green screen” on sets, so what you see was, often, actually hand-crafted.

Paino isn’t the only person from The Last of Us creative team who’s praised Alberta. Last month, stars Pedro Pascal (Joel) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey), as well as creators Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin, raved to MobileSyrup in an interview about the experience of filming there.

In other The Last of Us news, the series was just renewed for a second season, which is set to adapt The Last of Us Part II. However, Mazin has previously stated that they’d likely need multiple seasons to fully cover the sequel, so it remains to be seen whether HBO will give them the greenlight. (Given its massive success so far, though, that seems likely.)

In the meantime, fans are celebrating the series’ third episode, “Long Long Time,” which has received widespread acclaim. Travel Alberta has also created an official interactive map to show you exactly where scenes were filmed.)

The Last of Us is now streaming on Crave.

Image credit: HBO

Source: Vanity Fair