The first season finale of HBO’s The Last of Us left viewers with a lot of questions unanswered. Chief among them: Was that a real giraffe that Joel and Ellie were feeding, or what? Plenty of viewers thought it was CGI (and not very convincing CGI at that), but it turns out that yes indeed, it was 100% flesh and blood.
The giraffe in question appears during a quiet interlude in the episode: Ellie and Joel discover the creature roaming free amidst ruined buildings, and take a moment to feed it and marvel at its presence. As Polygon noted, it’s an important scene in the game, and was replicated almost shot-for-shot in the show.
Fans all waiting for the Giraffe scene… from r/ThelastofusHBOseries
“It’s a joyful moment for Ellie, and for Joel seeing Ellie finally be a glimmer of who she used to be after the trauma that she faced,” Bella Ramsey, who plays Ellie in the series, said in the “Inside the Episode” documentary on the season finale.
“Everything that she’s experienced hasn’t just gone away, it’s just this moment of beauty—so precious it’s almost sad. But then, through speaking to Craig [showrunner Craig Mazin], I realized it was just living the truth of it. Which was—it was bittersweet, but still so, so beautiful.”
(There are spoilers in this video, naturally, so proceed beyond the giraffe bit with whatever caution you deem appropriate.)
But to a lot of viewers, that giraffe just didn’t look quite right. Was it CGI? Was it bad CGI?
Well, no, and definitely not. The giraffe, just like Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal, is real: He’s a 13-year-old male Masai giraffe named Nabo who calls the Calgary Zoo home. Ironically, given the response, part of the reason HBO employed a real giraffe was to maximize the scene’s realism.
Here he is!
Plenty of people on Reddit and social media copped to not being able to tell if the giraffe was real, but they may have been faked out in part because there were plenty of other CGI effects involved in the scene. The enclosure where Nabo was being held, for example, was surrounded by green screens.
Here’s what it looked like behind the scenes:
Yes, there really was a giraffe on the set of The Last of Us pic.twitter.com/pN2SvSsufOMarch 13, 2023
“That’s Hollywood magic of Alex [VFX supervisor Alex Wang] isolating the giraffes and putting them on our set,” production designer John Paino told Yahoo! Entertainment. “That was probably the most complicated piecing of VFX stage, scenery and location I’ve worked on.”
Another factor contributing to the confusion: Who the hell knows what a real giraffe looks like up close anyway? Presumably other giraffes.
People, maybe not so much.
Nabo’s presence in the show was actually leaked, accurately, almost a year ago, but apparently either nobody noticed or everyone forgot:
HBO may be filming scenes for #TheLastofUs at a zoo. There is also another rumor that they would be preparing to film in a hospital.“cast/crew have checked into a hotel in Grande Prairie”(via dm on ig) pic.twitter.com/HIa0cKNmDmMay 10, 2022
HBO announced in January that The Last of Us had already been renewed for a second season. More recently, showrunner Craig Mazin said that, like the first season, the show will deviate from the game, sometimes “radically,” whenever and wherever it needs to.
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