Ahead of the latest The Last of Us episode airing, SlashFlim sat down with episode cinematographer Eben Bolter to talk about how the entire episode was shot to look like it was being lit directly by the moonlight.
Bolter also talked about the efforts undertaken by the production team to shoot and illuminate the scenes, some of which were filmed on a soundstage. Bolter described the scenes in the latter half of the episode, set in a cul-de-sac in Kansas City, as “a massive, expensive undertaking” that required filming for four consecutive weeks at night, and that it was “probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to light in my life.”
The team’s aim was to create a naturalistic lighting look for the episode, rather than a polished, cinematic appearance, which they believed could appear “too lit, and too slick, and too fake.” Alberta’s unpredictable weather didn’t make things easy either, forcing the team to find creative solutions to the lighting problems.
The scenes weren’t shot in small spaces either, which is normally the case for moonlit shots. “I wanted to scale up the concept of how I would’ve lit it on a small scale, on a huge scale,” said Bolter, while describing the 2,000ft cul-de-sac.
Harsh Calgary snow and strong winds didn’t help the team’s case either, which made it necessary to invent a new lighting solution.
“If you’re in an interior, like a soundstage, we would just rig them in the ceiling. But we were out in the middle of nowhere. In Calgary, the wind can get up to 100 miles per hour. So if I was using balloon lights and the wind gets up, they will have to come down, we would have to stop filming. And we had too much to do, we couldn’t do that.”
The team set up four grids of 100 light each with no fabric. The decision to have to fabric was to allow the wind to pass through. “In total, we had 400 of these lights on these huge cranes hanging over the set, which gave us the soft ambience but without any fabrics,” Bolter said. “So that when the wind got up, and it did get up to 50, 60 miles per hour, it just passed through them and we could keep filming.”
The lighting resulted in stunning cinematography for the episode that showcased the depth of violence in both the human and monster of the world.
Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin also discuss the episode’s unique set and lighting in the latest episode of HBO’s The Last of Us Podcast.
Image credit: SlashFilm