Those Cordyceps Mouth Tendrils In The Last Of Us Were Originally Even Creepier

This post contains spoilers for "The Last of Us" season 1."The Last Of Us" may have ended its first season run last night, but greatness behind-the-scenes stories from HBO's massive apocalyptic drama just keep coming. The show's popularity — and its co-creators' commitment to its devoted video game fan base — has ensured that fans have gotten regular scoops about the making of the show via post-show interviews and an official podcast. But the team behind "The Last Of Us" delivered a more extensive inside look at the production than ever last night with "Making of 'The Last Of Us,'" a 30-minute special that followed the finale.

During the special, prosthetics designer Barrie Gower and series co-creator Craig Mazin spoke about the specifics that went into creating the show's mycelia-sprouting zombies. The humans in the world of "The Last Of Us" have been taken over by Cordyceps, a real-life fungus that, in the show, turns people into mindless, walking mushrooms that tend to have a strong drive to spread their spores. Mazin explained that the show capitalized on a part of the fungi life cycle that the video game didn't touch upon.

Hello, Mycelium!

"One of the changes that [co-creator Neil Druckmann] and I felt we needed to make early on was the way the fungus would spread," Mazin explained. "We loved the idea of biting, we thought that that was primal and violent. But we started looking at something called mycelium, which are these threads that make up fungus." Web-like mycelium shows up several times throughout the show, perhaps most memorably when Tess (Anna Torv) gets a stringy kiss from an infected body. Sarah's (Nico Parker) elderly neighbor and the body in Jakarta in episode two both also have some mouth-sprouting mycelia, indicating that this is perhaps one of the earliest ways Cordyceps presented.

As Mazin puts it, "these threads, if they get into an insect for instance, that's what starts to worm its way towards the insect's brain." They turn people into puppets, complete with lots of gnarly-looking strings. As Gower reveals, though, the mycelia were originally intended to play an even larger part in the visual aesthetic of the show's attack scenes. "Initially we'd created various practical tendrils, which was basically like a dental plate that we had inside the infected character's mouth which had all these little silicone cords joined to [it]," Gower explained.

The Effect Was Too Difficult To Reset

Test footage from the documentary showed the setup Gower described, with an actor or stand-in with what looks a bit like angel hair pasta falling from his mouth. In another concept image, the tips of the mycelia sprouts are covered with blood. The mycelia created a super cool effect during biting scenes; in one demonstration, the performer leans away from a mannequin's shoulder in a moment meant to mimic a bite. The spread-out tendrils stick to the other body before becoming unlatched one at a time. "As soon as you pulled away it started to ..." Gower said, then mimed the cords breaking off one at a time.

"Practically, it looked great," Gower said, but the effect didn't end up happening. "I think the reality of it was going to be the reset-ability on the day," he explained, meaning that the breaking tendrils would be too difficult or time-consuming to set up again and again during a shoot requiring lots of takes. The final effect still looks great, but there's something extra-creepy about the sticky, snapping tendrils of mycelium that conveys a visual sense of transmission. It's not the zombie-like bite that dooms humans in "The Last Of Us," but the hauntingly organic fungal transfer that comes from something as fragile as a thread.

Read this next: How Ellie's Room Decor In The Last Of Us Points To The Larger Story

The post Those Cordyceps Mouth Tendrils In The Last Of Us Were Originally Even Creepier appeared first on /Film.

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