Idle Chatter: Joel And Ellie The Last of Us Interview Part 1
Developer Naughty dog
Release Date TBC
One of the most interesting meetings we have ever had the privilege of been part of took place quite recently when we got a chance to sit in with one of the best developer teams in the industry (Naughty Dog) along the lead voice actors Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson from the Last Of Us.
This was less of a conventional interview and more of a fun conversation, it did ramble on for about 50 minutes and go off in many tangents so we have done our best to condense the most important parts together and to bring it to you in a traditional interview layout so it is easy to follow. We have tried our best to capture the essence of the chat in a reasonable amount of space.
Troy and Ashley talk to us about the experience of working with Naughty dog on the Last of Us.
Ashley: I am a gamer myself so getting to go through the whole process and seeing it from this side has been super cool for me. In particular they always say there is a Naughty Dog way to do things and seeing that first hand has been great. Being part of this game and part of the whole performance capture experience has been really awesome, I feel super lucky.
Troy: I think one of the main differences with Naughty Dog is that right now because the bar has been set so high, gamers expect incredible things from their games and look for a full cinematic experience. So Naughty Dog have turned to performance capture to life to their games. There are still a large majority of games these days that are done with just standard voice acting. With one actor in a booth with a mic. Sometimes you get to hear the other character’s lines sometimes you don’t, sometimes you get to read their lines sometimes you don’t.
So the main difference with this methods is that you have someone to work off. Say if I was in a booth I could make a choice to record something one way but by doing it the Naughty dog way I am able to bounce ideas off Ashley and to develop the scene fully and this gets a much more organic performance. It is a group of writers and actors working together to develop the characters and this lends much more to the atmosphere and the story telling.
Tell us a bit about your in game characters Joel and Ellie?
Troy: The Character I play is Joel he is very much a brutal survivor, he is someone that remembers the world before this horrible pandemic ravaged humanity. There was a line in the audition that goes “ Joel has few moral lines left to cross” and this was the anchor I tied myself to as that was a very defining statement about anybody.
Ashley: Ellie is a 14 year old girl who has only grown up in the quarantine zone of the city. So that’s all she has ever known, she has never been outside of this zone. She was orphaned and she was born after the pandemic so it’s the only world she has known. So she is a survivor as well but in a different way.
To give us an idea of what to expect Naughty dog have a short clip from the game in which Joel and Ellie go to see Joel’s friend Bill to try and get a car. Bill who is naturally suspicious attacks Ellie and a short lived scuffle breaks out. In the aftermath we get to see some of the lighter moments. We also get to see the actors rehearsing the scene on stage to give an insight into the performance capture process.
Can you explain what is going on in this clip?
Troy: In this scene one of the first things you notice is that the tension is high, and this runs throughout the entire game. Without giving too much away we are running from something and have gone to this town to meet Bill as he is a guy who can get things for you. Ellie is with Joel at this stage, Bill knows Joel but not Ellie and with Bill being a little bit paranoid when we enter he immediately attacks Ellie. So you can see that there is this relationship already between Joel and Ellie and Joel and Bill but when Bill and Ellie who don’t know each other enter the scene it changes the whole dynamic of the situation and the characters involved.
What we need (in the scene) is a car, something that is so simple to us now-a-days as a means of transportation but something that is so crucial to them in game. I love that scene as it starts off with such tension but has these moments of levity with Ellie character’s quip at the end showing that she is still just a smart mouth kid and it gives a glimpse of just how important these relationships are to surviving in this post pandemic world.
About the process what’s a typical day like when recording a scene like this one?
Troy: Well it is really interesting because once Neil (Neil Druckmann Creative Director) emails me a few pages he can expect a call in about 15 mins because he is really open and really accessible so we can sit down and we can talk about it. We will get the pages a few days before we shoot, Neil will say we are going to shoot this scene on this day so we know we have some time. The first thing he will do is to get me and Ashley to come in and we will do a table read. We will find out where this scene fits in the overall story, where the characters are coming from and how it all fits together.
Neil Druckmann the creative director will be there and the three of us can talk about the scene and the lines. See if there are any ideas that come up and we will do that for several hours until we are comfortable with it, and then we will get that out onto the stage and we will spend the entire day rehearsing 4 or 5 scenes as a typical cinematic is around 60-90 seconds long. So that rehearsal process allows us to lock in the logistics of the scene if there is a car here, a door there or if you need to run down the stairs here etc. So when we come to record those scenes we have the freedom to explore the tension and the dramatic element so that any changes we make really impact the scene.
Do you get to have an input into the script, how much collaboration is there between you guys before you get to record?
Ashley: Well Neil is such a great writer and his writing is so natural that not much needs to be changed so a lot of times when we get the scenes there isn’t a lot that needs work but we do have some input if we want. Especially as after being with the character for a year and a half you do have a really good idea of what your character would do. So you can say “well I don’t think she would say that in this situation I think it would be more like this” and he is really open to that and we have been able to develop those characters together which was really cool.