Designed by game developers Naughty Dog, The Last Of Us is a bleak apocalyptic video game that imagines a world in which the killer, brain-altering fungi cordyceps has evolved to work as well on humans as it does on ants, turning them into zombies. It is a violent, dark, and ominous tale of a father’s search for hope and redemption in a world without either. It’s a stark contrast to developer Traveller’s Tales series of official Lego games, which specialize in adapting all-ages properties such as Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Batman, Lord of The Rings and more into plastic brick and minifig form.
It is this contrast that makes animator Brian Anderson’s latest project such a stroke of genius: Anderson decided to take Naughty Dog’s bleak dystopian game and recreate it as if it were a Lego-brand video game meant for ages 5 and up.
The origins of Lego Last Of Us actually begin with an entirely different zombified Lego apocalypse. Hailing just north of Salt Lake City, Anderson is a freelance animator who has previously made some waves with Lego Breaking Bad, which imagined the meth-fueled world of Walter White. After finishing that video, Anderson intended on following it up with Lego The Walking Dead, based on the hit AMC television series. But then production problems struck: after 500 hours on the project, it became so computationally demanding that Anderson’s computer crashed even trying to open the file, corrupting much of his work so far.
“I still had the characters, vehicles, sets, and a little animation, but I lost a lot more than I saved,” Anderson says. “I considered rebuilding and reanimating much of what I’d lost, but by that point the TV show had returned from its summer hiatus, and characters who were fairly integral to my story were getting killed off. Eventually I had to shelve the video, indefinitely.”
Then another opportunity presented itself. Geoff Keighley, the executive producer of the Spike TV Video Game Awards, came to Anderson, asking him to do a video for the show. Having a huge asset library of zombie characters to draw from, Anderson pitched Lego Last For Us. Anderson’s project was green lit, but he had only 20 days to get it to Spike. “Producing three minutes of character animation, by yourself, without a budget, on old equipment, is pretty insane,” says Anderson. “Typically I’d ask for three to six months to make a video like this.”
It was a race against time, a race that Anderson lost. Finishing the animation 24 hours before the Spike TV Video Game Awards, Anderson began rendering the video, adding photorealistic details like shadows, reflections, depth-of-field, anti-aliasing, lighting effects, and more. The process took multiple hours, and there was no margin for error, and certainly not the error of Anderson’s computer crashing halfway through the finished video could be completed.
Although it never was aired on TV, Lego Last Of Us has still been a smash hit, garnering almost a million views on YouTube in just the last week alone. Part of why it’s such a hit is how plausible it is: the Lego series of video games already parodies grotesque movie moments in in-game cutscenes like the Nazi face-melting scene in Raiders Of The Lost Ark.
Maybe one of these days we will really see a Lego game based on the zombie apocalypse. In the meantime, Anderson’s video imagining what such a game would look like is the next best thing.