Analysis of a Cutscene

This cutscene comes from, you guessed it, The Last of Us.  It comes at the end of the first act after Ellie and Joel have met up with, and become close with, Sam and Henry.  After escaping from a seemingly quiet neighborhood under the control of mad men and over run with clickers it's time for a little much needed R&R.  At this point the four have been traveling together for several days and things are just starting to look like there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

There are a lot of elements at the beginning.  Clickers screeching and banging on boarded up windows, dialogue, creepy ambient music, and nearly silent footsteps.  As we move from the interior to exterior shot the rustling of leaves in the wind, feet trampling through tall weeds, and chirping birds can be heard as to pin the grotesque against the serene, The musical theme enters over a static string section.  

Laughter brings us into the next shot of the sequence where they're all enjoying some wholesome canned food.  The room is small and empty.  The light and comical dialogue is set to the ambient sound of crickets, a droning wind, and a pot boiling atop a camping stove.  

The acting in this scene is particularly excellent and and the voice tracks are very tonally balanced.  Though, the ambient reflections through this scene are more reverberant and darker than expected of a small empty room.  This is common throughout all of the emotional scenes in this game, though there are cases where it fits visually.  It doesn't seem as though it was an accident, since all of the Foley(footsteps, clothing rustle, door closing) doesn't seem to exhibit the same quality.  The majority of the dialogue was recorded during the motion capture, which may explain the larger, more open sound vs the Foley.  

Some of this beautiful and compelling score was composed by Argentinian film composer Gustavo Santaolalla prior to seeing any of the scenes.  Though it seems as though the thematic elements were custom tailored to each scene.  Splicing the music to fit the emotional content was the work of Naughty Dog's lead audio director Phillip Kovatz and his brilliant audio team.  Their expertise and obvious drive to achieving excellence leads me to believe that none of the effects in this game were canned, though some may have come from a library collected through their years of making great titles.  

What makes this scene good, besides the important role it plays in reminding Joel and Ellie of their humanity, is the emotional arch from tense, to relieved, to nostalgic, to the foreshadowing of Sam opening up about his fears, only to have those fears come true in the morning.  This was a pivotal moment in the game where Joel and Ellie finally felt like things were going to be ok only to be thrust back into the cold reality of the world they live in. The lip sync, camera angles, and use of light and shadow are of the quality expected from a game with this much well deserved hype.