Sometimes… mostly in the middle of the night… when I finish a new covers series and take a glimpe at the clock, I wonder why I keep doing this? Why I stay up long into the night when I know I’ll have to get up for another day’s work five hours later. And why I meticulously scan the whole internet for that one perfect template, retouch every dot and reallign every line and keep fiddling and tweaking until the very last pixel perfectly sits in its right spot. It’s a ridiculous amount of time I’m spending on these things, it’s crazy.
But when I observe my newly created covers, it dawns on me time and time again: This is what artists do! We make compromises and go to our limits to deliver the best possible work of which we are capable. This is what we love to do and – let’s be honest here – we can’t sleep anyway, until every little detail is nothing but perfect.
And with Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us gamers worldwide could learn first hand what is possible when artists reach for the utmost perfection. This game is a narrative and staged masterpiece – and I can say that wholeheartedly without ever owning a PS3 or even the game itself.
The Last of Us works on so many levels. It’s not only a great game to play (I was told), but also an excellent example of good storytelling, a fascinating characterization of disparate human beings and a mirror reflecting our society in an admittedly exaggerated end times dystopia.
I wasn’t really urged to create custom covers for Gustavo Santaolalla’s soundtrack album, since the original artwork (#2) transported the mood of the game very well. But when the ad machinery got going, publicity was pleased with countless promotion stills, renderings and wallpapers. And as usual… you know the story.
For the first few custom covers I’ve used various promo-material from Naughty Dog. It’s no wonder almost all key art out there focuses on the characters (and I would like to expressly include the desolate environment here), rather than the action elements or – surprisingly – the infected. There’s one for supporters of gender equality with switched roles of Joel and Ellie (#3), an atmospheric picture that literally begged to be cropped to square (#4) and a really beautiful shot that stood out from the crowd with its vibrant colours and crystal clarity (#5). To get a coherent line-up, i took the album credits from the official artwork and used them on every custom cover.
While variations of the original cover are cool and definitely appreciated, I always try to come up with at least one radical change in style. Sony Computer Entertainment Europe may have thought the same, because they hired UK design studio FLUID to develop a package for a limited edition media kit to be handed out to gaming press worldwide. Since it spoke to me on so many levels, I just had to recreate it as a custom soundtrack cover (#1). It was, however, a bit of work, because I had to extract and recreate all necessary elements from different sources. For example, I improved the cracks to make them pop out a little more and I also went for a textured background, so it looks more like a physical object. In the end I had five different versions and chose the one I liked the most.
My last two customs for The Last of Us (#6, #7) were inspired by the special Joel and Ellie Editions of the game. I was looking for decent scans of those posters, but was out of luck. So I had to recreate the screen print effect using various filters and Photoshop effects. And, well… I think I overdid it a bit. The covers didn’t come out quite as I had imagined them in the first place, as they are too exaggerated in my opinion. But I think all in all they aren’t bad either, so here they are for your viewing pleasure.
In February 2014 I decided to update this post with customs for the second score album, The Last of Us, Vol. 2, which came along with the release of the main game’s DLC titled Left Behind. It was a quick decision to change the somewhat uninspirational logo treatment and replace it with the official one, which I think better reflects the purpose of the album and also goes nicely with the rest of this custom covers series.
For my first creation (#8) I wanted to replicate the same style I chose for my first The Last of Us cover (#1), but instead of glass I went with a ripped paper texture. A design motif I re-used on the last custom as well (#12). It came together pretty good, by using an ultra high resolution texture from Google and the same text elements as in my initial artwork.
The next three covers (#9, #10, #11) are all based on official wallpapers by Naughty Dog, each of them cropped to my liking and provided with the original logo and proper album credits. I know it’s nothing special, but I really like how the Left Behind logo on cover #9 kind of foreshadows the tragic event that is about to happen to our main protagonist Ellie. It’s one of those little details that arise unintentionally and delight me all the more.
The very last custom cover (#12) is based on some official concept art, together with the original, yet shaken up design elements from the official artwork. Just as I said before, I always try to do things differentially on at least one custom cover. This time I wanted to go light-coloured, with a bright scenery and inverted text elements. This was thrown together in a hurry, all the more surprising looking at the neat result. I think it’s an appropriate closer for this series, as it sprays a last sense of innocence and comfort.
In addition to my custom covers here are the two Digital Booklets that came with the iTunes purchases. Feel free to grab them and add them to your digital library.