Shooting with Animals

In general.

Make absolutely sure your actor is not afraid of the animal. To get the job actors sometimes exaggerate. Many animals can sense fear.

Animals can be painted, dyed, trimmed, and tinted with "Streaks and Tips" to match. Cats lick and can't be as manipulated.

Many animals are dangerous no matter what the owner says. Trainers are more cautious. The shooting situation may make some animals uncomfortable.

Bites and claw punctures are dangerous. If a hand or arm is bleeding, swing it vigorously so it bleeds well and clean the wound with a dull hypodermic and hydrogen peroxide. Seek medical attention if in any doubt. (We used the above technique on a bob cat film and had no problems.)

To get an animal's attention, various sounds work well, but often ONLY once. Don't test different noisemakers on "hero" animals. Try clickers, horns, electronic sounds, whistles,

Think about manipulating props, sets, people, and other animals to get the reactions you want.

Mixing animals is tricky. They have natural fears and eating habits. Mixing many animals listening to Mother Nature freaked out many animals. Second thoughts are we should have used a lot of stuffed ones. Today animatronics would help. For Africa we used real zebras in the back ground when painted horses would have worked. The lion close to camera freaked the zebras. (Maybe horses would also freak at the sight of a lion.) A giraffe neck passed for real behind some trees. (Near Sonora California is an Africa looking location with buckeye trees, rocks and grass.) Noah's Ark was a similar nightmare.

I have shot with all of these animals, but am no expert and offer these as opinions only.

Dogs. Hollywood dogs can be trained to do many things, but do not act like real dogs. They are usually looking at the trainer for instructions and not interacting with the actor. This can work very well for complicated actions. For simple actions I always try people's own dogs and see if they will work realistically around strangers. Some dogs are great around anyone and act like a real dog. Mutts are harder to match and pure breeds easier. Having "back-up" animals is always wise. I have shot more difficult sequences with multiple animals to insure that a had a complete sequence with one of the animals. It often doesn't take much more time, but more film.

Cats are less trainable, but Hollywood trainers can get them to do pretty amazing things. I shot the first 10 cats eating out of 10 separate bowls. They did it almost every take.

Bob cats. I spent 9 months on a bob cat film. Cats raised in captivity responded to human contact quite well. Meat made them jump, a live rat even higher and a grid and cattle prod even higher. (For reaction to a rattle snake.)

Wild hogs were quite nasty, but our biggest cat wasn't afraid on them. Ole Lop Ear also took on an alligator. The alligator was fast and mean when hot and a slug when cold. A plastic stand-in did our swimming shots on a line.

Ostridges. We raced ostridges out of gates we built out of Speed Rail and on a track we build. They are fast, strong, and unpredictable. The trainers rode them.

Rodeo Bulls. We staged the event and had complete control. One camera was protected by poles in the ground. A low angle shot was from a hole dug under the grip truck A hoof still got close to the operator. We made generic signs for the fences and avoided the stands.

People including trainers have been hurt and even killed by tigers and other large cats on shoots.

© Copyright 1999-2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved.