Image by Herbert Dorfman/Corbis via Getty Images
One role can be played by multiple animals
More often than not, roles are played by multiple animals during the shooting of a film or series. There are various reasons for this. For example, some animals age and grow really fast and no longer fit the role. At other times, the animals get tired or may not cooperate for long periods of time.
In 1995’s Babe, the main pig was actually played by 48 different pigs, with six of them being used at once during filming. The pigs grew up so fast that they became unusable very quickly. James Cromwell, who played the farmer, was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on the film.
Some animals are used for several films
While some roles are played by multiple animals, some animals make a career out of their acting. Rin Tin Tin, a famous German Shepherd, acted in a total of 27 films in the 1920s, including Frozen River, My Dad, The Million Dollar Collar, and The Lightning Warrior in 1931.
Rin Tin Tin even had a couple of radio shows about his adventures. After he died, his descendants continued his legacy in future projects in one of the few animal actor dynasties. Some animals only participate in a few films, but as we see with Rin Tin Tin, that can vary.
It’s safer for them now
There were even instances where filmmakers would purposefully trip horses with a wire—this was done so that horses would fall for specific shots. The problem was that the horses would break their legs and, in more rare cases, would break their necks. They would then have to be put down.
Nowadays, such abuse isn’t allowed in the industry anymore—at least, it’s not supposed to happen in any capacity. The American Humane Society claims to monitor the use of animals during filming, but they don’t always do the best job of catching or reporting abuse. It can be tricky at times.
They sometimes have weird names
Some animals in the industry have really bizarre names. Some of them are beyond bizarre. There was a horse named Bamboo Harvester, who played Mister Ed on the show Mister Ed in the early 60s. A Bull Terrier named Honey Tree Evil Eye portrayed Spuds MacKenzie in several beer commercials in the 80s.
Other weird names include a chimpanzee named Cheetah, a Parson Russell Terrier named Moose, and a horse named Trigger. Trigger was particularly famous for his roles in Roy Rogers’ films and tv series, even spawning a comic book series. It turns out that even the animals are as quirky as Hollywood’s human actors.
Some animals were harmed
The amount of abuse towards animals in Hollywood has certainly dwindled over the years, but there’s still a ways to go. The American Humane Association has monitored hundreds of films over the last few decades, but some argue that it’s not enough to keep animals safe from purposeful abuse or accidents.
There have been many incidents where animals were in danger or were hurt during production. A chipmunk was once stepped on and died in 2006; a dog was reportedly punched in the throat several times the same year; a whole mess of marine life washed up onshore after filming explosions in the ocean in 2003.
Some animals aren’t trained
Not every animal used in Hollywood is professionally trained; some are still wild animals when they are brought on the set. These animals may be abused or manipulated in order to get the desired effect out of them. They may also end up hurting people because they don’t know any better.
Even the most experienced trainers may have problems with wild animals; these animals are unpredictable and will act out, sometimes violently. There is a lot of fear and uncertainty on the animals’ part and animal trainers know this. Despite thing, filmmakers still decide to use wild animals in their films.
This dog helped a film win its Oscar
Animals aren’t usually eligible for film awards, but they are able to influence which films receive them. For the film, The Artist, a Parson Russell Terrier named Uggie was a showstopper in almost every scene he was in as he played Jack. It was the biggest acting project of his career.
The Artist was a black in white movie that was filmed in 2010. After the film released in 2011, fans demanded that Uggie receive a reward for his acting. It turns out that there aren’t many awards for dog performances, so Uggie had to settle for a couple awards outside of the Ocsars.
Public perception of how animals are treated on the set of some movies can derail years of work. A Dog’s Purpose, a movie starring a dog, was scheduled to release in 2015 when a video clip of the lead dog struggling in water was released on the internet right before the movie launched.
The filmmakers said the footage had been edited to make it look like the dog was in danger. The video caused several repercussions for the film, including a lower-than-expected opening weekend at the box office. This shows that audiences care about the treatment of animals in film, even if they aren’t always informed.
CGI replaces some animals
It’s becoming more popular to use CGI animals in movies as the technology has become cheaper to produce. The use of green screen material, sensors, and cameras all aid in the construction of CGI animals in film and TV. Films like The Jungle Book used animals entirely made up of CGI.
Animals may need to be studied and observed so the CGI animation is realistic, but it’s much different than actually having animals on set and having to care for them. Not all filmmakers are keen on using CGI in their films. Despite the realism, there is still a ways to go before the technology mirrors reality.
Animals aren’t typically employed full time, but instead, are hired as contractual freelancers. The work isn’t always steady, especially when the animal is of the more rare kind, like a peacock or alligator, which aren’t needed in films as often as dogs or cats. Not every script is looking for a lion.
The fact that animals are freelance means that some trainers will find work elsewhere, instead of the film industry. Having less work or dealing with the difficulty of finding work means that trainers won’t be as excited about working in the industry. It’s a delicate balance that animal trainers have to deal with.
There is a large variance in how much animals (let’s be honest, it’s their owners who make the money) make per hour of work. After their owners land them a role, they work for hourly pay. There are several factors that come into play when deciding how much to pay them.
It could be their rarity as a species, experience, quality of work, or even other factors. In the end, some animals make as little as $8 per hour while others make as much as $25 per hour. The yearly gross depends on how much work they are able to book.
Some are the lead stars in films
Animals usually have supporting roles in the film world, but there are times when they land the lead role if the film calls for it. Even then, it’s common for actors to voice the animals (which are usually dogs) in these films, since animals don’t really reach the level of stardom that people do.
Films starring animals in lead roles tend to feature more common animals and animals that people keep as pets. Some of these films include Air Bud, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, Beethoven, and Charlotte’s Web. These films have had varying success and were more popular in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Some animals are famous
Some animals live on in history beyond their deaths due to their long-lasting popularity in film and media. Rin Tin Tin has already been talked about, but other famous animals in film include Pal, a Rough Collie who played Lassie in seven films up to 1951 (sorry to break it to you — there was more than one Lassie).
Keiko was the Orca in Free Willy who portrayed Willy on screen. After the film released, there had been a campaign to release Keiko the Orca into the wild to live her life. Sadly, she only lasted a few days before she went back into captivity and died a few years later.
Captain Marvel cat
Sometimes, having animals on set can prove difficult for members of the cast or crew, for a variety of reasons. In Brie Larson’s particular case, she found herself fighting her cat allergies while filming Captain Marvel alongside her cat co-star, Reggie. Reggie played Goose in Captain Marvel, becoming a fan favorite due to his role.
Larson stated in an interview she had that, “I wish that it wasn’t the case!” she said about her situation with Reggie the cat. “Cats are probably super-cool. I’ve just developed a sort of ‘you stay over there, I’ll be over here’ relationship, because it makes me break out in hives.”
There are times when filmmakers use motion capture in order to properly capture the realism of some animals when they’re crafted in CGI. Motion capture is usually done by putting a dog (for example) in a small outfit and marking it with dots to capture the dog’s movements and voice.
Then, the information is taken and put into a computer program where it is molded and finessed. The CGI component is placed on top of a wire-frame “skeleton” and after countless hours of hard work, they are ready for the big screen. This technique has been used in video games for years.
Animatronics are used
There are a number of reasons that live animals aren’t always used in films and TV: from budgetary restrictions to moral reservations and even creative vision, some filmmakers opt to use animatronics instead of actual animals. Filmmakers have used animatronics since the early days of film with varying frequency and success.
Some filmmakers even use a combination of live animals, animatronics, and CGI in order to get their vision across. Animatronics may be used for one specific shot or for the full film. It usually comes down to cost; animatronics are way cheaper to use than employing and managing live animals.
Dog paid more than actors
There have been cases where the starring animals made more than some of the actors working on particular films. In 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, the dog who played Toto made about $125 per week, which was more than the actors who portrayed the Munchkins. That was a lot of money back then.
His actual name was Terry but he was later renamed to Toto because the film was so popular with audiences. Toto was in almost every scene in The Wizard of Oz, sticking next to Dorothy and barking when necessary. It was ultimately Toto that discovered one of the film’s biggest secrets.
Some genders are easier to work with
Filmmakers may cast an animal in a role depending on their gender rather than its skill or appearance. Sometimes, they don’t care about the gender of the role so long as the animal is easier to work with. Some animals, such as dolphins, are claimed to be easier to work with when they’re female.
This doesn’t apply to every type of animal, so it’s up to the filmmaker or animal trainer to do the research necessary in order to know if they should pick a specific gender to work with. Dolphins, for example, are less aggressive and more inclined to follow directions. Whatever makes the process smooth.
Do animals actually act?
For those who don’t know, animals don’t “act” in the same sense that people do. Animals in Hollywood are made to behave in ways that aren’t normal—their trainers motivate the animals through specific training and with treats. There are even times when the animals are uncomfortable with what’s happening on set.
For example, some animals will seem to be smiling but are actually scared. Animals don’t all show emotion in the same way that humans do and shouldn’t be expected to. Since filmmakers aren’t professionally trained, they don’t always know what is best for the animals on set. They may want a performance some animals can’t give.
PETA has been on the film industry about how they treat animals for years. They’ve claimed to have exposed a multitude of cases of abuse over the years and even stopped some productions in their tracks. They advocate for stronger regulation of the industry so that animals aren’t mistreated or neglected.
The organization’s ultimate goal for movies is to get rid of all live animal involvement. They want CGI and animatronics to completely replace the use of actual animals to prevent even the possibility of harm. Many filmmakers have clashed with PETA due to conflicting ideals while others have complied.
Director Kornél Mundruczó was pushing for as much realism as possible when he worked on the film White God. Mundruczó decided that he wanted a scene with 100 dogs running together as a group. By the end of the setup and training, they had 250 dogs running as a group in Budapest.
The way the group got the dogs to behave was by placing treats at the other end of the street to get them to run over. They could have used CGI, which would have been easier, but the director’s vision for the scene had real dogs, running as realistically as possible.
Cheetah wasn’t a cheetah
A chimpanzee named Cheetah appeared in multiple Tarzan films and TV series in the 30s to late 60s.The role was taken on by many chimpanzees during that time period, each one taking on the film persona. There were actually almost 20 chimpanzees that played the starring role of Cheetah.
The first chimp to officially play Cheetah was named Jiggs, who sadly passed away from pneumonia and only lived a total of nine years. Some of the other chimpanzee’s named included Cheeta, Skippy, Dinky, and Jacky III. The role proved to be popular with audiences at the time, making Tarzan a hit.
Roy Rogers had become one of the most popular actors in the western genre in general. Tagging along in most of his works was the palomino horse, Trigger. He was named Golden Cloud originally, but Rogers quickly changed the horses’ name to Trigger. Trigger was the most popular horse at the time.
Trigger was involved in over 10 separate films over his career. He had several cool abilities that aren’t normal to horses, such as covering himself with a blanket and marking an “X” with a pencil. Trigger passed a.way in 1965 in Apple Valley, California at 30. He was later stuffed and kept in a museum.
Playing the other gender
There are times that a male animal will be played by a female animal and vice versa, just like with human actors. There are times that this is done intentionally, to prevent aggression, for example. There are also times when having too many animals of one gender could cause fights or cause unease.
At the end of the day, it’s about getting the film scene to appear as convincing as possible and get the director’s vision across to the audience. As long as one of the genders doesn’t look too entirely different, it’s not that difficult to find someone to play the role.
It’s not always about the money
Being a trainer and maintaining animals on set can end up being kind of pricey. It may not be worth it to jump into the business if only a small amount of money is coming in. For that reason, many animal trainers are only involved in the film industry as a hobby or passion project.
Trainers do recuperate part of their monetary loss, but still typically lose money each time they work on a film or series. Those trainers that do make enough to live off that profession are very few and still may have another part-time job in order to make a living.
Animals do show emotions through their actions and through their voice or facial expression. Trainers can get a dog, for example, to appear sad by speaking slowly and sad. There is a huge rift between how each species of animal shows emotion and it can be difficult for trainers to express that to filmmakers.
Things can become even more complicated when several of the same animal are used for one role, which is often the case. The unique personality of each animal within the same species may cause a slightly different look in how their emotions are expressed. Filmmakers may have to improvise if this is the case.
Dead sea life
While filming Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, the film crew decided to blow up some spots in the water for simulated cannon fire. They didn’t make any preparations and in this case, it didn’t turn out well for the crew or for the marine life.
Fish and other marine life began washing up on-shore for four days after the incident. It was a messy oversight that caused a lot of death. It can be difficult to gauge how much needs to be done before animals are used or habitats are invaded. Varying amounts of research must be done.
Animals may be replaced mid-film
Not every animal that is cast in a role ends up keeping that role for the entirety of a movie or series. There are many reasons that filmmakers may change out an animal for another. They can be hard to work with, get injured, or just not perform as expected.
In the 60s TV series, Mister Ed, the horse used in the pilot turned out to be too bothersome to work with so they enlisted Bamboo Harvester (another horse) for the rest of the series. It’s easier to replace animal actors than human actors because people are less likely to realize the change in animals.