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DOLPHIN TALE 2

Animal Action
As on "Dolphin Tale," there was only one rule when it came to scenes involving Winter or any of the animals: their safety and security was the only consideration, without compromise. "The most important thing to us in making both movies was the care and well-being of the animals. The movie was secondary," Smith affirms.

To that end, the animal action involved a seamless blend of live performance, animatronics and visual effects. KNB EFX Group, Inc., which created the animatronic doubles for Winter on the original film, was responsible for designing, sculpting and mechanizing all the animatronics for "Dolphin Tale 2," including animatronic replicas of Winter, Hope, and Mandy, as well as the sea turtle, Mavis.

KNB EFX Group's animatronic supervisor Howard Berger details, "We built a combination of puppets so we could shoot certain scenes without endangering the real animals. There are many specific characteristics to each of these characters, so we had to recreate those in order for the replicas to be believable. For example, there are cuts from the real Winter to our mechanical Winter, back to the real Winter, so they had to match."

Berger also reveals that there were lessons learned on "Dolphin Tale," which changed their approach to the sequel. We did a lot of things differently this time around, both mechanically and aesthetically."

One of the biggest improvements was in duplicating the dolphins' skin. Berger illustrates, "When you look at a real dolphin, it's very shiny; however, it's not because its skin is shiny. It is actually retaining water; it holds water in all these little textured grooves on the surface of its body, which helps keep it from getting sunburned and dehydrated. That was something we weren't able to totally recreate on the previous film, but this time we came up with a process called flocking. What we did was paint the skin with a silicone adhesive paint and then flock it with these teeny, tiny hairs and fibers that attached with static electricity. Then we wiped off all the fibers, which left a slight texture that acted like a sponge. We coated the whole thing with a water-based lubricant and watered it down, and it looked beautiful."

For the sequence depicting the rescue of Mandy on the beach, the skin of the mechanical stand-in was intentionally scarred to represent the serious sunburns suffered by the beached dolphin. Because she was partially submerged in salt water, they opted not to risk using electronic radio controls this time around, which posed obvious problems in water. Instead, the KNB team implemented cable controls on a push-pull system, allowing puppeteers to maneuver the Mandy puppet remotely using large levers.

Once in the pool at CMA, Mandy was played by a resident dolphin there named Nicholas. He had been badly sunburned when he was rescued and still shows the scars of his ordeal. Now Nicholas is a playful and happy member of the CMA family, who was a natural on camera.

The KNB team also devised its own "shell game" in creating the three animatronic sea turtle puppets, which, along with its live counterpart, named Harold, played the rescued sea turtle called Mavis. "We learned a lot about sea turtles working on this film," says Berger. "Turtle shells start to dry out and peel, so one of the things I noticed when I saw Harold was that there were patches of different colors on his shell, and I was concerned our animatronic turtle's shell wouldn't match over the life of the shoot. For continuity, we decided to paint our puppet's shell to match the darkest part of the real shell and then have a bunch of removable sections in different shades. Depending on what color Harold's shell was that day, I could cut out little sections of the puppet and place others in, almost like a jigsaw puzzle."

In "Dolphin Tale 2," Mavis finds an unlikely champion in Rufus, the pesky pelican who develops something of a crush on her after being largely responsible for saving her life. "Turtle rescue is a big part of what they do at CMA," states Smith, "so I knew I wanted to include something about sea turtles in the film. I invented a little side story about Rufus, who appoints himself Mavis' bodyguard and looks out for her. It's sort of in character for Rufus, who is unpredictable and a lot of fun."

Rufus is played by two pelicans, named Peggy and Al, who are trained by Tony Suffredini. "We train them using only positive reinforcement, which for these guys is mostly fish, but they are also very affectionate and love attention," Suffredini notes, adding that they were also pretty good at improv. "In the scene where Rufus is interacting with Mavis when he's trying to help rescue her, Peggy volunteered a bunch of behaviors that went along perfectly with the script. Charles was like, 'That's so great; amazing job, Tony.' And I told him I couldn't take any credit...it was all Peggy."

Visual effects were also integral to capturing the animal action, especially for underwater scenes involving any of the three dolphins. However, it was little Hope-who is not so little anymore-who posed the biggest challenge. Smith says, "We wanted Hope to play herself, but she is three years older than she was when she was rescued and is now about the same size as Winter. So we decided the best approach would be to film Hope as she is and use visual effects to shrink her down in proportion. And it worked like a charm."

"We did a bunch of testing in prep to figure out how to make Hope look like she did when she was found, and decided we needed to shrink her to exactly 61 percent of her current size," visual effects supervisor Robert Munroe clarifies. "So for different scenes, we could either take the real Hope and shrink her digitally, or film Winter, leaving an open space beside her, and then place a completely computer-generated Hope in the picture. And we could do that in reverse: shooting Hope and putting in a digital Winter."

The fact that Winter and Hope are now close in size gave the VFX department other options. "We were very mindful of the fact that Winter can only swim with her prosthetic tail for a certain amount of time per day, so we would let her swim without the tail and add it later digitally," says Munroe. "Other times, Hope would stand in for her. We would digitally remove Hope's tail and put the prosthetic in its place. So there was a wide variety of approaches and techniques involved."

Perhaps the only one who did not appreciate the benefits of animatronics and visual effects was Winter, who proved to be as much of a ham as she was three years ago. When she was nearby but excluded from the actual filming for her safety, she would whistle and squeak in protest. Interestingly, she often seemed to know to quiet down when Smith called "Action," but would begin vocalizing again as soon as she heard "Cut."

Connick observes, "Dolphins in general are some of the most fascinating creatures I've ever been around, and Winter, in particular, is a special animal. When you're close to her, you really get the sense that she understands things on a human level, even though we don't speak the same language. It's pretty amazing."

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