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EIGHT BELOW

About The Eight Heroes
While the human cast was key to the emotions and humor of EIGHT BELOW, there would be no story to tell at all unless the filmmakers could come up with eight canine actors capable of revealing the courageous, emotional and action-packed journey of the dogs trapped on Antarctica. The dogs would have to bring this literally hairy adventure to life—so to pull together one of the most talented animal casts ever required for a feature film, director Frank Marshall commandeered the services of Birds & Animals, one of Hollywood's foremost animal training enterprises.

Says Marshall: "We knew that one of the most important elements was going to be the casting of the dogs. It was so important to us that each dog have its own individual character and unique look—and really their own distinct stories—that we needed to find eight dogs who were completely different from one another. We started the process of casting them early because it was so vital.”

Ultimately, Birds & Animals and the filmmakers of EIGHT BELOW came up with an eclectic canine cast that included previous film stars and pound puppies alike, each chosen for their special look and behavior. The canine stars include: seven-year-old Koda Bear, who plays pack alpha dog Maya; six-year-old D.J., who plays the emerging leader Max; three-year-old Noble, who plays the grey-colored Shadow; two-year-old Dino, who plays the red-tinged Buck; four-year-old Floyd and three-year-old Sitka, who play the twin dogs Dewey and Truman; three-year-old Jasper, who plays the rambunctious rebel Shorty; and four-year-old Apache, who plays the veteran of the pack, Old Jack.

"We met a lot of dogs, but my two favorites were Koda Bear, who plays Maya, and D.J., who plays Max, the dog who takes over the leadership of the group during the trek,” says Frank Marshall. "Koda Bear has a very noble stature, which was perfect for the motherly Maya, the Grand Dame of all these dogs with her silvery beauty, and D.J. was clearly very strong but also playful and had a look like no other dog I've ever seen, with these deep blue eyes that are just fantastically expressive.”

Marshall even developed a soft spot for the hard-to-handle Shorty. "Jasper, who played Shorty, was just a rebel through and through. He'd just go bounding along and just run right out of the shot sometimes. He was a real handful but he was also perfect for the part.”

There were dozens of dogs on the set at all times—the "actor dogs” (several of the roles were played by multiple dogs) and their "sled dog doubles,” who remained at the ready for the more complicated mushing sequences. Each of the dogs received special training for the skills they demonstrate in the film—from slipping their collars to carrying live birds in their mouths to fighting with an animatronic leopard seal. This work fell to head animal trainer Mike Alexander, who had one of the most demanding jobs on the film. Says Alexander: "When I first read the script, I thought, how in the world are we going to do all this stuff? There were a lot of challenges and a lot of them we couldn't even foresee when we started out.”

The dogs began their training in California and then, three months before filming, the dogs and a team of 20 trainers moved to a farm in the snow-covered countryside near Smithers to acclimatize to the cold and ice. The dogs' initial basic training was all about conveying emotions. "Frank wanted as many small, expressive movements that we could come up with, so we taught them a lot of different head movements along with snarls and grins,” says Alexander. "We also spent a lot of time working with the dogs playing Max and Maya to get them to interact intimately with each other, kissing each other and nuzzling each other all the time.”

As the dogs continued their training, they started to develop a whole n

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