Navigation Bar - Text Links at Bottom of Page

ZOOKEEPER

The Zoo Animals
Finding James' four-legged co-stars was the easiest part, because despite the rare and exotic animals the script required, Coraci would need only one call. "Mark Forbes is the animal guru, the go-to guy,” he explains.

The filmmakers dubbed the area at the zoo where the movie animals were housed as "Forbes Field.” "It was like a little community – they had signs pointing the way to Felix the lion or Crystal the monkey,” says Coraci. "You could go and visit the animals and spend time with the trainers. You really got a sense of how much they loved their animals and the animals got more attention and care than a lot of actors I've seen. The trainers would show me tricks that the animals could do, and we were able to work them into the movie.”

American Humane Association's Film & Television Unit was on set to ensure the safety and welfare of the animal actors during production. Protecting a variety of species, Certified Animal Safety Representative™ Marisa Bellis oversaw the animal action while enforcing American Humane Association's strict Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media – the gold standard of animal welfare. "While the trainers had to focus on their species-specific animal,” says Bellis, "I had to focus on every single animal's safety and welfare simultaneously throughout production.” American Humane Association's Safety Reps are a cadre of highly trained and educated animal experts that include exotic animal professionals, veterinary technicians, animal behaviorists, primatologists and equine specialists.

"We had an incredible team of trainers on the show. The best of the best,” says Forbes. "It's really interesting for me to watch and to be a part of the relationship between the animals and the trainers – for example, the four lion trainers that were here are part of that lion's pride in his mind. But not only were all of our trainers great with their animals, they are good people, too – everyone pitched in to help the others.”

As an example of the kind of tricks the animals learn to do, Forbes describes the scene in which the monkey frees the other animals from their cages: "The elephant pushes over a feed pole that swings a feed bag that the monkey jumps on. He gets off his island, runs down the pole, runs over, turns on all the lights in the zoo and then he goes and picks all the locks.” Normally, this kind of trick might be assigned to a back-up monkey who would only perform this one task in the movie. However, says Forbes, "Tom Gunderson, our monkey trainer, did an incredible job. He actually had Crystal, our hero monkey, with two little pieces of wires, sticking them in the lock, jiggling it until the door would open.”

It was Forbes' duty to oversee everything that the animals would be required to do – and, at times, this included having a hand in constructing the shot. For example, one scene required all of the animals to sit together, as if they were at a meeting. "I can't put the bears right next to the lions, right next to the monkey. Obviously they don't co-exist in the wild together in a happy little relationship,” he explains. Working with visual effects supervisor Peter G. Travers, they devised a solution. "So what we did is we would shoot them all separately. We used optical splits and composites to be able to have the lions right next to the bears, right next to the elephant, right next to the giraffe. Even the lion and the lioness – who get along – we shot separately, in order to get the performances we wanted.” Ultimately, it would fall to the visual effects artists at Sony Pictures Imageworks to put it all together, applying motion control technology, character animation, and compositing.

"The most challenging part of that is to make sure all of the eyelines are exactly right -- and it can be especially challenging for certain animals, like the lion,” Forbes continues. "We might need the lion to look in a certain spot, but there are only three reasons a lion will look in a specific spot: it's either something he wants to eat (not good); something that scares him (not good); or it's something that he's not quite sure what it is. So we came up with a million different things to try and get the lion's look because anything you come up with it only works once and then the lion knows what it is. So we were coming up with stuffed toys, anything, trainers running around acting crazy, anything to get the lions to look at the right spot for a length of time.”

CHER gives voice to Janet, the lioness. "If the lion is king of the jungle, she's the power behind the throne,” says the legendary singer and actress. "But she totally plays it cool. Like all powerful ladies, she can let her man play the big man – it's enough for her to know that he knows who's in charge.”

On camera, the lioness is played by Taureg. "Taureg is an eight-year-old African lioness and is part of three generations born in captivity,” explains trainer Brian McMillan. "We have had her since she was two weeks old.”

Taureg is no stranger to performing. She has been seen in Secondhand Lions, "Prey,” "CSI: New York,” and The Happening. She has appeared on "Ellen” and in commercials for Land Rover, Jeep and Build a Bear, to name a few.

It is important that the animals have playtime and McMillan says some of Taureg's favorite things to play with include boomer balls, tree branches, and 10-gallon water bottles. She also enjoys going for long walks and playing with her brothers and sisters.

ADAM SANDLER plays Donald, a Capuchin monkey with a big mouth and big ideas for Griffin on how he can win his lady love. "I was first on board, and I'm a producer on the movie, so I got to pick which animal I wanted to be,” Sandler explains. "The monkey was the only animal smart enough, handsome enough, and funny enough to handle my voice coming out of its mouth.”

The role is played on-screen by Crystal. "Crystal is about 15½ years old and is a Weeper Capuchin monkey,” says trainer Tom Gunderson, who has worked with the monkey for 12½ years. "Capuchins come from either Central or South America; the Weeper Capuchins primarily live in Brazil. Crystal lives at my house with Squirt – the other monkey that was on the film but was never used.”

Gunderson trains Crystal using treats like yogurt, juice, fruit bars, and nuts, as well as praise and repetition. "It varies depending on the trick,” he explains. "Some require a long time – it might take 4-6 weeks to teach her to do a back flip – but others don't take long at all, maybe a week for her to learn how to stick out her tongue.”

Most of Crystal's training sessions last five to 15 minutes. "Her favorite pastime is grooming, but she does like to manipulate things like children's activity centers,” says Gunderson.

Crystal is a seasoned performer in film, television, commercials, and videos. Currently starring in The Hangover Part II, Crystal has appeared in many films including Dr. Dolittle I and II, American Pie I and II, Night of the Museum I and II, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, George of the Jungle, The Shaggy Dog, Fun with Dick and Jane, Failure to Launch, 3:10 to Yuma and Garfield II. Some of her television appearances include "Malcolm in the Middle,” "Scrubs,” "Frasier,” "Girlfriends, "Yes Dear” and "Boy Meets World.”

SYLVESTER STALLONE brings his unique voice to Joe, the lion. "Joe likes to think he's the king, but the rest of the animals have other ideas about who's really in charge.”

Felix is the lion that plays the role on camera. Brian McMillan, who also provided Taureg, the lione

Next Production Note Section

TOP

Home | Theaters | Video | TV

Your Comments and Suggestions are Always Welcome.
Contact CinemaReview.com

2014 7,  All Rights Reserved.

Google

Find:  HELP!

Google