Have you ever wondered how Toto was so well trained in The Wizard of Oz? Or how real live animals always seem to know what to do when they’re in movies? Think about all the horses who play a big part in action or fighting sequences in movies and you’ll quickly realize that wrangling animals in cinema can be a challenge!
Animal talent agencies are becoming more and more popular, with some agencies boasting over 3,000 animal actors at their disposal. These agencies are required to work with the American Humane Society to ensure that safety is a priority when in a working environment, as animals in Hollywood haven’t always had it easy.
They share a lot of the same issues that human actors do, but there are also some things that you might not have known about the furry pals that you’ve seen on screen.
It’s Very Competitive
The film industry is synonymous with competition, and this even applies to the animals looking to land roles. Some animals are booked for roles months to years in advance, while some have to wait quite some time before being called. Crystal, the capuchin monkey who has starred in “The Hangover Part II” and “Animal Practice,” is one of the most in-demand animal actors in Hollywood….
Another capuchin named Squirt spent 16 years waiting for his opportunity to get his big break (The Big Bang Theory), and it was only because Crystal was booked elsewhere.
Is It Considered Acting?
When you think about acting, you usually think about memorizing a script, dressing the part, and rehearsing with the rest of the cast. Animals in films may dress the part and rehearse with the rest of the cast, but their actions are motivated by their trainers, who manipulate them into doing the desired action.
But it isn’t always what it appears to be. They don’t show emotion in the same way that we do; some animals who seem to be smiling are actually scared.
One Role, Multiple Animals
In many films that feature animals as lead characters, the role is typically played by multiple animals. This happens for several reasons; the animal may not want to cooperate, it may grow too fast to the point where it no longer fits the role, and there have been cases where the animal fell sick during filming….
The main pig in Babe (1995) was played by 48 different pigs. The collie Lassie was played by a dog named Pal, then Pal’s son took over when he retired.
One Animal, Multiple Roles
Just as many animals can play one role, one animal can take on multiple roles, and it happens more often than you think. The famous German Shepherd Rin Tin Tin starred in several films throughout the 1920s, including “The Million Dollar Collar,” “Frozen River,” and “My Dad,” to name a few. In total, the dog acted in 27 films….
This also happens in situations where there are very few animals for a specific role, leading to more screen time (and money) for the animal.
Descendants Keep Carrying the Torch
We all know that genes are passed down from one generation to another, and it seems that certain animal actors passed their talent gene down to future generations. One Western movie star, the German Shepherd Rin Tin Tin, was the first of many animal actors whose descendants continued their acting legacy….
Lassie, played by a collie named Pal, also had his son and grandsons take up the mantle after he passed away. Today, another dog named Pal, a 10th generation descendant of the original Lassie, is still acting.
Freelance Animal Actors
Unlike most human actors, animals aren’t usually employed full time; instead, they are hired as contractual freelancers. As such, the work is not always steady, and it becomes even harder the rarer the animal is; lions, peacocks, certain birds, and alligators, as well as replacements for them, can be very difficult to find….
If the animal is already famous, then gigs are lined up way in advance, creating a steadier workflow and income for the owner.
They Earn a Salary
Several factors come into play when determining how much money animals (and their owners) get paid per role or hour of work. Many animals make between $8 and $25 an hour, which is more than the country’s minimum wage, but there’s a reason for that. Maintaining these animals can be quite costly.
There are also some animals who earn far more than that; Rin Tin Tin earned $6,000 a week, which in today’s salary equates to $78,000 a week. Crystal the monkey earned $264,000 for being on one season of Animal Practice.
They Get Paid More Than Their Human Counterparts
It’s one thing to earn a salary but another to get a paycheck that is not only comparable to their human counterparts but even higher than much of the supporting cast. Despite needing money for their owners to care for them, there’s not much else that an animal can do with money….
The dog Toto from The Wizard of Oz got paid more than the actors who portrayed the Munchkins. Keiko the whale earned $36 million for his role in the Free Willy films, more than the budget for the first movie.
But It’s Not Always About the Money
Maintaining animals can be very pricey, and the money coming in isn’t always enough to take care of those bills. Very few trainers make enough money to live off of, and because of this, many animal trainers work on films as a hobby, completely free of charge, or as a part-time job….
The ones who are able to make enough from being a trainer are very few, and even they may have other jobs to help sustain their primary job.
It Was Very Dangerous to Be an Animal Actor
When animals first appeared in films, there weren’t many trainers available or special effects that could help with getting the desired shot. In order to get what was needed, some animals were seriously injured or even killed in the process. It is one of the reasons why animal protection groups had to get involved in the film-making process…
Once upon a time, in order to get horses to fall for specific shots, filmmakers would purposely trip them by using a wire. This resulted in far too many broken legs, necks, and death.
It’s Still Dangerous to Be an Animal Actor
Thanks to organizations like PETA and the American Humane Society, a monitoring program has been put in place to monitor animal treatment during filming. Not only that, but filmmakers need to get special permission before bringing animals onto the movie set. With that being said, it is still dangerous to be an animal in the industry…
Back in 2006, a dog was reportedly punched in the throat during the filming of “Eight Below.” In that same year, a chipmunk was fatally squashed during the filming of “Failure to Launch.”
Animals Have Died During Filming
We know how bad things have been for animals in the film industry historically, and while we expect things to get better, there are still several cases where many animals have died during filming. One of the most infamous cases happened with Disney’s beloved Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl….
In 2003, scores of dead marine wildlife washed up on shore for four days. Investigations revealed that production decided to detonate explosions in the ocean, resulting in the deaths of several marine species.
Some Genders Are Easier to Work With
When it comes to film, everything is a learning process, and after a few years, filmmakers and animal trainers discovered that some genders are much easier to work with than others. When taking a look at animals’ behavior, females are generally more submissive than their male counterparts….
When it comes to dolphins, trainers have found that females are easier to work with. Female dogs have also been found to be more obedient than males.
They Can Play the Opposite Gender
Because some genders are easier to work with, some animals end up playing the opposite sex in several films and television shows. This is usually done to prevent aggression towards the human actors, other animal actors, or staff, as there have been several reported cases of animal attacks on set, leading to lawsuits….
For obvious reasons, filmmakers now need to edit out or edit in features that are characteristic of either gender. Anything to make the process go as smoothly as possible.
They Can Be Replaced Mid-Film
It’s already widely known how several animals can take on the role of one character, but what are some of the reasons why it happens? Among many reasons, filmmakers can end an animal’s contract if they’re hard to work with, if they don’t perform as expected, or if they’re seriously hurt while filming….
It was also found that when they frequently changed the actors, people were less likely to recognize the changes. Unlike with humans, there is no lawsuit if the animals are axed from their job.
They Can Be Divas
Actors and actresses often make some strange requests when filming on set, whether it be importing their favorite snack from another country, keeping a large stock of their favorite scented candle, or asking for access for their grandparents. Animals have also been known to have special requests, as seen with Casey the bear….
While starring in films like “Back to the Future: Part III” and “George of the Jungle,” his treat of choice was KFC Original Recipe fried chicken. No other kind would work.
They Have Special Requirements
Working with animals, especially the exotic ones, can be quite difficult, as they have needs that must be met in order for them to even be cast in the film or series. In “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” starring Jim Carrey, the film set’s thermostat was set at 45 degrees at all times to accommodate the penguins. Both the actors and the production team had to bundle up to stay warm….
When working with reptiles, specific types of lighting must be used because of their ectothermic traits. Using hot lights can cause their body temperature to warm up too fast, forcing them to seek a cooler hiding spot.
They Can Be Emotional
Much like us, animals show emotion through their facial expressions, actions, and voice. Emotions like joy, grief, anger, love, and jealousy are all felt by these animals, but unlike us, some emotions don’t truly portray how the animals are really feeling. Trainers who know this can get them to express different emotions by doing certain things….
For example, a yawn doesn’t mean that they are tired, it means that they are stressed. A direct stare doesn’t mean that they are sad or afraid, it means that they want your attention.
It Can Get Dangerous
Animals are always unpredictable by nature, and the demands of filming can be a very stressful environment to have any animal in, causing them to be even more unpredictable. There have been several instances when animals needed to interact with other animals and even humans, and it didn’t always go as planned….
Actress Adrienne Frantz was bitten in the face by her dog co-star while filming “The Perfect Girlfriend” back in 2013. She filed a $5 million lawsuit against the film company.
PETA Often Gets Involved
For years, PETA has been breathing down filmmakers’ necks about how animals are and should be treated. Over the years, they’ve dug up numerous cases of animal abuse, and they’ve even gone as far as halting the production of several films. They’ve advocated for stronger regulations on the treatment of animals, with the end goal being to stop live animal involvement in films….
Beyond that, supporting members have gone as far as boycotting movie premieres and getting local theaters to not show a film. The 2018 film “Alpha” faced serious backlash after it was discovered that 5 bison were killed during filming.
They Have Strange Names
Just like us, pet/animal owners are entitled to name their companions as they see fit, but some of the animals in the industry have some of the most unusual names we have ever heard, leaving many to think that there is something wrong with the person/ people who named them…
Spud MacKenzie, the dog from several ’80s beer commercials, was named Honey Tree Evil Eye by his owner. The horse who played Mr. Ed on the self-titled show was called Bamboo Harvester.
They’re Not Always Trained
Despite what many people think, not every animal actor that has appeared on screen was professionally trained. The fact is that some of them were wild when they were brought on set, and things didn’t always turn out well. Apart from being extremely difficult to work with, some cases resulted in people getting hurt to get the desired action….
As of late, many producers are making it mandatory to have animal trainers for those animals who do not have experience on set. If the animal proves to be too difficult to work with, they are usually replaced.
They Can All Be Trained
Animals are unpredictable, and their uncertainty is one of the reasons why many of them need to be trained. As it turns out, almost any animal can be trained, but the type of training an animal receives will vary depending on the purpose for training the animal and the type of animal….
Julie Tottman of Birds & Animals UK, the British arm of the Hollywood agency, has trained ravens, owls, deer, and even ants for special roles. Dolphins, snakes, and even bears have been trained too.
They Can Be Nominated for Awards
Animals are not eligible for many of the major film awards (Oscar, BAFTA), despite much protest from the public. Animals work just as hard, if not harder than their human counterparts, and as such, they should be allowed the same pleasantries as them. With that being said, there are some awards that they do qualify for….
Uggie, a trained Parson Russell Terrier who starred in “Water for Elephants” and “The Artist,” won the Palm Dog Award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, among others.
They Can Land the Lead Role
When animals first began to be featured in films, they typically had supporting roles. Lead roles were often reserved for humans, and it is rumored to be because they were too difficult to train. As time passed, they began to land more lead roles, with the help of humans to voice their characters….
Films like Beethoven, Air Bud, and Charlotte’s Web all featured animals who took the lead roles. They performed so well that they all got sequels.
They Often Steal the Show
You would think that this was a great thing, but more often than not, it isn’t, especially for the actor starring alongside them. Cheetah, the chimp who starred in several of the Tarzan films, was praised for his role in the movie. Bart, the Alaskan bear, did such a fantastic job that people petitioned for him to get an Oscar nomination.
However, this also puts pressure on filmmakers to not only make a sequel but to do better than they did in the first movie.
The Footage Sometimes Has to Be Doctored
Rumors can be the death of any production, especially when they turn out to be true. When it comes to animals, if rumors of poor treatment on the set of a film begin to make the rounds on the internet, filming can be derailed for years. In 2015, a clip of the lead dog during the filming of “A Dog’s Purpose” struggling to swim in water was leaked before the movie launched….
The filmmakers said that it was “doctored” to make it look like the animal was in danger, but the statement wasn’t enough to save them from the protestors and low opening weekend attendance.
They Can Do Their Own Stunts
Nowadays, more of Hollywood’s A-listers are doing their own stunts. Actors like Tom Cruise, Sylvester Stalone, Kate Winslet, and Nicole Kidman have all done it, and they have the scars to prove it. Animals, on the other hand, have been doing it for years, and PETA isn’t happy about it….
Ed Lukas, an LA-based cinematographer, claims to have fired a penguin out of a cannon while filming a short film. A Doberman was taught to jump through sugar glass windows for the 2002 “Resident Evil” film.
They Can Be Celebrities
When you think about celebrities, animals aren’t the first creatures that come to mind, but with the rise of social media, these animals are able to grow their already large fan base. Despite their celebrity status, not only have some animals earned the salaries of their human counterparts, but some come close to exceeding them.
Rin Tin Tin, Pal, and Keiko are just a few of the many famous animals. There’s also Crystal the capuchin and Lassie and his children.
They Get Offered Contracts Beyond Film
When we say that these animals reach celebrity status, we mean it. Some of them go beyond television and film, which keeps them in the spotlight. Arguably one of the most famous horses in the history of film, Trigger, also known as Golden Cloud, a palomino who starred in several western films in 1938, was the first horse to have his own comic book….
Cheeta the chimpanzee, who starred in several Tarzan films, has an autobiography written. Even Bo Obama, “the first dog of the United States,” has a children’s book written about his point of view living in the White House.
Human Co-Stars Have Had to Fight Allergies While Working With Them
Often times, when celebrities are chosen for roles in movies, allergies to things that they have to come into contact with aren’t the first thing that they are asked about. Just ask Jennifer Lawrence, whose makeup for her blue ex-men costume gave her blisters and boils because of an allergic reaction….
Actress Brie Larson had to deal with her cat allergies (often breaking out in hives) while filming Marvel’s “Captain Marvel” alongside Reggie, who played Goose the flerken.
CGI Can Replace Some Animals
With each passing year, CGI is becoming more popular, and for some time now, producers have opted out of using real animals in place of the green screen and sensors. Films like The Jungle Book, whose characters were almost exclusively made up of animals, used CGI for every single one….
To pull it off was not as easy as they made it look. The animals that they were mimicking needed to be observed in order to convey the likeness.
Animatronics Are Also Used
Live animals are not always the best or first choice for certain films, television shows, or music videos. Whether it has to do with budgetary restrictions, time constraints, the filmmakers’ creative vision, or the animal’s inability to perform a certain task, sometimes it is just best to explore other options….
One such option is the use of animatronics instead of real animals. The success rate varies, but it’s becoming more popular.
Motion Capture Animals?
In order to capture the realism of animals, filmmakers have begun to use motion capture to get the desired effect. They start off by putting the animal into a suit/outfit, then marking it with dots to capture its movements and sounds. The information is then put into a computer program to be finessed for later use….
Although it is more costly, it saves directors and producers a lot of time when it comes to keeping things on schedule. The time saved equates to more money in their pockets.
250 Dogs, One Scene
Some directors have elaborate ideas for what they want certain scenes to look like. This was the case for Kornél Mudroczó, the director of “White God.” For a specific scene, he wanted to capture 100 dogs running together as a group, but his lofty plans were shut down by several of the other members of the team. Despite not having the support, he went through with it….
On the day of the shoot, there were approximately 250 dogs running as a group. This was accomplished by placing treats at the other end of the street.
Stuffed Animals Are a Thing
Western film star Roy Rogers was often accompanied by a palomino horse named Trigger. The horse starred in 10 different films throughout his career but unfortunately passed away in 1965 at the age of 30. Because he was such a standout performer in all of his films, he was memorialized in an uncommon way….
The celebrity horse was stuffed and kept in a museum. In 2010, a cable television network in Nebraska bought the stuffed animal for $266,500 at auction.
They Use Props
Animals don’t always come with the desired look needed to play the part, so sometimes filmmakers add a few extra accessories to get the animals to look perfect for their feature role. Apart from your standard wigs, jewelry, and clothing, there are many props that are placed on animals….
For the 1986 fantasy film “Highlander,” fake antlers were attached to a docile stag’s head to get the look of a reindeer. Although the rig was shaken off many times, they got the shot.
Many Actors Are Rescues
It is estimated that approximately 85% of the animal actors working in today’s industry were actually rescued. Crystal, the capuchin who has been referred to as the “Angelina Jolie” of the animal star world, was rescued from an illegal breeding facility. Charlie, the cat who played Mr. Jinx, was “discovered” in a Canadian animal shelter….
Buddy the Golden Retriever was found as a stray puppy on the side of the road back in the 1980s. His trainer, Kevin DiCicco, took him home and taught him to play sports.
Human Co-Stars Spend Time With Them Before Shooting
Chemistry is key in Hollywood, and it needs to be conveyed in every film, whether it is between two people or a person and an animal. For this reason, many directors require the animals and their human co-stars to spend time together before filming to determine whether they’re a good match….
If not, the animal is usually replaced until the right one is found. We have not heard if the human actors have ever been sacked for the sake of the animal.
Human Co-Stars Take Them Home
When filming a movie, actors spend lots of time with their fellow castmates, and this is one of the reasons why off-screen romances are so common between the stars of a film or series. Well, a similar thing happens with actors and their animal co-stars. Many of them end up being adopted or purchased from their owner….
Sophie Turner adopted one of the Northern Inuit pups from when she starred in “Game of Thrones.” Tiffany Haddish adopted one of the kittens who played Keanu in the self-titled film.