When director Lawrence Guterman and producers Chris deFaria and Andrew Lazar embarked upon "Cats and Dogs (2001)" they didn't set out to make a puppet movie or a CGI movie - that had already been done. They wanted to present living, breathing, flesh-and-fur dogs and cats, with all their unique charm and personality as individuals, and then just enable them to do impossible things like talk, fly airplanes, operate rocket sleds and engage in marital arts combat. And they wanted it to appear so perfectly real that moviegoers might go home and eye their own pets a little bit suspiciously afterwards, just in case.
"It's a story that any pet owner can relate to," says Lazar, recalling his initial reaction to the script. "I now know when I wake up to find my dogs have broken something it's only because they've been protecting me. Our clever writing team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa have finally managed to answer the age-old question of why dogs chase cats - they could be saving your life. "
Initially, the project was considered as an animated feature until Jeff Robinov, an Executive Vice President of Production at Warner Bros. Pictures, asked deFaria if he knew of any other way to make the film. "The timing was perfect," recalls deFaria, "because we happened to be at a point in the development of certain critical special effects techniques where everything needed to make this movie work was almost ready.
"That's exactly where you want to be when you make a movie like this," deFaria continues, "on the cutting edge. I made some initial assumptions about what I thought could be done using puppets, live animals, full CGI, and face replacement on animals in a live-action setting. "
It was already known that skilled trainers could get live animals to perform an amazing amount of what was required, especially under the tutelage of renowned trainer Boone Narr, whom the filmmakers wanted on board from the start. What they needed to find out was if animals, backed up by a combination of puppets and computer generated imagery (CGI), could create the kind of seamless performance they wanted for each of the characters.
To get their answer, the filmmakers needed a test case and this was provided by Guterman, who by then had already been developing the script with writers Requa and Ficarra.
"I worked on the tests combining computer images and live action for a piece we called 'kung fu cat' in the summer of 1999," says Guterman. "We wanted to show how much fun it could be and what the tone could be. We wanted a very heightened sense of action, almost like a live-action cartoon, pushing everything, exaggerating everything, but with absolute clarity. That way, you can suspend your disbelief when the cats and dogs talk, and from there, to when they do even more outrageous things. "
I think anyone who ever had a pet will find this idea totally intriguing," Guterman continues, regarding the adversarial premise behind "Cats and Dogs (2001) " As for its execution, "I certainly couldn't resist the chance to get involved in showing the audience so much that has never been seen before. "
The kung fu cat test, although not up to the standard that actual filming would require, was enough to convince them that what they imagined was indeed possible.
Creating each animal performance proved to be a complex process. Every scene was first set out in storyboards. From these, the filmmakers decided what portion could be filmed with live animals, what portion required puppets and what was only possible through CGI. The preference was to have live animals perform as much of the action as possible, to ground the film in reality and provide much of its charm, and to bring in the technological element when something was physically impossible or dangerous for an animal.
"It's a complicated, time-consuming process," explains Lazar. "Each shot has to be perfect. Once the director, the animal trainers and the puppeteers were happy with the performances and the camera and sound crews were satisfied, the visual effects people had to be consulted. Usually we would then get plates of the animals chewing to help the effects artists better approximate what the cat or dog would look like when speaking. It was not uncommon to spend hours on a single close-up. "
With a total of more than 800 visual effects in the film, involving close to 200 animators, designers, compositors, sculptors and technicians, everything overlapped and everything had to finally come together in seamless synchronization. Throughout the production, director Guterman was overseeing a creative process taking place in several locations and involving several teams simultaneously. He kept track of the CGI efforts of three design studios plus the animatronic work on a daily basis, while shooting scenes with the actors and managing the live performances of the ever-present menagerie of animals and trainers on the set -- a process that brought new meaning to the term multi-tasking.
In the recent past this would have involved a constant stream of courier packages circulating tapes of live action and effects between the location in Vancouver, Canada, and visual effects houses in England and the U. S. But the "Cats and Dogs (2001)" production team was able to use a series of high-bandwidth hook-ups to each supplier, plus a trailer equipped with satellite up- and down-link capabilities. This made it possible to send a shot or sequence of CGI work from the supplier to the set, get the director to comment on it between live action takes and return it for changes or completion, all in a matter of hours.
"It was like stepping onto the deck of the Starship Enterprise," Lazar says of the state-of-the-art equipment that occupied an entire trailer. "Digital display screens lining the walls, a multitude of computer terminals, the cool crisp hum of data transfer - this is the future of moviemaking. "
Having worked that out, there were also some less esoteric elements to be considered. Before production began, the crew had to build a complete, on-site housing, grooming and training facility for as many as 50 animals. Feeding and exercise schedules had to be drawn up. A staggering array of animal-friendly sets, set pieces, and props had to be designed, built, and tested by the animal stars. Costumers had to design and create vests and goggles for Ninja cats and equipment vests for hero dogs.
Finding the right studio was a challenge. It had to have a backlot and three stages to accommodate several large sets plus a very large blue screen. It had to have space for the animal facilities. Plus, it had to be in an area that was away from heavy traffic so the animals would not be subjected to excessive noise and pollution. Once space was found, the animal complex was built first so that the furry stars could move in and settle into a training routine.
Set builders constructed three versions of the Brody home, including a real house, used for front yard and street sequences, and the rear facade, porch and backyard, built on the studio backlot. Hundreds of live plants and trees were tended on the Brody's backyard throughout the four-month production schedule. Additionally, the construction crew built the interior of the house, with front and back porches, and an entire fully-landscaped backyard on a sound stage so that night scenes could be shot in a completely controlled environment.
Stage One housed Lou's doghouse interior with its secret, high-tech compartment. Stage Two housed Mr. Mason's office in the Flocking Factory, where the final confrontation occurs. The latter was designed to accommodate the fire and general destruction that would be required when Mr. Tinkles made his move.
A third stage was equipped with a very large blue screen. Here the crew could shoot scenes that required added backgrounds like the international assembly room, where international dog delegates debate the best response to Mr. Tinkles' evil plan.
Logistics remained a priority throughout filming. Because of the production's complex nature, a second unit crew shot every day, while production schedules accommodated the needs of both crews. If main unit was working with the puppeteers, second unit could have the animals and trainers; if second unit had the back lot, main unit had one of the stages.
Live filming began with scenes involving only dogs to give the cat trainers the time needed with their more demanding charges. As production advanced, more difficult scenes could be tackled.
For the first two months, the human cast was seldom present but in September and early October Jeff Goldblum, Elizabeth Perkins and Alexander Pollock became part of the daily routine of production. Once their parts were captured on film, the crew returned to its routine of animal and puppet work. Once the cats came into play the most demanding parts of the story were tackled.
As for tackles…the puppet crew maneuvered around the set like a football team. For every mechanical dog or cat that appeared in a scene, a number of talented and agile puppeteers were hidden nearby to supervise its movements. "It takes about six people to operate Mr. Tinkles," explains David Barclay, of the famed Henson Creature Shop. "We had to hide those people somewhere. " One puppeteer recounted having been hidden at various times under the floorboards (sharing a bathtub-sized space with two colleagues), inside an underground chamber stuffed with mechanical elements, under the stage, under a wheelchair, and under a cut-away limo.
For the final showdown, an abandoned tank and boiler factory was transformed into Mr. Mason's Flocking Factory: a jumble of Christmas trees, snowmen and antiquated machinery.
"The flocking factory just involved hard, honest work," says production designer Jim Bissell. "We created a horseshoe assembly line surrounding the central aisle down which Mr. Mason had to travel. The most fun we had was taking the trees and turning the flocking of them into a real industrial ritual. And designing the flocking guns, of course -- they are real super, heavy-grade, industrial size tree- flockers that look like ray guns or maybe early 1950s TV cameras. "
Once in the factory, Mr. Tinkles' gang of cats prepares to operate the array of flocking guns while Lou, Butch and Ivy work their way closer to the evil feline's center of operations. Few films of any kind have had a more amazing setting for a final conflict. The showdown between the cats and the dogs involved, among other things, several tons of cellulose paper flocking, 16 air cannons, thousands of gallons of shaving cream, hundreds of gallons of food coloring and 6,700 latex mice.
The paradox of good special effects is that the more skillfully rendered they are, the less the viewer is consciously aware of them, or, as producer Chris deFaria puts it, "If we do our job well, you won't know. "
To accomplish this, they enlisted some of the very best visual effects designers in the industry today: top designers from Academy Award-winning visual effects studio Rhythm & Hues, which provided the stunning effects for "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"; world-renowned multimedia production company Jim Henson's Creature Shop, home of the Muppets as well as countless other characters; famed animation and visual effects house, Tippett Studio, which contributed to "The Hollow Man"; and England's prestigious Mill Film, a partnership of London's most successful commercial facility with film directors Tony Scott and Ridley Scott.
"We made a conscious decision early on," explains deFaria, "to create characters that existed in multiple mediums. We wanted to introduce live animals in a natural setting and then, through the use of puppets and computer animation, take the audience along an escalating path of credibility until, by the time they see a dog leaping off a two-story building onto a log-loader being driven by a cat, they're okay with it. "
The first step involved the animal actors. Each animal's image was scanned onto a computer where body dimensions and facial characteristics were recorded, from which limitless actions and expressions could then be created.
The process of scanning to create animated versions of animals and giving them a wide range of motion based upon their own natural movements is not new. But, as deFaria explains, "CGI models of an animal's face are derived from the actual geometry of the face being scanned and then a catalogue of expressions are built using the animal's own physiology. That wouldn't work for us because animals don't have the kinds of facial expressions we needed. Animals don't react with the level of surprise, aggression, anger, humor or malevolence that our animals needed to show. So we had to build models that were a kind of evolved version of the animal's physiology - one step beyond. That had never been done before, it was a technique created specifically for 'Cats and Dogs (2001)' and delivers a level of expression that has never been achieved before. "
Secondly, a life-size model of each animal was created, by the Henson Creature Shop, from which additional computer images were then made by the CGI studios depicting musculature and skeleton, so that the resulting cyber dog or cat, "essentially a computer puppet," according to deFaria, would move realistically with the same weight and flexibility as its live counterpart.
"Having a model is beneficial to animators," says Scott Souter, one of the Special Effects Supervisors at Tippett Studio. "It enables them to see how much screen space the character fills so they can better compose the shots. Plus, we can play with it, push it into a shape and examine it from all angles till we think the balance and the pose is right and the center of gravity is correct. Ultimately, the model is hacked up into pieces and scanned, and then re-assembled in the computer. "
Finally, puppet doubles were meticulously crafted for each animal to take the tumbles and perform outrageous deeds beyond the range of mere mortal cats and dogs.
"We knew the puppets couldn't be like any that had been built before," deFaria explains, "if they were going to be capable of the kind of nuance, action and performance we had in mind, so we pressed the Henson people to look into new materials and techniques. And they delivered extraordinary puppets. "
"The Henson team demonstrated nothing short of absolute perfection in the look and performance of their puppets," states producer Lazar. "They were always upbeat with a diligent work ethic throughout the rigorous shooting schedule, which was particularly impressive in light of the fact that they were often shuttled between two completely separate units. Despite their enormous workload, they would be disappointed when we decided to use a live animal in the shot - that's how eager they were to contribute. "
A dozen puppets of varying degrees of complexity were built for the film, by far the most intricate being Mr. Tinkles. Because the white Persian had to give an extended performance, the filmmakers knew from the outset that much of the work would fall to the puppet version. Even before the project had been green-lit, deFaria and Guterman consulted with David Barclay, Puppet Performance Supervisor at the Creature Shop, about the possibility of making Mr. Tinkles as a full, lip-synch, performing puppet. By the time production began, the Creature Shop was already deep into designing the cat's mechanical head. Four months later, six experts were working on his limbs, body parts and fur. A variety of tiny motors, operated by the Puppeteer Motion Memory Computer System, let the puppeteers duplicate all the emotional nuances one would expect from a live animal.
"The body fur had to stretch as a cat's would," says Barclay, "and the puppet had to match the real animal precisely. We left room for adjustments, then would take the puppet to Boone's ranch and compare it to the real cat. That was the case for all of the animals. "
Research and development continued after filming began. As well as adding final touches to his fur, the puppeteers rehearsed scenes, working to the playback of Sean Hayes' voice to bring the character fully to life. Once the puppet went before the camera, the result of thousands of hours from highly talented hands and minds dazzled the cast and crew.
"He is one of the most successful performing puppets in some time," says Barclay of Mr. Tinkles. "There's a lot of high technology that went into him as well as some very simple principles. He's a blend of old, traditional puppetry and sophisticated new techniques, which is why we are so excited about him. It's been an interesting journey to discover the areas that we can explore as puppeteers to bring something like this to life. "
"Cats, by their nature, are one of the hardest creatures from which to make convincing puppets," explains David Barrington Holt, Creative Supervisor of the Henson Creature Shop. "Due to the small size of heads and bodies, into which must be placed puppeteers' hands or complex mechanisms, much of what we build is like watchmakers' work, with a consequent delicacy and risk of breakdown. For this picture, we made some of the smallest mechanisms we have ever created, with a lot of attention to detail.
"Each animal's eyes and teeth had to be carefully matched," Holt continues. "When you cut between a puppet and a live animal it's essential that detail differences don't jump out at you. If they do, they break the illusion. "
Holt and his team spent weeks comparing their work to the animals they were duplicating, to be sure that every detail of color and texture matched. Their biggest challenge lay in reproducing the animals' fur -- one of the most difficult items to simulate realistically.
"Real fur is undeniably alive," Holt explains, "its quality is accentuated by the suppleness and flexibility of the skin it grows from. We spent a lot of time researching materials that would allow convincing matches for the fur of each animal and threw away many things that were less than satisfying before we found what we were looking for -- a process that had some of our specialists tearing their own hair out. "
Fur proved no easier to simulate in the computer. "Mr. Tinkles is particularly challenging because of his long fur," says Bill Westenhofer, Visual Effects Supervisor at Rhythm & Hues. "The fur actually creates the form of the cat. It has to behave as a cohesive unit that can maintain a certain structure yet yield and move as hair would when something brushes through it. When a cat leans against something or even just moves a leg, its fur compresses and bends in a complex way. Finally, the hair has to be rendered with all the glints, transparent edge lighting and self-shadowing capabilities as the real thing. "
"It's enormously complicated," deFaria offers. "It's a matter of textures, movement, lighting and reflexivity, plus how the oils work on the animal. Fur dynamics. How does a computer interpret that? What it all comes down to is a series of mathematical computations in a program that has to make 20,000 hairs move in unison, yet move individually. "
Meeting the fur challenge for "Cats and Dogs (2001)" set a new standard for CGI.
"Typically," says Tippett Studio's Special Effects Supervisor Blair Clark of his staff, "we are very compartmentalized, but creating the look of the fur was dependent upon every stage of the process. There were some tricky filters and blurs that the compositors were using, special lights from the lighting technicians, and then the animators and the painters were working on the parting and splitting effects. It involved every single department. "
The commitment to flawless realism in every step of the animation process is evident in the final product. When Lou the Beagle makes his first appearance he is a live animal. At one point, Lou becomes animatronic, and when he speaks it is through the mouth of his cyber double. Then he is just plain Lou again as he ambles out of the frame. It is impossible to detect precisely where these conversions are made, so fluid is the resulting action.
"In a scene like that," deFaria explains, "you will start out with a live animal, transition through a puppet stage and into a computer image, back to live, back to puppet and then maybe repeat the process. " Ultimately, what the audience sees is not a clever animated dog or a dog puppet - what they see is a dog, period, that just happens to talk and can use a catapult with unquestionable dexterity, which is exactly what the filmmakers wanted.
Westenhofer sums it up: "The biggest challenge was to be able to create photorealistic animals that would be able to be cut side by side with the real thing. Nothing like that has been done to the degree to which it is done in this film. "
In comparison to the staggering logistics, casting for "Cats and Dogs (2001)" was almost too easy. Jeff Goldblum was on the short list of possibilities for the role of Professor Brody from the very beginning and was the first human role to be cast. Elizabeth Perkins, too, was among the first choices for the role of Mrs. Brody, who brings Lou into the household.
"There was a lot of interest in the human roles," says Lazar. "We all loved Jeff's charisma and his downright wacky take on paternal instincts. We were then fortunate to sign Elizabeth Perkins. Together they have a charming chemistry. "
Both Goldblum and Perkins were impressed with the way that Guterman and deFaria were committed to bringing "Cats and Dogs (2001)" to life. And both, ignoring the oft-quoted adage about never working with animals or kids, insisted that their young and furry co-stars were a delight.
Alexander Pollock was chosen after interviews with dozens of children for the role of Scott Brody. Both Guterman and deFaria loved the 11-year-old Vancouver actor from the start. When they played Pollock's audition tape for the assembled decision-makers, response was unanimous. "Everyone," recalls Guterman, "producers, executives and writers, were suddenly laughing hysterically at his performance. He is so natural and funny and almost Charlie Brown-like in a way. We all looked at each other and realized this is the kid. "
Pollock describes both his adult co-stars as "really cool," citing that Perkins was especially good company on the set and great to talk to, and that Goldblum was "very funny, always dancing and singing, really fun to work with. "
"For the voices," says Guterman, "we also had some names in mind from the outset. Susan Sarandon was our first choice for Ivy. We were truly lucky in that we got so many of the voice actors we wanted from the start. "
Lazar concurs, adding "I went to meet Susan in New York and was prepared to beg if I had to. After I pitched the project she knew it was something her kids would enjoy so she signed on immediately. "
"Casting voices is a funny process," explains deFaria. "You spend a lot of time saying, 'Butch should sort of sound like Alec Baldwin in 'Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)' and you start making a list of people who sound like Alec Baldwin. Eventually, you realize you should just approach Alec Baldwin. "
Some of the voices were pure inspiration. "Our casting director, Marci Liroff, is great at coming up with fresh ideas," says deFaria. "When she suggested Michael Clarke Duncan for Sam, everyone just sort of paused - after 'Green Mile, The (1999),' can he possibly play a sheepdog? It's a really big leap, but he just blew everyone away. "
Finding an appropriate voice for Mr. Tinkles was the most difficult of all. "If he's too mean and scary and baritone, you lose some of the humor," says Guterman, "but if he's too flighty and high-pitched and flamboyant, then you miss the menace. We had to find someone who could balance the two, make it funny but make it edgy too. "
"Sean Hayes, as a favor, came in and did several of the parts at a read-through," says deFaria. "Halfway through the process, when a Mr. Tinkles scene was coming up, people would all start tittering and laughing in anticipation of how he was going to play it. We knew then that we had found our Mr. Tinkles. "
Most of the cats and dogs that appear in the film "Cats and Dogs (2001)" are of uncommon breeds. They were cast, just as human actors are, for their suitability to the characters they portray.
Lou, the young hero who stumbles unaware into the battle between the cats and dogs at a critical moment, is a pocket Beagle, measuring only 10 inches high. Lou is an outgoing and adventurous pup. The script originally called for a Foxhound puppy but the two-year-old pocket Beagles could be trained with greater success while having the size and lively temperament to imitate a younger animal.
To achieve a complete performance, five dogs and one puppet played Lou. The little Beagles quickly won the hearts of the crew with their friendly demeanor, boundless curiosity and soft brown eyes.
Butch has been an agent for a long time and is a little jaded. He is far from thrilled when told he must become trainer, protector and mentor to a young pup. Still, Butch is a loyal member of the team and, in the end, a loyal friend, too.
Butch is played by an Anatolian Shepherd. These magnificent dogs originated in Turkey, where they were bred to stand guard over herds in the hills. Although not aggressive, Anatolians are definitely working dogs and very possessive of their families and territories. That characteristic made the breed perfect for the role of Lou's teacher and guardian. Noah, the dog who plays Butch, was a rescue animal, trained by Mark Harden.
Ivy is a Saluki Hound who brings warmth and wisdom into Lou's life. The lovely ex-agent faced a hard choice once and now lives on the streets. She understands Lou's desire to "have a life," something she has been trying to explain to tough guy Butch for a long time.
The Saluki is a hound that hunts by sight rather than scent. This exotic breed is exquisitely beautiful but trainer David Allsberry warns that they are highly spirited and very fast. Because they hunt by sight, any small, furry, moving object can be mistaken for prey and hunted down. This is not a dog to be walked off-leash; if it runs, you will never catch it.
Peek, played by a Chinese Crested, is the technological brain behind the dogs' operation. Peek runs the computers and communications devices that let the dogs stay one step ahead of the cats. While this breed's lack of coat and overall fragility tends to make them a bit high maintenance, trainer Kim Bonham says the Chinese Crested has a playful sense of fun and a tremendous ability to learn that makes working with the breed a pleasure.
The part of Sam is played by an English sheepdog, as a secret agent whose dedication makes up for his slow speed and limited powers of observation. With all that facial hair, Sam doesn't see everything that's going on but he does have a very responsive heart.
English sheepdogs are large animals with a wonderful temperament and are especially good with children. Their glorious coats, however, require constant grooming. Trainer William Grisco confirms that they also require considerable exercise.
Mr. Tinkles is a white Persian cat on a major power trip. Mr. Tinkles considers total domination life's only worthy objective and is willing to go to any lengths to achieve it.
The Persian cat can be an excellent house pet - house being the operative word. Coat and health problems make outdoor living virtually impossible for these beautiful creatures. Their beautiful long coats need constant attention and the "pushed-in" face for which they are famous can lead to breathing problems. Trainer Cathy McCallum says that a pet-quality Persian usually has a more elongated and healthier muzzle.
Mr. Tinkles' sidekick in the film is Calico. This henchcat suffers from a lack of natural talent for treachery and is the constant victim of Mr. Tinkles' acid tongue.
Calico is played by a brown classic tabby Exotic Shorthair, which is a fancy name for a shorthaired Persian. Some cat fanciers refer to this breed as the lazy man's Persian cat. They have proven to be excellent animals with good personalities and few grooming problems and, according to trainer James Dew, make wonderful pets.
The Russian Blue, seen here as a highly trained attack cat, is being played by a British Shorthair kitten. The choice of the British over the Russian Blue (the breed does exist) was purely cosmetic. Director Guterman preferred the rounder face and larger eyes of the British Blue to the more angular shape of the Russian, feeling that the British Blue looked more kitten-like on film.
A team of Devon Rexes plays the fascinating Ninja cats - a serious threat to dogs whenever they appear. The word "rex" refers to the wavy coat. These cats are excellent pets, social and outgoing, although they are somewhat rare and can be hard to find.
Making a film in which most of the action involves animals is noted for being extremely difficult. Making a movie in which several animals have leading roles and dozens more play bit parts is downright daunting. Still, carried along by their enthusiasm for a brilliant script - in which the animals seem to have all the best lines - the filmmakers decided to take the plunge. They did not take it blindly, however. They sought the best help they could find.
Boone Narr has been training animals for film work for more than 20 years. Most of the trainers he hired for "Cats and Dogs (2001)" can make similar claims. Those combined years of experience meant the filmmakers could count on getting the best possible performances from their animal actors.
"I couldn't believe how disciplined and well-trained the animals were," recalls producer Lazar. "There seemed to be no limits to their ability. In fact, three weeks into the shoot I fired my assistant and replaced him with one of Boone's Mastiffs. "
Even for trainers with vast experience there is no fast, easy way to get an animal to perform. It takes time and a great deal of patience. In the case of "Cats and Dogs (2001)," it took a full year to find and train this engaging cast. Serious training began in January 2000 for a film that was slated to start shooting in July. Every bit of that time was needed.
Two trainers cared for and trained the five dogs (two of whom carried most of the role) playing Lou. They worked eight hours a day, six days a week, for six months, a grand total of more than 2,000 hours, to get Lou ready for his starring role. Anyone who ever tried teaching his or her own pet to stay can understand the need for that schedule. Of course, Lou did not just have to stay. He had to stay, speak, look forward, look away (turn from the trainer), look left or right, sit down, stand up, back up, chase his tail, walk side by side with other dogs, lick faces when asked, play on command, and work with cats. Each of the animals had to master a similar list of behaviors. They did not just get obedience school diplomas -- they emerged with the animal equivalent of a Ph. D.
The uninitiated might think animal stars endure terrible lives, rather like child actors of the 1930s, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Actual training sessions are brief because animals, even exceptionally intelligent ones, have a limited attention span. A great deal of each trainer's working day was spent grooming, planning, devising teaching aids, holding exercise and play sessions and physically caring for the animals. They cleaned and refilled water and food dishes while their pampered charges caught a refreshing nap.
"Noah has this all figured out now," says lead trainer Mark Harden of one of the star canines. "If he's not needed yet, he'll just lie down somewhere on the set and go to sleep, even with 60 or 70 people working all around him. "
For the dogs playing Lou, fun was part of their daily routine. Because the character Lou is a puppy, trainer Ursula Brauner made sure the two-year-old pocket Beagles got plenty of play time along with their more serious training. "I wanted to be sure they kept a puppy attitude," Brauner explains, "so we played with them every day. " The approach worked. Although the Lou dogs performed their roles like pros, they usually came to the set carrying a favorite toy.
The American Humane Society (AHS) is responsible for animals working in the film industry. The society provides representatives to observe the way in which the animals are trained and the way in which they work. An American Humane Society representative is on set whenever an animal is working, just to ensure that the four-legged stars are never mistreated or endangered. Like the trainers, they want the animals to be happy, healthy and safe throughout the filmmaking process. The presence of AHS representatives also assures everyone, including cast, crew and the eventual audience, that the training and filming methods are totally safe and appropriate.
Expert animal trainers can work what seem to be miracles. Many people complain that their cats do precisely what they want and cannot be trained. How, then, can anyone get a cat to hit its mark on film? The explanation is partly through patience, partly through the individual's ability to learn skills, and partly due to the fact that some people just seem to establish a rapport with animals better than the rest of us. Such people become animal trainers. They can start a cat or dog with a large fabric circle and teach the animal to go to that circle and place a paw on it. After awhile, the circle gets smaller. The animal still finds it and stands on it. After a few months, the circle can be just slightly larger than a silver dollar and the trick still works.
"On set, if the floor is in the shot, we can rehearse a few times with the mark, then remove it," says Brauner. "About 90 per cent of the time, the animal will still hit the exact spot for camera. "
Any film crew will tell you that it can be hard for human actors to achieve that degree of accuracy.