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Principally we are working with European wild animals (wolf, bear, red deer, wild boar, etc,), but most of the requests we get are for wolves. This comes on one hand from the fact that while more trainers are specialised in bears (also as circus animals), still less animal people are involved with wolves on a professional level – and the results we have achieved with wolves in the last 20 years have got some publicity over the years.
But it does not mean that we only work with these type of animals – our methods of training can be and have successfully been employed with other species. Thus we have worked with domestic animals (dogs, cats, horse, etc.), household animals (cow, pig, goat, sheep) or even exotic animals (crocs, penguins, camel, etc.). In many movies we were responsible for the animal departmet coordinating all animals appearing in the given movie, and we are also sought for in planning animal scenes.
In order to be able to plan a scene involving animals we need loads of information. The basis of course is the script or a description of the scene, but it is also very helpful to have a storyboard of the scene as it also indicates possible camera angles and edges of frames. Based on this information one can start to cast and select the animals and can also decide how many backup animals may be needed for the given scenes. If we are done with all these we can start estimating training needs and duration – and then let the training begin.
Why do we work with more animals of the same species when accomplishing the required task in a scene?
As mentioned above the execution of the scenes in most cases calls for bacjup animals – these are the animals that look and act the same as the “hero” animals. The reason for this is that many times the hero can get tired, unfocused or may just have a bad day, but the shooting cannot stop due to this – you must always have a backup.
It can also happen – especially with wild animals – that you have animals with different characters or with different skill sets: meaning that one animal can be good in solving one type of task but may be unable to perform a different action. For example a wolf must be able to jump several times on an actor in a row, but it also has to stand still for long seconds – this requires completely different characters and therefore cannot be solved by the same animal. In this case you need to have two animals with different characters but very similar look so that the change cannot be recognised on the silver screen.
The duration of training depends on the task (what the animal has to perform, in what environment, for how long, etc.) and also on the experience and age of the animal (whether it has already performed a similar task or is it a completely new task, is there any interaction with humans or other animals, etc.). Most of our performing animals are mechanised for certain set and type of tasks and we are continuously training young animals as well – thus, given that the taks is not a completely new and complicated set of actions, the training never takes longer than a maximum of 2-3 weeks).
In many cases however it is not the training that is the key to executing the task perfectly, but one or more of the following items: creating the right environment, getting the animal used to the location or achieving the right physical condition of the animal.
Training and preparation at the shooting location is of outmost importance, especially in case of wild animals as for them the “territory” is the key – they explore and mark all new territories. Just as they would do it in the wild where their lives could depend on this. And also from a cost-efficiency point of view it is advisable not to use valuable shooting time for this “performance”. It is also of primary importance too that these animals execute the task on the very spot they would do in the movie – as opposed to domesticated animals they are not really “trained”, but but rather mechanised for the given task on the given spot.
In certain cases our animals are allowed to work even with the main actor – but it also depends on the job, the species and the given animal. When working with bears it is only Zoltan who is allowed to get in direct contact with the animal – the actor or stunt double must be separated with an electric wire. In case of wolves or other wild animals of ours actors or stunt doubles may be allowed to work directly with the animal, but in these cases we must take the necessary time to get the animal and the actor get familiar with each other (as wolves are rather shy animals and trust must be built between the animals and the actor).
Shooting a film with wild animals always carries a certain amount of risk and the HORKAI Animal Training Center considers the safety of the crew and the animals as an issue of primary importance. Shooting locations are often crowded with several hundred people working in a closed environment – in order to avoid any accidents to happen the crew must keep some basic rules and measures. These measures are acknowledged and accepted by the production company by signing an agreement and they must always be communicated towards the crew in local languages.
The above rules and measures do not only protect the filming crew, but they are meant to protect the animals to the same extent. Thus the safety measures include guidelines to prevent animal injuries as well as how to prepare a proper shelter for the animals during the shooting period.
Our measures are based on the guidelines of AHA (American Humane Association), the largest animal welfare group in the US. The largest film producing companies use their assistance in making risk assessments for animal scenes and to monitor animal handlers’ activities during the shooting period.
When transporting our animals happen we always keep related animal protection and welfare regulations. As in most cases we are talking about wild animals we also have to make sure that under no circumstances can the animal leave or ruin the transporting cage.. Our transporting cages – just as some may see when transporting horses for instance – might be less spacious than everyday shelters in order to prevent the animals to slip and slide in the cages due to the dynamics of the road travel (breaking, change of speed, etc.).
This is one of the most frequently asked questions we get – and one that we cannot give a general answer to. The HORKAI Animal Training Center solves complex tasks of animal coordination and planning In order to be able to prepare a budget that answer most of the questions we need all information available about the given task – these information include the species and number of the animals, the circumstances of the shooting such as location, duration, travel needs, etc. Based on this information we prepare a unique offer for all inquiries we get.