How Hollywood Animal Wranglers Train Their Stars

Image: more cookies, please! Via -kirra-.
Or, how to make a mouse roll over and play dead — I’ve always been fascinated by Hollywood animal wranglers, who get ducks and spiders and bears (and even cats) to act and perform on cue *humanely*. What’s awesome to learn is that they not only use the predictable methods of repetition and reward, but they also use lasers! Today the Guardian UK has this great stuff, including a list of films and animals, and how they performed their parts:

Welcome to the skin crawling world of animal wrangling. From classics such as the Lassie films to the more recent Ace Ventura: Pet Detective series, Arachnophobia, last month’s Firehouse Dog and this week’s Evan Almighty, animals have long played a huge part at the box office, well before CGI entered the picture.
But we’re not talking chained-up squirting elephants, or hideous best-in-show poodles sporting fluffy booties and expressionless eyes that mask their silent doggy screams for help. These are dogs rescued from abusive owners and taught to understand up to 200 different commands, bears so intelligent that they’ve been used to present Oscars, and mice that can roll over and play dead on command. With this in mind, the WC Fields showbiz adage about never working with animals or children sounds a little foolish.
According to Dr Bhagavan Antle, director of Tigers Institute for endangered species and the man who coached Salma Hayek’s career-making bikini python dance for From Dusk Till Dawn (nice work, if you can get it), the trick to training animals is to understand their basic psychology – intelligence levels, motivation and limits. In the animal hierarchy, great apes and monkeys (like Geoffrey Rush’s capuchin companion in Pirates) perch firmly on the top of the clever pile, followed by dolphins, rats, elephants, big game and bears. A leopard is smarter than a tiger; a tiger is smarter than a lion. And everyone is smarter than a crocodile, who are the group’s bad tempered, slow learners. Throw a blanket over their heads, and they think you can’t see them.
“I’ve trained everything from iguanas capable of ripping your face off to white tigers in a P Diddy video that jumped him while he was wearing a floor length white fur coat,” says Sylvester. “My one rule is, ‘Everyone goes home alive’.” Animals, it seems, are pretty easy to understand. They prefer the dark, are attracted to sweet, sugary substances, will retrieve most objects through the repetition and reward method, and can be trained to obey any command through either the Pavlovian buzzer, or by the use of lasers – a technique pioneered by Boone Narr’s Animals and used to brilliant effect when filming animals watching TV. It was also used in the 2005 film The Pacifier, in which a mallard was trained to bite its co-star’s crotch using a strategically placed laser in less than six weeks. Unsurprisingly, animals are also attracted to fur – rappers with delusions of video grandeur take note.


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