I’m constantly learning new things through the research I do for my books, and each one is different. For AMERICAN HORSE TALES: HOLLYWOOD, I knew a lot about movie making and movie sets from when I’d worked as a journalist and editor for a home entertainment magazine. But I while I’d see animals on sets, I didn’t know much about their training and what goes into using animals in movies and TV shows. That’s where my research came in. I didn’t use everything I had researched in my book, and some things I changed slightly—like when animals are looked at to play a role, they don’t call it an “audition,” but I used that word because it would be quicker for readers to understand. I wanted to share some of the more interesting facts I learned in my research. So here are 10 facts about animals in movies:
1. Animals in movies are usually trained from a young age, but there are exceptions. Some famous animals were older when they were adopted from rescue shelters to became actors, like the dogs in the movies Benji and Legally Blonde.
2. Not every animal is suitable to become an actor. Trainers choose animals that will work well with training and won’t get too nervous around strangers, noises and flashing lights.
3. Animal characters in movies and TV shows are often played by more than one animals that look similar. For example, 48 piglets were used to play the young pig Babe in the 1995 movie.
4. All sorts of animals are trained for movies and TV shows. You’ve probably seen dogs, cats, birds, and horses, but rats, snakes, spiders, and even cockroaches are trained to be actors.
5. When you see animals in scenes, you don’t see their trainers, but know that when that shot was filmed, the trainers were close by and usually with a treat. Trainers stay off camera as they tell their animals when to move or make sounds.
6. Trainers use humane methods of training, like repetition and treats. But the best trainers learn everything they can about the animals then encourage them to do their natural actions for the scenes they’re in. For example, when the spider dropped onto Peter Parker’s hand in the 2022 version of Spider-Man, it didn’t really come from the ceiling. The trainer had the spider on ruler out of screen and when the time was right, the trainer nudged the ruler to encourage the spider to do what it does best.
7. Sometimes trainers fake it to make it. To get animals to look like they’re talking, animals are often given a little bit of peanut butter. As the animal chews on the peanut butter, the movement of their mouth resembles them talking.
8. Many years ago, in the early days of movie-making, animals were treated very cruelly in movie-making, with many animals even dying. This led to the American Humane Association creating rules for animal care on movie and TV sets. Those rules cover everything from how animals must be housed, how long they can work, and even the temperatures they can work in. Thanks to these changes, animals are now treated more like the stars they are.
9. Seeing particular animals in movies often makes people want those animals as pets, but that has led to animals being endangered in real life. For example, after 101 Dalmatians came out, a lot of people got a Dalmatian but then decided the dog didn’t fit they family, creating an increase of the breed in animal shelters. This has even happened with animals in animated movies. After Finding Nemo came out, clownfish were in such huge demand, the fish became extinct in parts of Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Philippines.
10. And finally, according to some trainers, cats are the most difficult animals to train. You basically have to make them believe that they’re training you. J
Next time you’re enjoying an animal’s performance in a movie or TV show, know that a lot of work went into the scene.
What are you favorite books with animals?