And the 'Pawscar' Goes to... These A-List Animal Actors
Horses were used for motion capture technology on the set of "Avatar" under the watchful eye of American Humane. (Photo Courtesy of Warner Brothers)
As Hollywood stars come out for the Oscars, the year's biggest night of awards, some Academy Award-nominated films have already received a more unique honor: a "Pawscar" from the American Humane Association.
"Avatar," "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," and "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," have all earned an important and respected honor: the "No Animals Were Harmed" disclaimer from the American Humane Association. To commend these films on their treatment of animals, and their nomination by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, American Humane has recognized the three films with a Pawscar — an unofficial, animal-centric spin on the Oscars.
"It is building awareness about not only animal humanitarianism, but that we are celebrating the human animal and in film," said Jone Bouman of American Humane's Film & TV Unit. "Film is one of the greatest things that we have as a society [to show] that we share this world with other sentient creatures and that they deserve our love and compassion."
The nonprofit's Film & TV Unit started the award two years ago as an internal point of recognition. But the word got out and "the Pawscar has taken on a life of its own."
Perhaps this year's list of Pawscar winners will be making a couple acceptance speeches under the glow of the golden icon, Oscar. But first, the Pawscar goes to ...
Best Alien Animals: "Avatar"
Considering that it took James Cameron and crew several years to create Avatar, it’s no wonder that the evolution of the Na’vi “direhorses” (Pa’li) — computer-generated images — involved more than just a click of a mouse. These six-legged horse-like creatures were created using motion-capture technology, in which real horses wore miniature computerized motion sensors near joints and facial areas to capture their movements. The live action was performed in a motion-capture studio covered in dark fabric and carpet (called a “void”) and then recorded as computer animation data, which was then mapped onto a computerized 3-D model.
Human actors wear a bodysuit for the “capture,” but animals need to be “captured” differently because of their body shapes, fur and other characteristics. To prepare the animals for having their motion data recorded, trainers shaved the areas of hair where the movements would be recorded, such as near joints and on the face. Velcro was attached to the assigned areas using a non-toxic, non-irritating silicone adhesive. White light-reflective balls were placed onto the Velcro to capture the motion data onto the computer. An exception was made for horses’ tails, which were not shaved, but wrapped in a sensor-laden material. The adhesive and any additional markings were washed off each evening after filming ended.
Best Newcomer Actor: "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"
A Neapolitan mastiff named “Uno” had been adopted by her owners/trainers prior to becoming a rookie animal actor. Trainers speculate that she was abused by a previous owner because she would initially cower around noises and crouch to the floor upon being approached too suddenly. But, while working on the set of “Harry Potter,” surrounded by a patient owner/trainer and other affectionate cast and crew members, she gained confidence and trust and adored the attention everyone gave her. Trainers believe Uno is destined to be an admired movie star in no time!
Best Cameo: "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"
As he has done in other films, director Michael Bay cast his own dog in a role. His bullmastiff, playing the pet of Mikaela (Megan Fox), performed mild action on screen, which was effortless for the canine actor, considering his cinematic “human lineage.” And while the American Humane staff members were viewing a pre-release screening of the film as part of the disclaimer process, this massive mastiff made yet another cameo... by sitting at the staffer’s feet during the screening. One might say this dog loves to check out his own work (or kiss up to a Pawscar judge)!
If Animals Could Vote ...
After being in the business for 70 years — which is longer than most studios' lifetimes — the Film & TV Unit is on set for more than 1,000 productions annually, ranging from student films to "the biggest blockbusters known to man."
"No other production company, animal trainer, film company — no one else that I know of — actually filters through more than 1,000 productions every year," Bouman explained. "So it makes sense that we have so many stories, which is how we started playing around with, 'What if the animals had a vote?'"
So, if the animal kingdom were in charge, here are some of the awards that might be presented to additional films that have received American Humane’s “No Animals Were Harmed” disclaimer, but were not nominated for Academy Awards:
Biggest Diva: "Did You Hear About The Morgans?"
Who is the only male actor more famous than Sam Elliott in this film? Well, that depends on who you ask. Hugh Grant is a leading man in several films, but “Little Bart” the bear is a big star in his own right. One of only a handful of Kodiak bears to work in the film industry, this 1,100-pound actor has worked on numerous films and commercials. But has his fame gone to his head? Grant teasingly told the press that the bear was so demanding, he would not leave his personal trailer until he had “12 cans of iced tea and had been hosed down from head to foot” (which American Humane assures was not the case). Although the famous human actor joked about the famous animal actor, the excellent trainers and Certified Animal Safety Representatives were nothing but serious when it came to making sure this “furry diva” was well-treated and protected, along with his human co-stars.
Best Action Scene: "The Proposal"
If any scene in this film could leave more of an impression than the infamous scene between Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock, it would arguably be the scene in which the family dog is snatched up by an eager eagle, which flies off with the pup in its mouth. Thankfully, this intense-looking action was achieved using highly trained animal actors and some good old-fashioned “movie magic.” Thanks to great editing and a trained eagle that scooped up a sack made of green-screen material, viewers were left believing that this mighty bird gracefully sought vengeance on this yipping dog by flying him around and dropping him onto Bullock’s character below. In truth, the dog and eagle were never even in the same shot together.
Best Chase Scene: "Hotel For Dogs"
Dogs love to chase cats, balls, their owners… and sometimes, even a van driven by heroic teens. Near the end of this film, main characters Andi and Bruce release all the dogs from the shelter, which then chase the teens’ van down the street to the hotel. Trainers rehearsed the dogs for several weeks to master this well-choreographed scene, which involved the most dogs ever filmed in a single scene on an American Humane-monitored film. Trainers released the canine critters from their marks — the small dogs were released last, so the larger dogs would not accidentally run them down. The vast majority of these animal actors were rescue dogs, and they had a tail-wagging blast running around on set and being given so much attention and praise.
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