The best way to prevent animals from being injured or killed on set is not to use them at all. There are many great ways to tell a story about animals without using even one animal that can also save money and provide greater artistic control.
Computer-generated imagery (CGI) has become an integral part of film and television production, and it’s an excellent alternative to using live animals. Did you know that all the apes in Rise of the Planet of the Apes were entirely computer-generated? So were the orangutan, the hyena, and most of the shots of the tiger in Life of Pi. Not only can computer-generated animals look just as realistic as live animals, they can also allow for performances that are too emotionally complex or dangerous to achieve with live animals, and they hit their mark every single time.
Animatronic technology is becoming more advanced every day. You might be surprised to discover that even simple scenes involving animals sometimes rely on animatronics, making shooting easier, faster, and less expensive. Whether it’s a horse who’s being ridden, a talking gorilla, or a snapping alligator, there’s a lifelike animatronic animal that can play the role.
GE’s commercial for a water heater shows how existing footage—in this case, snow monkeys filmed undisturbed in their natural habitat in Japan—can be seamlessly intercut with new footage and other alternatives (in this case, a puppet “monkey hand”) to tell a story about animals without putting them in danger. High-quality and affordable stock footage can be found of many animals in a wide variety of settings. Rather than stage scenes that are inherently dangerous for the animals involved, such as rodeos, horse races, and circuses, events that are already scheduled can be filmed and combined with scripted footage.
Costumes and prosthetics are often used to transform human actors into another species. While saving animals from suffering and cutting costs, this technique also allows for greater control of performance.
Did you know that Chuck Bass had a pet monkey in the Gossip Girl novels? Thankfully, producers of the show rewrote the story to have Chuck Bass instead adopt a rescued dog and name him Monkey. Asking the question, “Do we really need to use an animal in this scene?” can save a lot of time and money and possibly prevent an animal from being injured or killed.