Animal acts: Evan's diverse cast
Starstruck Crozetians aren't just abuzz about celebs like Steve Carell and Morgan Freeman in their midst. Evan Almighty, the modern day remake of the story of Noah and the ark, has created an influx of Hollywood folk– and creatures.
Close to 100 different species– in pairs, natch– have migrated to the big ark out at Old Trail, and passersby report spotting giraffes, elephants, and bears among the Evan cast.
Mark Forbes of Birds and Animals Unlimited, the animal coordinator for the film, has provided North American natives like cougars, raccoons, and otters; domestic animals– sheep, goats, pigs and cows– and quite a few birds, he says.
"The biggest challenge is the predator/prey issue," says Forbes. "We solved that by shooting separately or using a blue screen so that it looks like wolves are sitting beside sheep."
Which animals are the most difficult to work with? "They all sort of have a challenge," he says. "Some are smart and prone to get into mischief. Others are slow."
Forbes describes wolves as very suspicious, and they don't like things that look scary to them– like cameras. On the other hand, porcupines move slowly. "We have to shoot them at a faster film speed," he says.
Forbes does rave about the crows, calling them "incredibly smart." His company, which provided most of the animals, raises them from babies, and the scavenger birds are trained to figure out how to perform to get food. "They're almost like a flying dog," he says.
The array of species requires a few special meals. For instance, there's a bird-of-prey diet of ground-up meat with bones included to provide owls with the calcium they'd get if they were swooping down and hunting dinner for themselves.
Initially, finding alfalfa hay for the horses and giraffes– who also like carrots and bananas– was a problem, Forbes reports.
The animal roles are more demanding than just tripping up the gangplank of the ark two by two. "They're in quite a few scenes," says Forbes. Indigenous beasts watch Carell fret about his mission to build an ark. The exotic animals come when he complains to God, played by Freeman, that he can't do it. "We have elephants carrying planks and baboons hammering," says Forbes.
With technology so superb, why use real animals when computer-generated ones could be so easily managed?
"[Director] Tom Shadyac was pretty adamant about using real animals," Forbes says.
The animal cast is being housed at area farms, and most are holding up under the rigors of the film schedule. However, one porcupine lost his appetite and stopped eating. Under the ministrations of a Waynesboro vet (and the watchful eye of the American Humane Society), the porcupine was x-rayed, force fed, and pressed back into action. (Well, maybe not pressed.)
One other casualty: "Rudy the Rooster got some sort of infection," says Forbes. But no cast members have been eaten.
Forbes has been in the animal-acting biz for over 20 years. He took an exotic animal training program at Moorpark College, and his company has provided animals for 101 Dalmations, Dr. Doolittle, and is now working on the latest Harry Potter picture in England.
Thirty-three trainers are on the Evan set to work with the animals.
Forbes diplomatically refuses to say who's the biggest diva among the species– he denies he's ever considered throttling an uncooperative cockatoo, for instance.
"A few trainers," he jokes, "but not the animals."
Not in this picture: Any of the 100 animal species that build and populate the styrofoam ark in Evan Almighty.
PHOTO BY ZACK SMATHERS