Animal Stars: Behind the Scenes with Your Favorite Animal Actors

Animal Stars: Behind the Scenes with Your Favorite Animal Actors

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When cameras roll and directors call, “Action,” some of the most dependable, funniest, and most enthusiastic actors stand poised on four legs, with ears alert. From Joey in War Horse to the wolves in Game of Thrones, what we see on screen is the result of meticulous preparation and professional teamwork. The eye-popping, heartwarming stories in these pages reveal the trainers, actors, directors, and, of course, dogs, cats, horses, penguins, deer, and other animals in all their behind-the-scenes glory. You’ll discover that some animal actors have diva tendencies and others have rags-to-riches backstories. American Humane Association certified animal safety representatives work carefully to ensure that no animals are harmed, as they have been doing for decades. Animal stars have done it all — convinced us to eat more tacos, broken our hearts in war dramas, inspired us with enduring love and loyalty, kept us at the edge of our seats as they snarled in the shadows, mirrored human antics to make us roar with laughter, and, like Uggie (from The Artist), stolen the show on the red carpet. Who besides a monkey named Crystal could impress a brilliant comedian like Robin Williams in Night at the Museum? And animal stars will work for food, including only KFC original recipe for Casey the bear — no other fried chicken will do! These charming and sometimes hilarious stories will give you a new appreciation for the skill and patience it takes to teach nonhuman actors to perform on camera. Training tips from the pros and personal recollections of celebrities such as Julia Roberts, Hailee Steinfeld, and Steven Spielberg make this insider’s look at the lives and work of these incomparable stars as irresistible as the animals themselves. A portion of the publisher’s proceeds from this book will aid American Humane Association.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781608682645
Publisher: New World Library
Publication date: 08/19/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 296
Sales rank: 932,262
File size: 12 MB
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About the Author

Robin Ganzert, PhD, is president and CEO of American Humane Association, the first national humane organization, founded in 1877. Robin is a passionate advocate for the power of the child-animal bond. The mother of three children, she lives with her family, including three dogs and two cats, in North Carolina.
Allen&Linda Anderson are coauthors of a series of popular books, published in many languages, about the benefits of human-animal companionship, and cofounders of the Angel Animals Network. They have won recognition from the American Society of Journalists and Authors Outstanding Book Award program. They share their home in Minneapolis with a dog named Leaf, Cuddles the cat, and a cockatiel named Sunshine.

Read an Excerpt

Animal Stars

Behind the Scenes with Your Favorite Animal Actors

By Robin Ganzert, Allen Anderson, Linda Anderson

New World Library

Copyright © 2014 American Humane Association
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60868-264-5



Finder as Joey in War Horse

A Director's Dream Actor

Bobby Lovgren

Imagine you are sitting in on the following fictional scene of a film-school class where a famous director is guest lecturer. A student with a short beard and intense eyes raises his hand. "How would you describe the best actor you ever directed? What makes this actor so great?"

The student lowers his hand. A hush descends on the room. The class and its instructor wait, fingers hovering over laptops, ready to take notes. The director takes a moment before answering.

"If I were to describe my ideal actor, I'd say, 'He's so natural on film that you would never know he's a professional actor. No matter what goes on around him, he stays focused. He doesn't complain about shooting scenes over and over and from different angles. He's an individual with a unique personality and attitude, a bit of a ham, actually. Not a little soldier doing what he's told, but an actor who always brings something special to the scene. My job is to help his natural talents shine. When the cameras roll, he gives 100 percent to the performance. He's prepared and energetic and enjoys his work.'"

The students applaud. The instructor, arms folded across his chest, stands in the back of the room. He calls out, "Have you ever worked with an actor like that?" Our imaginary director in this college classroom smiles slyly. "Yes, I have," he says. "My best Hollywood actor is named Finder's Key. Finder, for short." The director makes a dramatic pause. "And he's a horse."

My Ideal Equine Actor

The director in the made-up scene above, when describing his ideal actor, has listed the qualities of Finder, my multitalented, fourteen-year-old gelding. Finder is best known for his outstanding role as Joey in the 2011 Steven Spielberg–directed, Oscar-nominated film War Horse, the World War I story of Albert Narracott, played by Jeremy Irvine. Albert is a young man who follows his horse, Joey, into war, determined to be reunited with him. I was the horse master, as the position is called in England, and head trainer / head wrangler on the movie, in charge of managing 150 horses, horse handlers, trainers, and groomers, who did fantastic work.

Ten Andalusians and Warmbloods from Europe and Hungary played Joey from foal to adulthood. Finder played Joey in key scenes: breaking away from the military officers after Joey was sold; Joey jumping over a tank; and Joey being trapped by fake barbed wire in the pivotal no-man's- land scene. Finder also took on the role of Joey's mother when Joey was a foal. My Finder stayed with me after the filming was completed, and all the other horses also went to good homes.

Finder is not a horse actor who does scenes in which a human actor rides him. His talent is specialty work. He performs specific actions "loose," or at liberty. Because of his unique talents, we flew him to the War Horse set in England, from his home at my ranch in Southern California. Finder has a presence about him that I've never found in any other horse. I'm fortunate to have harnessed his boundless energy and channeled it in a positive direction into his movie roles. We succeed in large part because Finder and I have a relationship built on mutual trust and respect.

Finding Finder

I was a trainer on Seabiscuit when I met Finder's Key, one of two horses doing specialty scenes. A typical Thoroughbred, full of energy, he played the part of a racehorse. In Seabiscuit, he hadn't run in racing scenes but was in segments in which a jockey would be holding on to him. He was never at liberty. I bought him after the filming finished, not thinking he would become such an excellent equine actor. I just liked his personality and style.

I went to Africa for about a year to train horses and zebras for the movie Racing Stripes. Finder stayed at the ranch, which meant I didn't get to work with him. Then we got a job on The Legend of Zorro, and I was able to start seeing what he could do. I had to work with his high energy and help him learn to focus it. He clearly showed potential as an excellent scene-stealer.

By the time we had been together for two years, Finder's unique qualities had begun to emerge. During the time away from me, he had matured. He was chosen for the lead role in Wildfire, a racehorse television series. Every week, different episodes required him to learn new skills. That's when I discovered how much he enjoyed working. As I got to know what he was good at, I asked him to do those things.

Becoming an Equine Actor Trainer

Many of the techniques I initially learned for the work of training equine actors came from exposure to skilled trainers as a child and, later, as an adult. My parents owned one of the largest jumping and dressage barns in South Africa, so I grew up in the horse business. I worked as a stable manager at Brentwood Park Stables for five years, the largest eventing and jumping stable in South Africa. Some American trainers came to our place, where we did films and commercials, and I became interested in having a career like theirs.

Twenty-two years ago, I moved to the United States and met Glenn Randall Sr., who trained horses for Ben-Hur and The Roy Rogers Show. He and his son Corky Randall, who worked on all of the Black Stallion films, helped me get into the equine actor business and taught me the basics of training horses for film work. Glenn and Corky Randall originated modern-day practices of horse trainers and wranglers for movies — everything from safety to procedures and philosophy. From those beginnings with the Randalls, I progressed and learned on my own. My first big film was The Mask of Zorro with Antonio Banderas, for which I was a horse trainer.

The most important thing I've learned is to be very, very patient. There's a big difference between being a regular horse trainer working with animals at home and having an animal trained for film. On a movie set, the trainer has to know how the camera works and what is required for filmmaking. There can be as many as two hundred people milling around doing their jobs. The horse must be able to do whatever he needs in order to work at liberty, in the midst of all those people and distractions. In War Horse, the horses also dealt with smoke, loud noises, and dust while working with special effects to stage the scenes.

A technique I've used for a long time, which I learned from the Randalls, is not to confuse the animal with changes. A horse will have confidence in a trainer if he's consistent. Sometimes, trainers feel pressure to teach horses behaviors within short time frames. But our schedules make no difference to the animals. Successful training requires having the patience to make sure the horse understands exactly what is supposed to be achieved. The simpler I keep the training for a horse, the easier it is for him to learn.

Some animals work for food, but I've found that the biggest reward for an equine actor, after he's done a job well, is to leave him alone. I've observed animals in nature and noticed that when a mare gives her foal milk and she thinks the baby has had enough, she'll push him away. So when a horse does a behavior properly, I pet him and go away.

If the horse works for food, when he isn't hungry, he stops working. It's difficult for me when people on film sets carry apples around from craft (food) services or an actor shows up for the scene with an apple or carrots in his hand. I like to keep things simple. Do your job, and your reward is to be left alone so you can rest or play. That works with a horse's nature much better than giving him treats at night at the barn door or feeding him by hand after he's finished a task.

Finder's Unique Talents

Understanding your animal is critical because the trainer must tune in to what the animals are thinking. How aware of the task at hand is the animal? Is he paying attention to you? For a film, the horse may need to do the same thing in the same place ten or fifteen times in a row, to the point that it becomes monotonous. For some animals, the repetition is difficult or boring, and they refuse to do it anymore. Not Finder.

Finder is the most challenging animal I've worked with because he loves when cameras and people are around. They energize him. A professional, he brings something new to each scene. Like anyone who takes pride in his work, if he does something wrong and I raise my voice to him, he pouts. That's the best word I can use to describe the look he gets on his face. I've never seen it in another animal.

Finder enjoys his work and doesn't like being left out. If he's not the main focus in a movie, I play with him and let him relax, which makes the day better for both of us. But he wants to work. If I walk past his stall, he watches to see if I'm coming to get him for a scene or rehearsal. The other horses will continue eating, but Finder is always the first one to want to go anywhere.

I bring him with me to my jobs whether he's in the movie or not. He thrives on a film set. I also make sure he has time off to just be a horse, to play and rest. This keeps our work and relationship fresh and fun. When he is not on a job, he only exercises to stay fit. This gives him a break from having me tell him what to do.

When Finder isn't filming, he might be staying at a horse trailer on set (War Horse had temporary stables on-site for the horses), eating and drinking, or resting. Equine actors must learn to be comfortable in different environments. Filming goes on morning, afternoon, and evening, so the horses have to relax in between tasks and conserve their energy. We use doubles, with nontoxic paint on them to create identical spots. That way, no one horse ever gets too tired, which could make them prone to mistakes or injury.

Finder and Houdini

At home, Finder was attached to an older horse named Houdini who lived next to him in the stable. When someone took Houdini away, Finder nickered and acted lonely. Houdini was his best horse friend. But Houdini was kind of bossy, and he ruled the pasture and stable. He nipped at Finder when it was time for their dinner. As long as there was no food involved, Houdini and Finder could be friends.

Houdini and Finder were a great team working together. Houdini was a behind-the-scenes kind of hero, while his more flamboyant counterpart got all the credit. Houdini did 90 percent of the work, and Finder did the exceptional acting. Houdini was always there to back up Finder and gave us confidence we would succeed. He could do everything Finder did but was quiet about his accomplishments. His work at liberty was amazing. Yet he was gentle enough that anyone could ride him, including the actors. He even taught my children to ride.

Houdini passed away on my birthday in 2013. In less than two hours, he got colic, and because he was suffering and couldn't recover, we had to put him down at the age of twenty-two. We were all home, except for my youngest child, and said good-bye to him. Houdini was so much a part of our family. His passing was hard on all of us. I am grateful that he had such an exceptional life.

Horses as Actors

As with noticing and building on Houdini's quiet competence, one of my biggest jobs is to recognize each horse's strengths, enhance those skills, and not ask them to do something they aren't good at or don't enjoy doing. I can tell within the first fifteen minutes whether Finder will be able to do a task. I don't push him, because I know his limitations. This is another reason why we use multiple horses to play a role. If the horse is happy doing what is required for the scene, he's much better at it.

Finder is probably one of the most famous, talked-about horses ever. He is unbelievable. He runs and is playful. As long as he is moving and jumping, he is fine. Being still for a long period of time is as tough for Finder as asking my energetic son to settle down. Finder is not a patient, quiet horse. He can't tolerate and isn't capable of doing nothing in a scene that is shot for an hour so the actor can repeat dialogue. A shoot like that is torturous for him. Don't ask him. He'll fight it. Standing still is not his job.

I help bring out Finder's personality and reactions for the camera. Although some might not call what he does acting, I've noticed that he heightens his actions when people are around. He lets me create emotions for him to show, and the expressions on his face make him easy to read. I've never seen a more expressive horse. He's essentially happy, but when the role requires it, he acts wild in a controlled way.

Finder's trust in me is absolute. When we filmed the War Horse scene in which it looked as if he was trapped in no-man's-land, he had to convey a lot of emotion, show the whites of his eyes, and roll his eyes back in his head as if he was afraid. Although he wasn't actually in any distress, the scene took place in mud, water, and rain, which none of us liked. We needed to have confidence in each other to make it look as if he was in danger.

For actors to feel comfortable and natural while filming with horses, they need to spend a lot of time with the animals prior to filming. In War Horse, actor Jeremy Irvine got to know the horses by helping with grooming and cleaning their stalls.

But typically, Finder doesn't care if the actor is in a scene with him or not. While the actor is doing actions and saying dialogue, it only appears as if the horse is relating to him. I stay within eyesight of and have control over the horse, who is actually listening to me, not the actor.

Safety First and Foremost

I never take a risk with my equine actors. This is why I spend so much time preparing for a film and rehearsing sequences. I am a small piece in the jigsaw puzzle of movie making, and I must communicate well. Trainers without enough professional experience or education tend not to be as good at communicating with directors, and that can lead to more mistakes.

It is difficult when the director wants the horse to do something and I have to say he can't perform that action safely. I discuss complex shots with the director months ahead of time. I offer several options for how to achieve something for the camera, explain what horses can do, and show that the director's vision will still be fulfilled. In War Horse, computer-generated imagery (CGI) special effects and an animatronic horse performed tasks that real horses couldn't do. No matter how dangerous a scene looks on film, I've spent many hours preparing to do it without risk to the horse.

The WWII tank that Joey leaped over in War Horse could not have fit into a good-sized living room. We had to build a ramp for Finder to run up and jump across the tank during the scene when the tank was supposed to block Joey from following Albert. Finder jumped three feet and kept going after reaching the other side of the tank. We shot it at an old airfield they built the set on. When I went to the site, it was so realistic that I felt as if I was entering a war zone. I would not want to go there by myself; it was that real. We did several small takes without any CGI. It ended up being a goose bumps kind of scene.

A disappointment to me is that because so much is done with CGI, moviegoers and reviewers assume the horse action that we have so carefully and safely produced isn't real. For the movie Racing Stripes, filmed in South Africa, I trained a horse and a zebra who had to work at liberty together. Some people who saw the movie thought that 90 percent of the horse-and-zebra action was CGI and 10 percent was real, but it was actually the other way around.

War Horse received the highest animal safety certification rating awarded by American Humane Association (AHA). A veterinarian was also on set daily. I find the AHA representatives are also helpful when people, such as extras or someone from the public, have a concern. I don't have time to explain something like "Yes, I have a whip in my hand, but I'm not using it on the horse. If he was scared of me, he'd be running away. It is simply an extension of my arm to direct him." The AHA representative will talk to the person and reassure him that the animal is not being mistreated.


Excerpted from Animal Stars by Robin Ganzert, Allen Anderson, Linda Anderson. Copyright © 2014 American Humane Association. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Foreword by Marty Becker, DVM,
Introduction: Action!,
Part 1: Horse Stars and Their Trainers,
Chapter 1: Bobby Lovgren and Steven Spielberg,
Chapter 2: Cari Swanson with Rex Peterson, and Julia Roberts,
Chapter 3: Rusty Hendrickson and Hailee Steinfeld,
Part 2: Bears, Birds, Snakes, Monkeys, and Other Animal Stars and Their Trainers,
Chapter 4: Nicholas Toth,
Chapter 5: Thomas Gunderson,
Chapter 6: Mark Harden,
Chapter 7: Jules Sylvester,
Chapter 8: Larry Madrid,
Chapter 9: Claire Doré,
Chapter 10: Steve Martin,
Part 3: Dog Stars and Their Trainers,
Chapter 11: Omar von Muller and Sarah Clifford,
Chapter 12: Mathilde de Cagny and Ewan McGregor,
Chapter 13: Sue Chipperton,
Chapter 14: Christina Potter,
Chapter 15: Steve Berens,
Chapter 16: Karen Rosa,
Part 4: Cat Stars and Their Trainers,
Chapter 17: Julie Tottman,
Chapter 18: Jim and Gina Brockett and Angie Everhart,
Chapter 19: Dawn Barkan,
Afterword: How You Can Help Tomorrow's Animal Stars,
Appendix: Discussion Questions for Book Clubs,
Contributing Authors,
Photographer Credits,
Key to Jacket Photos,
About Robin Ganzert, PhD,
About Allen and Linda Anderson,
About American Humane Association,

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