Animal Welfare in "Life of Pi?"
July 27, 2012 1:47 AM   Subscribe

Just saw the trailer for "Life of Pi" and it looks stunning. However, I want to know if animal action was supervised by the ASPCA (or the appropriate organisations for the countries where the movie was filmed).
posted by cavyherd to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think most if not all of these animals are pure VFX. (I know some of the people who worked on that film animating them).
posted by everydayanewday at 2:22 AM on July 27, 2012

Seconding, my understanding is that the vast majority of the animal action is computer-generated. The IMDB listing of cast and crew has David Faivre as tiger trainer and Paul 'Sled' Reynolds as animal coordinator, but I didn't see any other handlers etc.

The Animal Welfare Board of India gave permission for the production to film "Elephants-3/dogs-9/goats-2/avian-81/cows-6/rabbits-15/horses/mule/cows-5/gallus gallus-5/Lion/Tiger/Monkey. Major animal scenes to be filmed in Thaiwan. Complex shots involing animals will be using computer graphics. Lion & monkeys shown in zoo atmosphere. Tiger shown with hero in a boat. Other animals shown in back ground scenes."

I don't know if any Taiwanese officials were involved, or whether either (or the AHA) would or did provide "no animals were harmed"-type certification once filming was complete, but hopefully that gives you a few places to start.

(The film does look stunning!)
posted by argonauta at 2:36 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Others have mentioned that the animals are mostly CGI, but maybe you're wondering what the process is for films looking to get that "No animals were harmed" certification in the credits.

Looking at Life Of Pi's listings on IMDB, I see that they're being produced by Fox. Which makes them an American production and subject to all the policies, agreements, and conventions of US film production.

This implies that the production would be required to be in contact with the American Humane Association regarding animal safety throughout the production. I just finished working on a film that partially takes place on a farm and has some key scenes that involve cows. There's a whole registration process with the Humane Society that includes daily emailed call sheets (so that they can monitor which days we have animals on set), set visits, contacts with the animal handlers we hire, even up to and including their Film & Telivision Unit screening the finished film before it's released to make sure they approve of the use of animals in the film.

Certainly any part of the film that was shot on a sound stage in the US or Canada would be subject to all this -- I'm not sure if Canada uses the American Humane Society or if they have their own organization that does this.

India gets a little more complicated. On the one hand, again, ultimately an "American" movie for business purposes, so certain requirements are still in place regardless of where it's filmed. Monitoring the treatment of animals might be one of those things.

That said, I've worked on an American-produced film that had India as one of its filming locations. The animal thing didn't come up, but one thing I know for sure is that, if filming in India allowed for the production to be more lax, spend less money, and worry less about red tape, the production would always go for that. I don't remember anyone ever saying, "even though X isn't required in India, we will go above and beyond and do it anyway!"

Everyone was always excited to suddenly be allowed to pay people less, lower standards, create less of a paper trail, and the like. In that kind of climate, it wouldn't surprise me if the production team said, "Wait, we don't have to do anything to prove humane treatment of animals in India? Sweet! Let's just not bother!" Not that they're killing puppies right and left, but the oversight and red tape and conference calls with the contact at the Humane Society and all that will go straight out the window if at all possible.

(I'm not sure how this would go in Taiwan -- I know nothing about Taiwanese film production conventions and next to nothing about Taiwan in general.)

Then again, as I said, it might not be possible, per the studios. Fox is going to want that "No animals were harmed" tag on the credits, and the support of the Humane Society if any allegations are made. So Fox is going to require the production team to cooperate with the Humane Society. If that means they have to fly the contact out to India to visit the tigers, then that's what they'll have to do.
posted by Sara C. at 8:13 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

One more thing I forgot to mention --

The "No Animals Were Harmed" credit is a trademark of the American Humane Association. Even if there's a Canadian analogue, or if policies of other countries were complied with (argonauta's reference to Indian animal permits), the film has to have an association with the AHA and comply with their requirements in order to use those words in the credits.
posted by Sara C. at 9:32 AM on July 27, 2012

Response by poster: Well, that sounds generally, provisionally encouraging. Thank you for the nice, detailed answers. For the amount of money that looks to have gone into this thing, one hopes they'd observe the proper forms.

(I'm still cringing after having stumbled into the movie Antichrist. The disclaimer at the end of the film said, "All animals were handled by professional trainers." I did not find that reassuring.)
posted by cavyherd at 2:12 PM on July 27, 2012

Antichrist is a French film. They may have different production guidelines that don't necessarily mean that animals were mistreated, but that they don't go for the AHA qualification. For all I know that's a translation of a stock credit used by a French organization that is a million times more stringent than the AHA.

Then again, I haven't seen the movie -- maybe they really did mistreat animals?

Movies outside the Hollywood universe can do anything they want on this front. I've heard anecdotes about a tiger on the set of a Bollywood film shot on location in Thailand that would make your hair curl.

Even for Hollywood stuff, it's mostly because the studios don't want bad press or boycotts from animal lovers.
posted by Sara C. at 2:37 PM on July 27, 2012

Even if a film has the "No animals were harmed" thing, that doesn't necessarily mean much at all. Sure, there was some official oversight, but that doesn't mean the animals were actually treated WELL. In fact, they almost certainly were NOT treated well at all times, or not as well as they should have been. More importantly, they never agreed to be in the movie and they weren't compensated for it in any meaningful way.

If this is an issue that interests you, which it obviously does since you asked the question, I would recommend this blog post on the website Our Hen House (with further discussion on the linked podcast episode).
posted by désoeuvrée at 3:29 PM on July 28, 2012

Having been on film sets with animals, I would say that this is not true. Animals on an American film set are treated well.

It's true that when you film animals, that requires stuff like humans owning animals, animals not being compensated in any meaningful way, and the like. And it's true that on a film set you're going to need to direct the animals. This is usually trainers doing their thing with the animals ("Go over there, boy! Good boy!"), and sometimes things like feeding them peanut butter to get them to move their mouths*. I guess some people thing this stuff constitutes "cruelty", but in general animals are treated with about as much respect as anyone else on a film set is.

Unless we're talking about Milo & Otis, of course. Ugh. Then again, that's another example where it's not an American production, and the Humane Society wouldn't have been specifically involved.

*Which I guess could be considered "cruel", in some contexts, like because maybe animals don't enjoy peanut butter? But that would be the extreme of "animal cruelty" faced by an animal on a film set.
posted by Sara C. at 4:07 PM on July 28, 2012

Four specific examples of questionable oversight by the AHA in recent years: Water for Elephants, Zookeeper, My Friend Flicka, and the HBO series Luck. Patty Shenker (third link):
Dana Bartholomew, staff writer for the Los Angeles Daily News “Critics have faulted the AHA for conflict of interest, saying it is indirectly funded by the Screen Actors Guild and have a history of covering up Hollywood animal cruelty.” Kathy Riordan, a member of the Los Angeles Animal Services Commission told the Los Angeles Daily News: “I personally think there is a major conflict of interest when the entity responsible for monitoring an industry is supported by it. Any way you look at it, [the AHA] gets paid by Hollywood and there’s something wrong with that.”
posted by désoeuvrée at 3:49 AM on July 29, 2012

Also, people seem to be confusing the Humane Society (HSUS) with the American Humane Association (AHA). They're not the same thing, nor are they affiliated.
posted by désoeuvrée at 3:57 AM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, if you want to get all philosophical about it, it's true that nothing anyone says about the conditions of filming a movie (or training animals for their appearances in a movie, or anything like that) can necessarily be proven with something simple like a seal of approval from an organization. There is ultimately no way to know whether any specific animal was mistreated by its trainers at any point related to the filming of a movie.

People who are extremely concerned about animal rights probably should not watch movies or television shows depicting animals.
posted by Sara C. at 3:17 PM on July 29, 2012

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