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Lions and Tigers and Alpacas… Live Animals of Evan Almighty

Lions and Tigers and Alpacas…
Live Animals of Evan Almighty

According to the Book of Genesis, God’s creatures instinctually gravitated toward Noah two by two. The filmmakers on the set of Evan Almighty, however, had to look to veteran animal coordinator Mark Forbes to oversee the selection, care and training for well over 177 different species brought in from all over the country. From his first meeting with the team, Forbes knew he needed to surpass his past efforts on films such as Dr. Dolittle 2 to fill the prow of Evan’s mighty ship.

“It’s Noah’s Ark. You have to have lots of animals,” Shadyac plainly states. “We have the most animals ever shot practically in a movie in show business history. And every animal you’ll see in Evan looks seamless and very integrated, as each animal was placed into each shot individually.”

Of the head trainer who helped work this magic, the director notes, “Mark Forbes is a miracle worker, and we could not have done this movie without him. He had to work with each animal individually, since each animal specifically responds to different things. It’s very precise.”

Forbes unveiled a veritable zoo that included lions, tigers, pelicans, leopards, giraffes, elephants, Kodiak bears, baboons, zebras, reindeer, camels, raccoons, cats, porcupines, dogs, buffalos and snakes, to name but a few. The menagerie surrounding them on a daily basis enamored cast and crew alike. Notably, animals were supervised by AHA representatives whenever filming of them occurred.

Of utmost importance to the filmmakers was to keep to the theme of Noah’s biblical tale. Shadyac wanted the animals to help build the ark with the natural tools God gave them (e.g., an elephant would “hand” Evan a piece of timber with her trunk or a crow would bring Evan a nail in his claw). The filmmakers didn’t want common gags, such as talking chimps and parrots rolling their eyes, to color the production.

Carell’s on-screen wife, Lauren Graham, remembers the surreal aspects of filming with her co-stars: “People will be amazed at how much the animals really could do. They’re incredibly trained. You can say specific things to the elephants and they understand. ‘Rosie, move your right foot. Dixie, back up to the ark.’ You just strangely get used to being close to these incredible animals and interacting with them.”

But it was Carell who ended up spending the most time with his furry or feathered, two-or four-legged cast members. “I probably had a harder time remembering my lines than they did doing anything they had to do,” laughs the actor.

Though amazed at the tasks that the animals were able to accomplish as they helped to build the ark, the actor had strong feelings about several of them. “The elephants, actually, were very soulful, as were the giraffes,” Carell offers. “There was an intelligence that you could see in their eyes. But the alpacas and camels were fairly disgusting. It’s literally an ungodly smell that comes from them.”

All of the animal training began weeks, and sometimes months, prior to their respective arrivals on set. Acclimating and training them for specific behaviors— especially for tasks that were consistent with their natures—was the norm on Evan Almighty and took the majority of the planning and shoot time for the filmmakers, including cinematographer Ian Baker. It also took quite a bit of nurturing from Forbes.

With so many different animals working so closely together, Forbes and his team of trainers made sure that exact safety precautions were taken during filming, particularly when it came to predator-prey issues with so many different species on hand. “I couldn’t put a wolf next to a sheep and have a nice, calm set,” he states. “Some of these animals are food to the others. So, we would film them separately to ensure it’s safe for the animals and safe for the crew.

“We would film the owls, and then we would put up a blue screen behind them,” Forbes continues. “And then we would film the pigeons flying in, and then we’d shoot the doves, and then the eagles flying in.” Often, domestic animals would take the place of wild ones for purposes of lighting. Two horses, for example, would stand in for larger, more dangerous animals such as rhinoceroses, which would later be shot against a blue screen and mapped in by the visual effects team—who provided many CG birds and mammals to complement the insane zoo—and compiled by film editor Scott Hill.

Director Shadyac was up to the challenge, but he wasn’t quite sure what he had gotten himself into by directing animals. “Seriously, we’re composing shots with these animals, and you’re asking a 1,000-pound bear, ‘Two inches to the left, Mr. Bear. Could you hit your mark?’ It’s a bear, after all.”

Animal harmony came at a minor cost to the human actors’ egos. Of Carell, Forbes laughs: “What a trooper. The very first day that we’re shooting with animals, we have him covered in pigeons and doves and blue jays. And he’s got bird poop all over him, and he’s got all these birds fluttering around, landing on his head. Steve’s been wonderful with them.”

God’s Funniest Mammals:
Supporting Cast of the Comedy

The filmmakers set out to bring together a well-rounded ensemble of equally funny standout performers to complement their principal human and animal cast. Actress Lauren Graham, known for her role on the popular television series Gilmore Girls, joined the cast as Evan’s patient wife on the ark, Joan (yes, pun intended). The filmmakers were thrilled when the performer, whom Shadyac considers “one of the most gifted comediennes on television today,” agreed to be the better half of the Baxter couple.


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