and Tigers and Alpacas…
Live Animals of Evan Almighty
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.”
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
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.