Shooting in Hungary

Wolves, Elephants, Deer, Dogs...

The great possibilities of filming with trained animals in Hungary

There can be countless reasons behind an international film production choosing Hungary as their shooting location. Next to the diversity and accessibility of the locations, as well as the favourable production costs, the opportunity to film with wild animals can also be a factor. In our Insights article we would like to provide an insight into a few national and international productions that could not have been made without Hungarian animal trainers. Furthermore, we will also list the species that are available in Hungary for shoots..

There can be countless reasons behind an international film production choosing Hungary as their shooting location. Next to the diversity and accessibility of the locations, as well as the favourable production costs, the opportunity to film with wild animals can also be a factor. In our Insights article we would like to provide an insight into a few national and international productions that could not have been made without Hungarian animal trainers. Furthermore, we will also list the species that are available in Hungary for shoots..

No Animals Were Harmed

Firstly, we would like to highlight that when we talk about the accessibility of animals for shoots, then we are also talking about the infrastructure that is indispensable for enabling a shoot to be executed safely, smoothly and fruitfully. The guide created by the American Humane Association defines the safety guidelines of the protection of animals, as well as the optimal health and safety conditions. Hungarian animal handlers regard these guidelines as their basic standard.

Strict rules regulate the conditions that are indispensable for starting to collaborate with animals. Among other guidelines, the shooting area must be professionally fenced in, the animals have to be constantly supervised and a vet has to be present on location. Furthermore, all the animals’ vaccination certificates must be present, since in the case of a bite, all the information on the animal that caused the accident is needed for sufficiently treating the wound.

Special vehicles are needed for transporting the animals to the shooting location, as well as for the breaks and relocating them after the filming has ended. When the animals are not being used, they need to be granted a quite area, which has to be cordoned off from the crew members, providing them a place to rest.

There are also special rules specifying the animals’ workload. So for example if a tiring scene has to be recorded in multiple takes, then sufficient resting time must be provided or often an “animal double” is used. Additionally, whenever a scene is being filmed that highly noisy, then it is recommended to rather add the sound effects in post-production in order to prevent the animals being disturbed by intense noise.

The Hungarian Wolfman

It is not an easy task to film with predators, because they are fundamentally driven by their instincts. Since these animals are not interdependent with humans, unlike their dog relatives, they are extremely self-determining, making training them an enormous job, requiring a lot of experience and professional knowledge.

Famous for being known as the Wolfman, Horkai Zoltán trains and coordinates animal actors for national and international productions, for example in such famous films like Hercules, made as a Summit Entertainment and a Millennium Films co-production, as well as Universal Pictures’ Hellboy II, and Multimedia Film Productions Studio’s film called Dracula 3D.

Zoltán lives on the border of a small Hungarian city, sharing his land with a pack of wolves, reindeers, bears, lynxes and raccoons, if we want to mention only the most special species. He founded the Horkai Training Center, that throughout the last 15 years has had a leading role in providing comprehensive animal training for film productions, as well as offering  further animal services for national and international film productions.

Youtube HORKAI TRAINING CENTER

When being asked what is his secret for a perfect scene, he always emphasizes motivation: “One needs to persuade them to do the chosen tasks with natural motivation, in way that the wolves will feel that they are acting out of their free will.” The most motivational tool for an animal is naturally food.

Fooled by Food

The food is given to the animal by the trainer in a way for it to execute the action required for the scene. For example in a scene where it is important for wolves to run quickly outdoors, then they attach bits of meat to horses’ backs, so when the horses start to gallop the wolves rush straight after them. A lot of preliminary training is necessary for a scene like this, since the horses need to be taught not to be frightened from the chasing wolves, furthermore the wolves can not view the horses as potential prey, so the wolves can only hunt for the meat on the backs of the horses.

Also, here is another exciting industry secret about how they make wolves carry out tasks for films. In the Hungarian film called Eternal Winter we get to know a story set in a forced labor gulag camp in the heart of Stalin’s Soviet Union. Following a middle aged woman’s fate, who was taken from her family to be imprisoned in the camp for years, having to work in a coal mine. In one of the film’s scenes a wolf frighteningly snarls. For this take the trainer took  a 50 kilogram slab of meat, which was frozen so that it doesn’t hang out of the animal’s mouth while it eats. He stuck it to the ground to make sure that the animal could not lift up and eat the whole thing at once or just take it away. When the wolf started to eat, they provoked it a bit, which made it give the snarl that they were hoping for. With this method they were able to activate the wolf’s natural instinct to defend its prey.

Neither was it a challenge for Zoltán’s wolves to have to tear apart someone on scene, as was the case for the Hungarian crime movie called The Investigator that premiered in 2008. In the film we get to know a pathologist, who decides to commit a murder in order to get money for his mother’s surgery, leading to his normal life turning upside down. In one of the film’s scenes a drunk person walks into the zoo’s wolf yard, resulting in the animals tearing him to shreds. Regardless to having shot the scene with trained wolves, even more practise was needed for this specific choreography. In preparation for filming the scene the trainer tied raw pieces of meat to himself and taught each wolf precisely where on which limb can they bite him.

Finally, I would like to highlight the American film called The Season of the Witch, for which the director wanted to record running and leaping wolves, also with shots from beneath. Zoltán came up with the idea that the cinematographer should climb under a table over which they put meat. But they could not persuade the wolves to run with such a huge speed, even though the animal was hungry, so to speed it up they even put a female dog in heat next to it.

Horkai’s team also has exceptional experience when it comes to reindeers, which is how they were chosen to train the reindeers in the Hungarian director’s, Ildikó Enyedi’s Oscar nominated On Body and Soul. In the film a love story develops between two people with completely different personalities. What makes the story unique is that the two main characters share a dream that they meet each other in the forms of reindeers.

Youtube ON BODY AND SOUL VFX

The animal main characters were the reindeers Picúr and Góliát, who were trained by Zoltán Horkai. Góliát had only just started being tamed when they started shooting. It would just about dare to accept food from the hands of humans, so at the beginning working with it was very tricky. Work with reindeers is particularly hard for an animal trainer because these animals have never been domesticated, so they don’t have any tendency to collaborate as a dog would. So in one of the key scenes where a hind needs to hug a stag with its neck, Zoltán just as he did with the wolves, had to use a food trick: he poured sweetcorn onto Picúr’s back so that the the stag would go very close to it and eat the food off its back.

Youtube MEET THE HUNGARIAN WOLFMAN

Dogs Roaming the Streets of Budapest

Halász Árpád is the leading trainer of the Gödöllő Dog Sport Center and has been training animals specifically for film roles since 1999. His work can be seen in the large scale feature film called White God that was premiered in 2014. In one of its scenes he directed 200 dogs at the same time, which is a record breaking number. The film is set in a utopian world where people need to pay extra tax after mixed breed dogs, resulting in hundreds of dogs being put out on the streets by their owners. Lili’s father did just the same with Hagen, but the girl went out to search for her dog. Meanwhile, the pack of rejected dogs lead by Hagen start a revolution and sware to take revenge on the people who deserted them.

Youtube 'WHITE GOD' MOVIE CLIP 

All together 280 dogs took part in the production, among which about 50 dogs came from the Gödöllő Dog Sport Center, these were the professionally training animals at the shoot. The other animal talents were chosen from various dog shelters and had to be integrated later by training. A four months long training session started at the shelters, then it continued at the  bases of the animal trainers, where the largest challenge proved to be incorporating the dogs into a team, although it was also hard work to suppress rivaling within the pack. Even at the end of the training period the work did not end, because during the shooting of the film scenes were changed multiple times, so new movements had to be constantly taught to the dogs.

Youtube MAKING OF 'WHITE GOD'

The animal handlers had to develop countless tricks to be able to trigger various reactions from the dogs for the given scenes. An example was when they wanted to give Hagen, the lead dog a tranquilizing injection. To imitate the struggle against the tranquilizer, they sprayed the dog with fur conditioner, then after the “rub” command it started to rub itself on the ground.

In one of the grandiose scenes of the film, the crowd of dogs run through Budapest’s largest tunnel, when according to the script a few of them get shot. Animals cannot experience any trauma during the filming and since a weapond’s shot would obviously count as that, the dogs had to be instructed with various hand signs and sounds in order to imitate the moment they were shot.

After White God, Árpád worked in films like the Hungarian movie called 'Mancs' (dog name means paw), which commemorates the famous Hungarian rescue dog that became famous for saving a three year old little girl in 1999, who had spent 82 hours under the rubble of the Izmit Earthquake without food or water. Both was this scene and the film’s most challenging location in connection to this tragic event. For them to be able to precisely reconstruct the events, they had to travel to the scenes of the Brașov Earthquake, so that the crew could shoot on location of a real catastrophe. Due to the hardship of the conditions, it was an extra challenge for the trainer to make the dog move among the ruins as if it were a real rescue dog. In order for this to work out, before the shooting period, the dog was trained on the rubble of smaller construction sights.

Youtube 'MANCS' TRAILER

Naturally, during the film shooting there were no truly dangerous situations, so the two main animal talents had to be trained to imitate that. For example learning to bark to a signal and to various intensities according to a range of hand signals, to give a sad look or to look for people among the ruins.

Nothing is Impossible with Animals

The film world’s zoo is vast, and no one knows that better than Bendegúz Körmöczi. Bendegúz is an indispensable figure of national and international film production when it comes to special animals. Hardly can you find another person who is able to make flies to fly off after a specific moment. Although according to him this trick wasn’t too complicated: “It's simple: I put the flies in the fridge for a while, then I put them on the actor’s hand. At the beginning of the take they are still there, then when they warm up they fly away.”

Youtube PIGLETS TRAINING

His poodle named Argos has been staring in films in Israel for years and has become the lucky animal for the lottery over there. It needed to be able to drive a car and even had to learn to dance samba. Furthermore, for the Hungarian movie Kincsem he had to train a rooster to crow on demand, but Brian the ram is also his student, who has starred in countless commercials. Another of Bendegúz’s great actors, the cat called Béta gave a stunning performance in Steven Spielberg’s movie called Munich. Then he trained a dove for a scene with Jeremy Irons in which it had to fly on to the actor’s pointed finger for a movie shot in Hungary.

Sandra, the Elephant

When talking about Hungarian global stars, we can’t miss out the elephant named Szandra, who was born in 1975. Thanks to its wit and skillfulness, the elephant of the Hungarian Flórián Richter Circus has starred in productions like James Bond: Octopussy or has acted alongside Adrien Brody, the Oscar winning actor in the production about the life of the world famous illusionist Harry Houdini.

Next to feature films, the elephant has also appeared in the campaigns of global brands like NIKE’s commercial shot with Lace Armstrong. Despite Szandra’s professionalism, it also has some quirks as many celebrities tend to have. In 2011, it took part in a shoot in the heart of Budapest commissioned by the Spanish ONCE foundation. Even though it had many Hollywood productions under its belt, it was not the best at bearing this shoot. When the holding rope on its back slackened, its cargo slipped and fell down, scarring it and making it start off towards the city center full of traffic, giving the passers by quite a freight.

Therefore there are so many components worth taking into calculation when shooting with animals. Our infrastructure enables us to fulfill all the conditions needed for ensuring a smooth work process. Next to Hungary consistently providing state support for international productions, there are also countless brilliant shooting locations to choose among. Meeting international standards, Hungarian animal handlers contribute to the success of productions with their professionalism and excellently trained wild and domestic animals.

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