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Beasts of the Southern Wild was the toast of Sundance this year thanks in part to the visually rich world that director Benh Zeitlin and his creative team constructed. In the film the little island community known as The Bathtub has an almost mythic atmosphere, which the movie's young protagonist Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) guides the audience through with a sense of alertness and awe. The tiny girl is fearless in the face of much of The Bathtub's threats, but trembles at the thought of an arriving threat: mighty beasts known as aurochs.
First off, let it be known: aurochs were real. These great great ancestors of modern cattle have been depicted in cave paintings, commented on by Julius Caesar, who described them as "a little below the elephant in size,” and long ago roamed through the lands Eurasia, India and North Africa before going extinct in the 1600s. In the film they are massive warthog-like creatures the size of houses, and Hushpuppy fears they are frozen in icebergs waiting for their chance to re-emerge and take the land back from the mewling humans who rule them now. The Aurochs are one of the film's most successful and inventive imagery elements, and National Geographic has a breakdown of how the indie filmmakers made such memorable movie monsters come to life.
The answer, in short, is baby pot-bellied pigs in wigs! Second-unit director Ray Tintori was in charge of the auroch sequences, and shared some behind-the-scenes photos on how these majestic beasts were created with the help of a pig in a wig, a treadmill, and a greenscreen. Check them out below.
Five pigs were trained for five months for their film debut. In that time costume and camera tests were done, along with teaching the pigs to trot on a treadmill so the stampeding scenes could be captured. Once they were ready to roll (or run), the baby pigs were covered in the skins of "swamp rodents" called nutria that are native to Southern Louisiana where the film was shot. To avoid hurting the pigs or their wranglers, the rest of the costumes were ultimately made of soft materials like foam and latex, because the team realized putting wooden horns on a baby pig is like handing "a switchblade to a toddler." And once the film was wrapped, each was given to a family eager to take them in. In fact, Oliver, the lead pig who got the most screentime, has gotten a pretty posh retirement package as Tintori explains, "He lives in southern Ohio, on a farm where there’s a complete, Charlotte’s Web-like menagerie of ducks and horses and stuff. He has his own building. He’s retired to a very good life."
Beasts of the Southern Wild is now in theaters.