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Wickenburg woman trains hundreds of animals to appear in film, TV specials

Some of the most famous furry faces on film live in Arizona
Posted at 8:40 PM, Mar 10, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-10 23:40:58-04

WICKENBURG, AZ — Some of the most famous faces in cinema will be celebrated on Oscar night, but some of the most famous furry faces live just outside of Wickenburg.

Those furry faces include Ollie, a four-year-old raccoon aspiring to one day go to the Academy Awards — and he’s on his way.

He safely jumped on Seth Rogen’s back in the Apple TV+ show ‘Platonic.’

Living on the same property a few feet away is Bell, a goat once featured in an Xbox commercial.

”We had to have a goat that wasn’t going to kill our actress,” said Cris Rankin.

Bell, Ollie, and several hundred other animals are all trained, in part, by Cris Rankin of A1 Animal Talent.

On two acres just outside of Wickenburg, Rankin has foxes that have been on Yellowstone, including one who is named after the character, Casey.

She has dogs and cats that have been in the arms of Will Ferrell and the late great Betty White.

And Ollie’s predecessor once sat in between Rob Lowe and Jimmy Kimmel on his late-night show.

When describing the raccoon on national TV, Kimmel was shocked to see how well-mannered the typically wild animal was in front of a live studio audience.

"He’s picking things up with his hands — that’s so weirdly human,” said Kimmel.

Getting wild animals to safely cooperate on a production set takes patience; Rankin said getting a raccoon to wear sunglasses took weeks.

She’ll bring animals on set even when they don’t have a job, just to get them acclimated.

And typically, productions want an animal to go from one place to another.

She showed a training exercise where her badger, an aspiring actor named Rip, listened for a sound and then ran to it.

So when there are sharp claws and teeth next to money-making faces, you bet there are protections in place for both humans and animals.

American Humane Society monitors animals in filmed media and holds exclusive rights to award the “no animals were harmed” end-credit certification to productions that meet their standards of care for animal actors.

”Those reps are there to have our backs, to make sure we don’t get pushed in a direction we don’t want to go,” said Rankin.

The rise of Artificial Intelligence in media could change the biz. The movie, ‘Call of the Wild’ featuring Harrison Ford used a computer-generated Bernese Mountain dog. Critics said the movie didn’t do as well as it could have, in part, due to the lack of authenticity.

Rankin says, at least right now, you can’t fake the real thing.

”People know the difference — there’s certain movements and characteristics that a computer can’t create that a real animal does,” she said.

From animals as big as bears to insects as small as spiders, Rankin has taken wild ideas on scripts and brought them to life with wild animals for three decades.

”I think loving animals and being creative goes hand in hand,” she said.

Or in this case – hand in paw.