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Cinesite Composites Specially Bred Pigeons for Training Day

(October 05, 2001)
Cinesite photographed and composited specially bred and trained pigeons for the Warner Bros. Pictures feature film Training Day, starring Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke.

The picture is directed by Antoine Fuqua, produced by Jeffrey Silver and Bobby Newmyer, with Mauro Fiore as director of photography. Tom Smith was the visual effects supervisor for Cinesite.

A riveting drama set in the shadowy world of undercover police work, Training Day tells the story of a veteran L.A.P.D. narcotics officer (played by Washington) who guides an idealistic rookie (Hawke) through his first day on the brutal inner-city beat. In one scene, Hawke is driving down a street and sees pigeons out the window. The two birds separate and come tumbling down directly toward the camera and then catch themselves. In another scene, the camera angle is above, looking down at a street as the birds tumble down.

"These pigeons are part of a certain subculture," says Smith. "They are bred and trained to fly a certain way. They are able to tumble and roll, dropping and then catching themselves. There's an art to it. The actual history goes back to a guy who trained circus pigeons, but then it became a ritual. People who have them conduct secret competitions where they watch the birds and rate them by how many times they tumble. Sometimes they'll literally drop 20 or 30 feet in the air before they catch themselves and fly back." Cinesite's team went on location with a pigeon handler to shoot plates of the birds in action and then composited them into scenes from another location.

"It was fairly difficult to film them and get exactly what we needed to match up with the other live action," notes Smith. "We erected a giant blue screen behind the birds, but it interfered with their sense of territory and made it difficult for them to perform. With patience, we were able get the shots, separate what we needed, and put the pigeons into the sequence. In all, it was about eight shots."

Cinesite also enhanced a cigarette butt that Washington flicks off Hawke's face. Cinesite shot plates of cigarettes hitting a mannequin's face to replicate the spark and impact. Another sequence involved adding bullet holes to kitchen cabinets where a party takes place.

"Hopefully our contributions to this film will go by unnoticed to the audience," says Smith. "If so, then we will have done our job."

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