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When Farmer Hoggett wins Babe as a raffle prize, he has no idea just how much the piglet's open mind and big heart will affect the lives of everyone, animal and human alike on his farm.
Fly, the matriarch sheepdog, raises Babe as her own. The other dogs, the sheep, the ducks, in fact all the animals, grow to accept Babe and he loves them back, crumbling barriers that had stood for years. Even Farmer Hogget senses something special in Babe and makes sure he learns sheep herding just in case the impossible should happen.
Fly encourages Babe to learn to herd the sheep while her mate, Rex, is adamantly opposed to a pig taking on the age-old duties of dogs. Babe however, has great success since he can politely communicate with the sheep instead of bullying them, as is Rex's style. Rex is not the only Hoggett farm resident who resents Babe. The family house cat doesn't like the idea that a pig has garnered favor with her master along with the prized house privileges that kitty has relished for so long. In the end however, Babe's charisma and compassion turn even his enemies into friends.
With the world
laughing, Hoggett enters Babe into the Grand National Sheepdog
Trials and this strangely-matched pair prove they have the
energy and dignity to see it through and triumph.
Animal action is extensive in this film which includes 970 animals, including 550 sheep. The animals are used throughout the film, combining live action with action digitally enhanced by computer and utilizing, in certain sequences, animatronic puppets as well. Forty seven piglets were used to play Babe. An animatronic piglet was also used. Nine dogs were trained to play Fly. Although animatronic animals were built for the film, the live animals were so well trained that they accomplished eighty per-cent of the action. Digital computer animation was used primarily to enhance the animals' mouth movements. Also visual commands and food rewards were used to prompt the animals to create some of the mouth movement that simulated speech.
In an early scene in the film when Babe is selected to be the piglet used in a contest at the Fair, we see the baby pig lifted up into the air by his hind legs, a common way farmers handle piglets. However, in this case the trainer did not allow the animal to be in this position for more than three seconds.
Violent scenes showing either dogs attacking sheep or dogs attacking Babe and vice versa, employed the use of animatronic animal doubles and were shot in cuts. When marauding dogs attack Farmer Hoggett's sheep herd and fatally wound Babe's friend, Ma, it is an animatronic sheep that we see being attacked and later see die. As Babe valiantly tries to chase away these attacking dogs, we see him run at the dog and bunt him hard causing the dog to tumble out of camera frame and then run away. This was shot in cuts and the live pig bunted an animatronic dog. In an earlier scene, we see a dog attack Babe in the same way by running at him and bunting him. In this instance, it is a live dog hitting an animatronic pig. At no time were two live animals making contact.
As Babe trains to be a sheep herder, jealousy erupts causing Rex and Fly to fight. Rex is angry that Babe has such success with the sheep mostly because the pig uses courtesy rather than bullying techniques. Fly tries to defend Babe, but Rex believes that a sheep herding pig is an insult to the canine bloodline. Rex and Fly begin to fight and Rex even nips at Babe causing Farmer Hogget to have Rex sedated by a vet. For this scene, two dogs were allowed to wrestle with each other for ten seconds. They were protected by muzzles. Also, their nails were trimmed so that there was no chance they could scratch each other. When we see Fly limping as a result of the fight, the dog had been trained to do this in pre-production. In the scene where Rex nips at Babe, it is an animatronic pig that is being used. When we later see that Rex is tranquilized, it is an animatronic dog that we see lift and lower his head and also roll his eyes. No animals were tranquilized for the sake of this film. Also, when we later see Babe being nursed on the sofa by Farmer Hogget, it is an animatronic pig used to appear very still while propped up on pillows and blanketed.
There are several falling scenes in the film where either the duck, Ferdinand, or Babe himself take a bit of a tumble. Ferdinand has a habit of beating the rooster to the wake-up call in the mornings by crowing his own special crow-quack. He then scurries from the roof and appears to slide down the incline and hit the ground running. This happens several times in the film and each time the sequence was shot in cuts. First we see the duck sliding toward the camera and then we see him land, photographed from behind. The duck only hopped down from a three foot height, but with editing and sound effects it appears to be a much harder fall. Just before Babe's first fall, we see him perched on top of a log pile balancing on his hind legs with his front hooves on the outside windowsill. He is trying to get a peek at life inside the farmhouse. Here again, the scene was shot in cuts and we next see him from inside the house peering in the window. He disappears and sound effects tell us he has fallen. He is then seen lying on his back and the logs are spilling around him. For this scene, the logs forming the pile were nailed together to prevent them from moving and the pig was posed on his mark. He was then posed on his back while a string, undetectable by the camera, pulled a log in camera frame. The logs never rolled near the pig. For Babe's second fall off the chicken coop ramp, the pig was trained to back up down the ramp. Although the pig had successfully done this stunt many times, he inadvertently slipped during filming and fell less than two feet off the ramp. Since the pig was not hurt, the production company decided to use this outtake or "blooper" rather than the precision moves the pig had done in subsequent shots.
When we later see Ferdinand being launched into flight from the magazine basket on the fence, it was training, editing and camera angles that give the illusion that the duck takes off flying. The duck was trained in stages in pre-production to hop out of the rack. In another scene, we see Farmer Hogget push Ferdinand with his foot. For this the animal was merely being lifted by the foot and the duck moved off on his own accord.
There is an entire sequence of events in which Ferdinand convinces Babe to sneak into the farmhouse and steal the "mechanical rooster", i.e. alarm clock, so that the duck will not become obsolete and thereby a candidate for Christmas dinner. Not only does Babe have to sneak by the territorial house cat, but he must get through an obstacle course of furniture, yarn and paint cans before climbing the stairs to the bedroom and retrieving the clock. Ferdinand gets so anxious watching Babe from the window that he jumps in to help him out and, although the twosome succeed in their mission, it is not without utter chaos. In the end all three, duck, cat, and pig get doused with paint and turn the house into a disaster area. This scene was shot in many cuts with both an animatronic and a real cat and duck being used. When Babe inadvertently pushes a ball of yarn toward the sleeping cat, the cat luckily is not disturbed. This very still cat was an animatronic puppet. When Babe gets tangled in the yarn and Ferdinand comes to his rescue to nibble at the yarn and free Babe's legs, an animatronic duck head was used to do the pecking. The sequence in which the duck and pig manage to steal the clock was shot in cuts. All the action was achieved by the live animals who were responding to a noise-maker as well as verbal and visual commands. When we see the three covered in paint, it is really a non-toxic children's water color that was used. The cat who appears to be the most heavily soaked of the animals had been prepped for this scene so he was not distressed by being wet. His eyes and ears were also protected and he was immediately washed following the shot.
In a flashback sequence, Fly tells the story of Rex's attempt to save some sheep and in so doing was nearly killed in a rushing river. We see him clinging to a log which is rushing down the river in a torrential rain. For this scene, the dog was prepped in pre-production to lie on the log. He was also familiarized with the shooting location so as to feel comfortable with the scene. The log was tied so it could not drift and two trainers were present with him at all times. The water was churned and clever camera work gave the appearance of a rushing river.
Toward the end of the film, Rex makes a leap onto a moving truck bed.. First we see Rex chasing a moving truck. He then seems to disappear for a moment, but appears again pulling himself onboard. This scene was shot in cuts. The dog ran behind the truck responding to his trainers verbal commands. When we see his head and front paws holding onto the truck bed, the dog is actually standing on a trailer that is only one foot lower than the truck bed itself and being towed by the truck at five miles per hour. From this trailer the dog climbed onto the truck bed. The trainer was on the trailer with the dog giving him verbal commands.
All scenes of sheep herding were real herds and the trained dogs who herd them. When the sheep appear to be attentively listening and keeping very still, both real and animatronic sheep were used. The ratio was one animatronic sheep for every three real sheep. The real sheep were trained to calmly remain on their marks. When the sheep walk in unison, real sheep were used and harnessed with a very thin material that was not visible on camera. These sheep had been trained in pre-production to respond so that when one was called, they all followed.
The mice that act as a chorus to usher us into the different chapters of Babe's life were both real and animatronic. The real mice were trained to respond to clickers and food rewards.
In general, the animals were trained in preproduction and each specie responded to a specific sound that triggered a conditioned response needed for each situation. They were then rewarded with food. When the camera rolled and several species shared the scene, the real sounds heard on set were a cacophony of clickers, buzzers and horns. This was, of course, edited out in post production. For the instances where Babe and Fly are seen kissing each other or being affectionate, the animals were really bonding with one another, having been trained together for a lengthy period of time.
The film, shot in Australia, had six trainers acting as department heads. They were supervised by American trainer Karl Miller and were assisted by over fifty-seven animal handlers. Trainers were from the United States, Australia and New Zealand. It took a year and a half of training, six months of filming and a year of post production to bring Babe to the screen. American Humane Association guidelines were adhered to during filming.
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