Think ‘No Animals Were Harmed'(R) in the Making of ‘Avatar’? You’re Right. Think No Animals Were Used in the Making of ‘Avatar’? You’re Wrong.

The American Humane Association monitored the use of animals during the production of the blockbuster movie “Avatar” and awarded the film its highest rating, “Monitored: Outstanding” “No Animals Were Harmed”®. American Humane was, therefore, surprised to learn that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has recognized the film and its director for using computer-generated images (CGI) instead of live animals.


“American Humane applauds ‘Avatar’ director James Cameron and the production for earning our highest rating by ensuring the safety of the animals used in the filming,” said Karen Rosa, vice president of American Humane’s Film & TV Unit. “However, PETA was apparently unaware that, even though the film was produced using CGI, live animals were used — for motion capture.”

As explained on American Humane’s website, which describes for the public how the animal action was achieved on filmed productions that American Humane’s Certified Animal Safety Representatives™ monitored:

“This film was created using motion capture technology, in which performers wear miniature computerized motion sensors near joints and facial areas to capture the movements and facial muscle nuances that occur with each gesture, motion or expression. The live action was performed in a motion capture studio covered in dark fabric and carpet (called a ‘void’) and then recorded as computer animation data, which was then mapped onto a computerized 3-D model. In this technology, humans wear a bodysuit for the ‘capture,’ but animals need to be ‘captured’ differently because of their body shapes, fur and other characteristics. To prepare the animals for having their motion data recorded, trainers shaved small areas of fur or hair where the movements would be recorded, such as near joints and on the face. Velcro pads were attached to the shaved spots with a nontoxic, nonirritating silicone adhesive. White light-reflective balls were placed onto the Velcro to capture the motion data onto the computer. The exception to this was horses’ tails, which were not shaved, but wrapped in a sensor-laden material. The adhesive and any additional markings were washed off each evening after filming ended.

“Throughout the film, horses are seen outdoors standing or being ridden at a walk, canter or gallop. We also see people mounting, dismounting and falling off horses. These scenes were all filmed inside the capture studio. Horses were given ample room to start and stop running. …For scenes in which horses appear to be near fire, trainers cued them to ‘dance’ or act skittish or afraid — the horses were not actually agitated nor were they ever near fire.”

American Humane believes that all animals should be treated humanely, and celebrates the special role they play in people’s lives. Animals appearing in film and television are testaments to the human-animal bond, through their interaction with their trainers, their cast and crew members, and ultimately through their effect on audiences. American Humane’s mission on the sets of filmed productions is to protect those animals and to ensure that they are treated humanely, with the respect and compassion they deserve.

In general, the organization encourages productions to use CGI to increase safety. American Humane’s “Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media” state, “If, upon review of the script, American Humane believes there to be any dangerous animal action, American Humane will strongly encourage simulating the action through the use of computer-generated images (CGI), animatronics or fake animal doubles to minimize the risk of injury to animals.”

American Humane’s Film & TV Unit is celebrating its 70th year of protecting animals in filmed media. For more information visit

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