DOWNTOWN — Imagine the ability to have a lion roaming through the streets of Paris, or an elephant eating in an African jungle — all without having to leave the comfort of an editing bay.
A local Santa Monica company is making that happen by using the latest green-screen technology and a few furry friends.
Green Screen Animals (greenscreenanimals.com) offers stock footage of all kinds of wildlife for those who find it too expensive or time consuming to film it themselves.
Several years ago, Mark Shockley used to help his wife Laura, an animal trainer at the time, feed and clean up after animals like lions and tigers after leaving his day job in production.
Shockley came up with the idea for Green Screen Animals in 2006 after a walk on the beach and an “aha moment” that led him to decide to merge his two passions — production and animals.
“It really gave me chills,” said Shockley, president and co-founder of the company. “I thought this is the deal, this could be really, really good and fulfilling at the same time. Thus far, it’s been fantastic.”
He then sought the help of Westley Koenen, senior vice president of Mastercard Worldwide, who joined the project immediately.
So far, the company’s clients have included “The Tonight Show,” “Jimmy Kimmell Live,” various ad agencies, producers of YouTube content, and “a handful of Disney shows,” Shockley said.
A lot of business comes from kid-themed television shows.
“Kids love animals,” he said. “I just think there’s something about it and even when adults see animals, it brings out the kid in us. They’re just so wonderful.”
Shockley said that the bear was the most requested animal, followed by the lion and the elephant.
“Adding a lion or a grizzly bear in your video, man, it increases your production value like tenfold,” he said. “All of a sudden, it makes it look like a giant budget spot.”
The company decided to license and own all the footage they create after their contract ended with Getty Images.
Movie studios often elect to use animals in films, a practice that can sometimes result in injury for the four-legged actors.
To minimize injuries, Green Screen Animals works with the American Humane Association to ensure that no animals are harmed during the production process. The association has been supervising films that use animals since 1939, providing movie sets with “Certified Animal Safety Representatives” that have extensive experience with “animal-related work,” according to their website.
Shockley feels buying stock footage saves filmmakers time, energy and money.
“Quite often when somebody’s in that production mode, they just need it now,” he said. “They just need to get their fix at that moment and if they can go online and look at some clips, that certainly helps save them so much time.”
Salvador Carrasco, professor of film at Santa Monica College, agrees with Shockley.
“The biggest advantage of the green screen technology is cost-effectiveness,” Carrasco said. “As a filmmaker, you need to find a balance between authenticity and practicality. If you want to have animals in your film but can’t afford it, it would be more advantageous for you to use stock footage than to cut the scene out entirely.”
While Carrasco said that there is “definitely” a market for this type of footage, he feels the authenticity of having an animal actually on set “cannot be beat.”
For Shockley, seeing the finished product on a commercial makes it all worth it.
“I really get excited when I see people using this stuff,” Shockley said. “That, to me, is the biggest payoff.”
Shockley said his team films one or two shoots ever year. In between, the company focuses on getting the clips online-ready and selling them to clients.
“It’s funny because people have this image of us doing all this fun animal stuff all the time,” Shockley said.
The online library of critters and creatures, which currently has close to 4,000 clips in full HD, 2K and 4K resolution, is updated once a year.
Pricing for the animal footage ranges from $500 to $4,000 depending on whether a client wants to use it for the web or a worldwide commercial.