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Bird Tricks

March 13, 1994|ANN GREEN

When "The Birds II" director Rick Rosenthal filmed flocks of birds flying over oil-slicked Gull Island, he only had a fraction of the birds used by Alfred Hitchcock.

"We probably have a minimum of 500 birds and 100 flying birds. Hitchcock had over a 1,000," Rosenthal says.

Question: How do you make 100 flying birds look like 1,000 flying birds?

Answer: Optical effects. Pigeons trained by Gary Gero were used in flight scenes to make the flocks appear larger. (In 1962, Gero was hired in the last weeks of "The Birds" production.)

"On camera, you can't tell pigeons from other kinds of birds," says Gero, whose arms were covered with peck marks. "It looks like birds flying all over."

To get the pigeons to fly, Gero laid out food in the designated flight paths. Ravens were rewarded for flying with pieces of meat. "When the birds are chasing after people, the trainer is there giving them a piece of meat," he says.

All the birds except the pigeons were hand-raised from birth. The pigeons were trained as juveniles. Gero swears that ravens are as smart or smarter than dogs and can be easier to train.

Animatronics also play a big role in "Birds II."

Three puppets, built so that the wings and necks move and beaks open and close, were used in close-ups of humans being attacked--in order to avoid injury. (So the menacing sea gull you'll see with a wing span of three feet is really a puppet). In the most complicated fight scene, between a hawk and a dog, stuffed puppetry was used.

Rosenthal enhanced the suspense of attacks by shooting from the birds' point of view as they swoop down on their victims. Steven Spielberg used a similar technique in "Jaws."

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