From a very young age, Mark Forbes knew his ocelots from his emus, mostly because he was surrounded by them. "I grew up in southern Oregon, a town called Grants Pass," he said. "Normal childhood. I guess the only difference was we had a small little family farm, and we had a bunch of different kinds of animals on it. At that time, everyone thought emu would be the next chicken, and so we sold breeding stock to much larger farms."
After spending a year at Southern Oregon State College, Forbes heard about Moorpark College's Exotic Animal Training and Management Program and decided to enroll. After graduation, he worked at Knott's Berry Farm doing a dolphin and sea lion show before signing with Birds & Animals Unlimited, which puts on the live animal actors show at Universal Studios and trains animals for commercials, television and film.
Forbes' movie credits include "101 Dalmatians," "Dr. Dolittle," "Evan Almighty" and "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian," but more recently he served as head animal trainer on "Marley & Me," starring Jennifer Aniston, Owen Wilson and the world's wildest pooch.
Disobedience school: Most of the 22 canine actors that played Marley were encouraged to tap into their inner bad dogs. "It was different from any movie we'd really done before in that this was supposed to be the most out-of-control, rambunctious dog there ever was," said Forbes. "And so we definitely looked for, in each team, a dog that had that personality trait. [On] our 1- to 5-year-old team, we had five dogs. And we had Ziggy. 'Crystal Meth,' they called him when we brought him on the set. He was just a crazy dog. And then we had Clyde, who was sort of 'Trained Crystal Meth,' but just had a wild streak in him.
"I remember the very first day, we had a scene where Jen is bringing Marley home, and we were using Clyde and we rehearsed it. She unclipped him, and he ran in, he jumped up on the kitchen table, did a circle, licked Owen in the face and ran out of the room. From that day forward, [director] David [Frankel] would never let us rehearse, especially Clyde. We'd just let [the dogs] go do what they were going do in their own little Marley way."
Chewing the scenery: In the film, Marley consumes everything from answering machines to large pieces of furniture. The dogs naturally took to the challenge. "We went and got old couches from Salvation Army and trained a few of the dogs to just go nuts on them," Forbes said. "You could tell Clyde to go get anything, and he would just go after it to the point where, when he's ripping up the linoleum, that's real linoleum that he's ripping up.
"The very first day we met Jen and Owen, we were rehearsing, and Clyde ran in the room, jumped up on the chair, grabbed Jen's sweater that she just set down and started running around the room with it and chewing on it, which was a little embarrassing. But that's exactly what we wanted him to be doing in the movie. And she was a great sport as well."
Urine the movies: "We taught two of the dogs to do a leg lift," said Forbes. "They're not actually peeing, but it's a trained behavior. For the scene when [Jen and Owen] come home after being gone for two weeks, we again were using Clyde. And Clyde lifted his leg and started peeing on the little coffee table. [Frankel] loved it so much that we then set up the shot to have one of the other dogs lift his leg."
Anatomical corrections: While the dogs were able to learn all of the tricks and behaviors needed, "Marley & Me" isn't entirely without its CG elements. The filmmakers used technical wizardry to address one particular continuity error.
"At least two of the puppies were female," said Forbes. "I was talking to David Frankel [about] the scene where Owen is holding the puppy by its front legs, and its belly's hanging down. He said the first time he showed it to his wife, she goes, 'That's not a boy puppy.' So they actually put a digital wee-wee on the little puppy."