Superpower Dogs is due for release summer 2018. From rescuing people trapped beneath rubble, to medical dogs with the ability to detect cancer. This incredible film in the making is set to be jam packed with adventure, amazing scenery, and of course the heart warming and awe-inspiring tales of dogs all over the world working to save lives.
We speak to producer George Duffield about his exciting project and he explains why you should be getting excited about Superpower Dogs.
How did the film come about?
The point of IMAX is to show people something that they would never normally see, so the classic ones are Everest, Under The Sea, Space Station, they take you places you’ll never go, to really experience something mind-blowing.
We liked the idea of doing something different that opened peoples’ minds. One of our producers, Dominic, is a dog whisperer – his whole life has been about animals, so he said lets make a film about dogs. We thought this is crazy – how can we spend millions of dollars making an IMAX movie about animals? After we thought about it, we realised that it’s a brilliant subject. Dogs are the most extraordinary creatures in the world.
Humans evolved with dogs. Without dogs we wouldn’t be the humans we are. The real angle for us is the superpowers of dogs. We realised that people love superhero films, but the real superheroes are the ones right next to us, our best friends. A dog’s ability to sense motion and disease and find us buried under 10 feet of snow is a superpower. The super dogs are working dogs, so we are almost making a movie about the olympic heroes of the dog world. Avalanche dogs, tracking dogs, fire dogs, they are the best of the best – that’s the focus of the movie.
The idea is to transport you through the eyes, ears and nose of a dog. We are going to build a special camera (at considerable expense) that shoots 250 degrees, which is the field of vision dogs have. We are going to try and show you what a dog sees – on a screen 100ft high in 3D, and it’s going to blow peoples’ minds.
How in-depth is the science behind doggy super senses?
We only have 45 minutes, and the primary audience are kids (10+) and families so we are not going super hard-core with the science but it’s important to understand that the brain of the dog is different from ours, and the olfactory system of the dog is 13% of the brain compared to only 1% for humans. Dogs have an incredible ability to use smell, and we need to understand that.
We will go into the evolution of dogs from wolves, because I don’t think many people know that all dogs come from wolves, and that’s just cool. How they varied and how they got to where they are – a great Dane and a Chihuahua are all from the same species. I think that’s fascinating. The other great thing about this project is that our partner, the California science Centre, is developing a travelling exhibit called The Science Of Dogs. When the film opens at, say London in 3 years time, you’ll see the movie and then go into the exhibit, where there’ll be lots more detail and science. You’ve got thrills, fun and adventure and then you can go in the museum, which is fantastic.
You’re following different canine superheroes – can you tell me more about them and their jobs, and what makes them so special?
The central spine of the story is following a puppy, from literally a puppy to a fully-fledged super hero – she’ll be a fully qualified search and rescue dog.
We found a Dutch Shepherd in Florida, belonging to a handler called Cat, who we love. She works for the Miami-Dade Fire & Rescue Service, so in theory, if this works, we will follow Halo for two years as she is trained all the way up to a fully fledged search and rescue dog. That’s the narrative core of the movie.
While we’re following Halo and her development we will bounce out to other fully fledged superpower dogs, for example, we are going to Italy where they use incredible newfoundlands that jump out of helicopters to save people from drowning. They have the Italian coastguard dogs, its really the most amazing thing to see.
We’re going to go to Kenya where bloodhounds are used in the fight against poaching. They are amazing and have the best nose of any dog in the world. They can track a poacher from a dead elephant. They can get on the bus and follow the scent from the bus stop into a shantytown and find the ivory tusks buried under a tarpaulin 200 miles away from the elephant. These are at the front line of saving wildlife!
We’re also featuring Canadian Avalanche Rescue dogs, they’re all different breeds and they’re fantastic. What they do in Canada is called ‘long lining’, where they take a helicopter off the ground with the dogs dangling beneath it on a wire with its handler, and fly the dog straight to the avalanche. It saves minutes and time is life and death after an avalanche. They’re real life James Bond dogs – they literally fly out of choppers wearing special goggles, doggles they’re called!
Then we have a California service dog, an extraordinary medical dog that can detect cancer – and that to me is the most incredible story of all, that these dogs can pick up cancer quicker than any machine. And then of course we keep coming back to Halo. We’ve got a puppy growing up and graduating, and all these other mature dogs. We want to take the audience to Kenya, to avalanches, to Canada, to California, and to Italy on the lakes, so you get a real global experience of how these dogs are working around the world to save us.
How did you find and select the dogs?
Dom and Daniel, our director, spent two years travelling around the world, finding dogs, meeting people, establishing relationships, and building trust. We are filming Halo but these are dogs and they don’t all graduate. They don’t all succeed and we are in the process of finding a second puppy, just in case. We will have to shadow two separate dogs and handlers to make sure that – we hope – at least one of them graduates.
What kind of background does Halo come from?
She’s a four-month-old Dutch Shepherd. Cat’s previous dog died of liver failure really young. Cat was devastated and wanted a completely different breed. I think the Dutch shepherd is quite unusual actually, certainly Halo looks unusual. She’s a very exciting dog and so far (she’s so young and it’s so early in the process) she’s showing great promise. It’s a gamble for us as filmmakers because we are betting a considerable amount of time and effort on this dog making it through the program.
What kind of training does she go through?
It’s two years of a very rigorous training programme, administered by various different certification bodies in the United States. The final exam is run by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Authority). In order to get a fully certified risk dog for the fire department they have to pass an exam. They go to this fabulous place called Disaster City where they have an entirely destroyed city that all the federal forces, Police etc, get to train on.
There’s a gigantic rubble pile and they set it on fire, flood it – all kinds of stuff. It’s where the authorities train for earthquakes and hurricanes. They bring the dogs there and they have to pass a really tough exam. They fill the rubble pile with food and toys, and all sorts of nice things. The dogs have to focus on finding a scent they have been tasked to find. Any distraction by the food is a fail. Years of training and they can blow it in 30 seconds – it’s really quite dramatic.
How important are search and rescue dogs?
We have had the privilege of meeting a lot of these people and one of them was telling us about being in Haiti – you’re making life and death decisions based upon what the dog is telling you. You’ve got a rubble pile and the dog is telling you there’s someone alive under there. The dog has to be able to tell the difference between whether someone’s alive or dead. You don’t want to devote all your team to digging if a dog is wrong, then you risk letting someone tapped somewhere else die during that process. It’s a very serious business. The ability for a dog to detect between life and death is incredible.
What are your next steps?
We are now in production and beginning our press conversations to build an audience of people to follow us, it’s a multi-year process. We want people to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, to build a community of dog lovers. The film comes out in Summer 2018 and we need as many people as possible excited about it. Just because your dog doesn’t jump of helicopters doesn’t mean it doesn’t have super powers. The point of our social media conversations is that we want people to share the stories of their own dogs.
We really want people to send their stories in. We are still in production so if something really extraordinary crops up we could consider it. If people really have something special they want to share, they should share it with us. Everyone should start celebrating their dogs!
If you’d like to find out more about Superpower Dogs and keep up with the film visit www.superpowerdogs.com or follow them on Twitter (@SuperpowerDogs) and Facebook.
Image from www.flickr.com/photos/stuutje