Years before tackling his first live-action feature, Zeitlin apprenticed under Ben Richardson (his future d.p.) on a stop-motion project in Prague. To see the imprint of his animation training on “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” one need look no further than the Jim Henson-influenced scenes of stampeding Aurochs. To depict the fantastical prehistoric creatures, which menacingly escape the melting icecaps and make their way toward Hushpuppy, Zeitlin’s team raised potbellied piglets from birth, training them to run on treadmills and do other tricks needed for the lo-fi Auroch effects.
“For the scene where they stampede the town, the shots were storyboarded, the houses delicately constructed to be able to crumble on impact, but in the end, you’re still running full-speed with a homemade dolly trying to keep pace with five sprinting piglets, and those suckers can move,” Zeitlin says. “We wanted the scene to look like you were a nature photographer recklessly struggling to film an elephant stampede.”