Oscar’s Unsung Heroes: ‘Lone Survivor’ Stunt Coordinator, ‘Llewyn Davis’ Cat Herder and ‘Her’ Vidgame Designer

Dawn Barkan Inside Llewyn Davis Animal

Here is Variety’s annual look at the standouts in fields that don’t offer kudos–the animal trainer on “Inside Llewyn Davis,” the stunt coordinator on “Lone Survivor” and the video game designer on “Her.”

Animal Trainer Herded Scene-Stealing Cats

It’s not easy to steal the limelight from Oscar Isaac, but his feline friend in “Inside Llewyn Davis” manages to accomplish the unthinkable. Ulysses, the red Mackerel that helps Isaac navigate the Greenwich Village folk scene, is actually portrayed by three rescued tabbies. Tigger, the rover of the bunch, was carried around the city, while Jerry and Daryl divided the action work, jumping out of windows, running down fire escapes and breaking free in subway trains.

With only six weeks to prep — half the usual time — head animal trainer Dawn Barkan had to transform the trio from farm pets to city cats by desensitizing them to New York’s discordant sounds and acclimating them (using garlic chicken treats) to the unfamiliar environments.

Daryl couldn’t handle the sensory overload while shooting a subway scene. He felt the rumble of an underground train and got spooked, kicking off of Isaac’s chest and clipping his cheek.

Barkan, who also trained Mr. Jinx in “Meet the Parents,” says she asked writer-directors Joel and Ethan Coen to time the trains so that a subway car wasn’t moving underneath during the shot, but was told it couldn’t be done.

“When you have directors that are so detail-oriented and want as much realism, sometimes it’s hard to get them to slow down and come down and listen to what you’re saying,” she says.

They timed the trains and swapped cats after Isaac’s minor injury.

­— Maane Khatchatourian

Stunt Coordinator Brings Non-stop, Visceral Action

Stunts can be some of the most exciting and impactful aspects of action films, and “Lone Survivor” is no exception.

For stunt coordinator Kevin Scott, the most difficult aspect of working on writer-director Peter Berg’s “Lone Survivor” was doing justice to the lives of the U.S. Navy SEALs involved in the failed 2005 mission Operation Red Wings, upon which the film is based.

“The No. 1 challenge was the fact that it was based on a real story and it’s based on real guys, three of which didn’t come home,” Scott says. “It was really important for Pete that all of the physical action looked real and felt real to the audience. We couldn’t do anything that looked stunt-y.”

Scott, who also served as second unit director, says actors Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster were more than willing to participate in many of the stunts and no CGI was used.

Though he has worked on multiple films including “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and the “Spider-Man” franchise, Scott says “Lone Survivor” is the project he regards most highly.

“‘Lone Survivor’ is the only film in my career that matters,” Scott explains. “It certainly provided an opportunity to work on a project that means something to a lot of people.”

— Andrea Seikaly

Vidgame Designer Links Alien Boy, Protag

Having a career built on short films where he was responsible for doing everything himself, David O’Reilly expanded his repertoire when he accepted an offer from Spike Jonze to design a videogame that would be part of the movie “Her.” Instead of using a huge team of animators, Jonze relied on O’Reilly to design the game, with the help of a few animators who would eventually bring it to life.

“I would work on stuff for a couple of weeks, then drive up to the production house, show Spike where I was at, talk about it, then go back and make more,” O’Reilly says. “Every little corner of the environments and characters were scrutinized until we arrived at the final design.”

O’Reilly made Alien Boy an emotional character that acts out based on what he is feeling, similar to Theo.

“In a way the game sequences are expressions of Theo’s emotional state at various points in the film,” O’Reilly says. “We worked hard on every detail to make sure it was guided by that. Getting the mix between having him move like a toddler and speak like a sailor was the hardest thing.”

— Francesca Bacardi