"Hotel for Dogs" was largely shot in downtown L.A., standing in for an unnamed east coast city. "I wanted it to feel not clearly defined. It's a fantasy world that could be anywhere," explains Freudenthal. "The hotel was two different places," he continues. "The downstairs was the Park Plaza Hotel in MacArthur Park, which has been used before but not in this way. We trashed it and made it look like it's condemned. The upstairs was the Alexandria Hotel. It had these wonderful long hallways." The front of the hotel was shot at Universal Studios in a section of the lot destroyed in a fire a week after the company shot there.
For the exterior scenes, shooting on city streets with dogs "was really difficult because it was hectic to shoot around the traffic, the noise, and the homeless people walking into our shot," notes Roberts. "There were always sirens and ambulances." Downtown traffic noise wasn't the only sound issue. With scores of trainers shouting commands at the dogs, "There was a lot of cleanup in the sound in post-production," says Clark.
Because it was impractical to shoot the climactic chase scene completely on location, it was shot
In three different places, including back lots at Paramount and Universal. To show a large pack of dogs running simultaneously, the effects team built little green tunnels for the dogs to run through so they stayed in line and shot against a green screen so the tunnels would be invisible. "We'd shoot multiple passes, and when we'd composite all the passes together we'd have four lines of dogs all running at the same time," Clark outlines.
At one point, stampeding canines trampled Roberts. "I tripped because the ground was wet. I fell and skinned both my knees, and the dogs were trampling over me," she recalls.
Some of the movie's most memorable scenes involve the ingenious machines that Austin's character Bruce, a budding inventor, devises to help the kids care more efficiently for the dogs and keep them occupied. Among these were feeding and waste management systems made from salvaged items Bruce finds in the hotel. Special effects coordinator Michael Lantieri, who won an Oscar for "Jurassic Park," devised the Rube Goldberg-reminiscent contraptions.
In one scene, 40 dogs sit at a long dinner table, their bowls filled by a conveyer system Bruce has rigged. Other inventions include a sheep-herding machine for the border collie Shep and a head-out-the-car-window simulator.
"What's wonderful about these things is not their sophistication but their simplicity in how they get the job done," observes Clark. "You really believe that a kid invented them. But we had to make them work mechanically."
Freudenthal is thrilled with the end result, but he's calling a moratorium on working with non-humans for the time being. "I'd be open to good character-driven movies that take me places, magical or not," he says. "But working with animals? I'll leave that to somebody else."