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SYFY WIRE Birds of Prey

Here's how Birds of Prey brought Harley Quinn's hyena to life

By Jacob Oller
Birds of Prey

One of the most striking, fun, comic-accurate pieces of Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) was Harley's adorable pet hyena, Bruce. Yes, he's named after that hunky Wayne guy and no, he's certainly not a real-life hyena. That doesn't mean the production didn't look into getting one, though. In fact, it almost happened. In a special feature on the Birds of Prey digital release, star Margot Robbie, director Cathy Yan, and more discussed all the work that went into bringing Harley's pet to life on the big screen.

Basically, it was a lot of CG on top of a lovely German Shepard. But that only manifested as a back-up plan after the team exhausted their attempts to make a real hyena work. "It was the biggest conundrum we had: how do we shoot these scenes with the hyena," Robbie said. The crew "met up with some animal trainers that actually had a hyena," visual effects supervisor Greg Steele said, which is where they "learned how dangerous it would be to actually have on set."

"If this hyena touches anything, it considers it to be his," Robbie said. "So we're like, 'Ok can he sit on a couch?' and they're like 'Yes, but then it's his couch. He will eat it and if someone tries to take him away from it, then he'll eat you.'" Yikes. Ok, no a real hyena is a no-go - especially if this is how a TRAINED one operates on set. Talk about a diva. So then what? 

"Margot and Cathy were saying 'We want to be able to touch it and interact with it,' because they wanted to build the relationship," said Steele. "It wasn't just 'Hey, there's a hyena,' she wanted to stroke his face." A fully CG creation was tough because there needed to be a tangible element. So, they settled on a dog. A big dog. The German Shepard would be the basis of the pet, which a CG hyena could be draped over. 

"Once those shots were selected that would have Bruce in them," explained visual effects producer Annemarie Griggs, "Those plates were turned over to [VFX house Weta Digital], and Weta would begin by tracking in the CG model that they'd already created, so that his movements matched the movements of our stand-in German Shepard." No wonder that hyena looked so cuddly! Just don't try this at home...even if you're going through a bad breakup.

Birds of Prey is out on home release now.