In this British radio interview, artist Ali Bannister explains how she and her horse paintings literally became part of the War Horse film. Ali served as the film’s “equine artistic advisor” according to the credits that roll at the end of the film: makeup and hair for the horses was her concern.
The horses had to look like they were in a war, or in a rainstorm, and all the Joeys had to look just exactly like Joey was described originally in the book version of War Horse: a bright bay with four white socks and a white cross-shaped star on his forehead!
Imagine having eight horses with varying amounts of white (or not) on their different-coloried bodies. Now imagine that each and every one of them has to have the same length of mane, falling just so, and the same tail. The forelock has to be the same length and when there were multiple takes of an action shot, sweat would need to be added or subtracted and mud reapplied because, as all horsemen know, mud changes color as it dries.
Why go to all this trouble? Because there are people like you and me in the audience.
Ali’s drawings are featured several times in the film. Photography wasn’t a portable pastime yet in 1914, so to record the war, artists went to the front. In War Horse, Captain Nicholls, played by Tom Hiddleston, is an officer and a gentlemen, and also a talented sketch artist; and while it looks like the actor is actually drawing, the sketch on the paper was created by Ali Bannister, and Captain Nicholls is just shading in the horse’s ears.
Spielberg’s lucky day was the one when Ali Bannister walked onto the set. I’m sure you will appreciate her artistic skills when you see the film–in the horses and the art!
Special News: Ali has set up a special site for her art from War Horse, including her now-famous portrait of Joey for author Michael Morpurgo, which has been made available as prints. Be sure to visit www.warhorseart.com!