Special Effects: The Truth About the Amazing Opening Shot of War Horse’s Cavalry Charge

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Could you hear me cheer earlier this week when the British BAFTA film award nominees were announced?

Some critical people who made me love War Horse were at the top of the list for individual awards: Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, production designers Rick Carter and Lee Sandales and the special visual effects crew of Ben Morris and Neil Corbould were nominated–along with the sound crew and composer John Williams, who wrote the score.

There’s one special scene that they had to build.

You won’t believe which scene!

We hear so much about Spielberg’s comments that the Devon landscape served as a character in the film, but so did the artificial landscape created by Carter and Sandales for the war scenes. There was no natural No Man’s Land for a location–they had to build it.

And there’s one special scene that they also had to build. You won’t believe which scene! When I read the article in The Telegraph, I was stunned. How could anyone create this much magic from an emtry field?

War Horse News gold logo (small)From an interview with actor Tom Hiddleston (Captain Nicholls): “The battle was shot at Stratfield Saye House in north Hampshire, the estate of the Duke of Wellington. ‘It was one of the most amazing days of my life,’ Hiddleston recalls. ‘One hundred and 20 horses waiting in line in a phalanx of military formation, and everything about the context was real except for the bullets.’

But The Telegraph’s Sally Williams corrected Hiddleston and, insodoing, spilled the beans. Or the wheat. Or whatever that waving field of grain would have yielded in harvest. Sally tells us:

“This isn’t strictly true, as in order to create the desired effect of men and horses streaming like ghosts from a field of reeds, plants were imported from another part of the country. ‘There was a marsh in the south of London still in bloom,’ Rick Carter, the production designer, has said. ‘We went there and paid a farmer to cut his whole field down, then we put the reeds in styrofoam’.”

But it didn’t stop there–there were rows like narrow paths through the reeds for the horses to follow.

How many horses were really in the grainfield scene? Here's the British cavalry charging through the open toward the German camp. (DreamWorks photo)

Then the task was passed to the geniuses at digital film effects consulting company Framestore, who literally multiplied the number of horses and riders following those paths. In a Below The Line interview with Framestore’s compositing supervisor Chris Zeh, the digital animator said,

“The sequence was supposed to show many dozens of British soldiers hiding in this field of reeds, but they had neither sufficient reeds nor soldiers to make it work. Over nearly 30 shots we filled the landscape with reeds – not just 2D but 3D – and soldiers. And we helped fill the air with seeds floating from the reeds.”

The more I learn about War Horse, the more amazed I am. And the more I want to see it all over again (again).

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Be brave! Entrench yourself in WAR HORSE NEWS on the web: 1) Bookmark WarHorseBlog.com; 2) Grab the RSS feed; 3) Follow @WarHorseNews on Twitter; 4) “Like” the War Horse News page on Facebook; 5) Circle War Horse News on Google +. Leave your questions and comments here on the blog and we’ll try to help you! WAR HORSE NEWS is written for moviegoers, horse lovers and history buffs by horse-specialist journalist Fran Jurga and hosted by Equisearch.com.

War Horse Farrier: Brendan Murray Speaks to Samantha Clark About How He Helped Joey Keep His Shoes On

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Napoleon once said that an army moves on its stomach. But the cavalry moves on its hooves, and it took an army of farriers–called “shoeing smiths” by the British military–to keep the horses moving in World War I.

But what about a film crew? And what about the production of Steven Spielberg’s film War Horse in England in 2010?

War Horse News gold logo (small)DreamWorks Pictures learned the importance of a farrier too, especially when Roger, a plow-horse lookalike for Joey, kept stepping on (and thereby pulling off) his shoes in the furrow.

“Cut!” “Get the farrier up here!” “Where’s the farrier?”

And not only did the farrier have to keep putting shoes back on in the midst of many shoots that were mired in mud: director Spielberg put location farrier Brendan Murray to work in the forge in the shoeing scene. They turned the camera on him and his apprentice for the crucial background action in the scene where Joey meets Topthorn while the two are waiting to be shod.

You’ll hear all about it in this interview with Great Britain’s international eventing team farrier Brendan Murray, a seasoned veteran of both shoeing and riding for film productions!

Brendan was interviewed by Lexington, Kentucky’s freelance equestrian media pro Samantha L. Clark of eventingnation.com and many other audio, video and web projects for the horse world. This is Samantha’s first “guest blog” under the banner War Horse News and it’s appropriate that it arrived as a media file, instead of a text document or an image file

Brendan Murray

British eventing team farrier Brendan Murray "kitted out" for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. (Photo links to Brendan's Zimbio page)

About Brendan Murray
Brendan has been associated as eventing team farrier with the British Equestrian Federation and Team GBR for many years. He has served at five Olympic Games, three World Equestrian Games, and many European championships. He was flag bearer for Great Britain and led his country into the arena in the opening ceremonies of the 2010 WEG in Kentucky, as chosen by the athletes.

Brendan is retired as a farrier in the British military’s esteemed King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery; among his duties was serving as brakeman for the gun carriage loaded with the casket of Princess Diana at her funeral in 1997. Among Brendan’s film on-screen credits are Gladiator, Robin Hood and 2012′s Snow White and the Huntsman.

You might enjoy a video interview by Samantha Clark with Brendan at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky.

Samantha Clark, 2010 Radio Show host

Samantha Clark

About Samantha Clark: Who is she? Then: eventer, NPR news anchor, and (most recently) co-host of the 2010 Radio Show about the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Now: armed with social media, camera, video and a smart phone, she knows no bounds.

Samantha says of herself: “I’m thrilled to have my blog on EventingNation.com as an excuse to pursue an incurable curiosity about anything to do with horses (especially eventing), satisfy my wanderlust and aid in my determination to cling to my English roots. I’m often accompanied by two small children–sometimes helpful, sometimes a hindrance–and almost always by a beautiful, black Labrador who is perfect company!”

Samantha’s blog is a must-read on the web and she is equally a must-follow on Twitter: @samanthalclark for great horse tweets from Kentucky and the eventing world.

More about Samantha Clark

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Be brave! Entrench yourself in WAR HORSE NEWS on the web: 1) Bookmark WarHorseBlog.com; 2) Grab the RSS feed; 3) Follow @WarHorseNews on Twitter; 4) “Like” the War Horse News page on Facebook; 5) Circle War Horse News on Google +. Leave your questions and comments here on the blog and we’ll try to help you! WAR HORSE NEWS is written for moviegoers, horse lovers and history buffs by horse-specialist journalist Fran Jurga and hosted by Equisearch.com.