Digital equine actors

22 02 2007

Kingdom of Heaven

The abuse and deaths of animals in movies is nothing new, sad to say; in old movies, horses were often injured or killed through the use of tripwires. In modern flicks, horses are trained to fall safely, which is obvious when you know what to look for: the horse will pull its nose in towards its shoulder before keeling over. The American Humane Association has been monitoring animal welfare on sets since 1940. Still, accidents do happen; a horse was killed on the set of Flicka while another died rather bizarrely during filming in India.

To combat these tragedies, equine biomechanicist Dr. Sian E.M. Lawson is now working with directors to create realistic digital horses in movies such as Kingdom of Heaven (above), Alexander and King Arthur using digital capture methods; similar technology was used to create Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy:

Motion capture allows movements to be filmed in controlled safe environments and to be linked together creating a realistic sequence that the horse didn’t actually perform. However it is not possible to provide the movement for sequences such as a horse falling or rearing unless the equine actor actually performs this. To solve this dilemma I have begun to create a very complicated biomechanical tool called the Digital Equine. This will allow horses and their movements to be completely computer simulated, replacing the role of horse motion capture in the film industry and even removing the need for real horses altogether. […] To enable the highest quality of motion to be simulated Equine Mechanics’ Digital Equine model of the horse is pain-stakingly biomechanically correct including bone shapes, joints, tendons, muscles, ligaments, mass and inertial properties. It provides real motion as it effectively uses a virtual horse musculo-skeletal system. It can then be adjusted for breed and type and riders can then be added or not at the animators whim. (More)

Dr. Lawson has her own website with some great info on equine biomechanics.

Starving horses were part of an unusual breeding program

22 02 2007

This is just weird, not to mention sad and infuriating. An Australian vet, Jilie Tilbrook, has been accused of starving her horses, although she blames the ongoing Aussie drought for the horses’ condition. Apparently she was trying to breed for the brindle pattern using progeny of the unusual Thoroughbred stallion Catch A Bird. Although she will likely lose her vet credentials and may be facing jail time, her main worry is that the horses will be dispersed to rescue homes and the breeding program lost. Link

(Aside: what’s weird genetically is that Catch A Bird’s progeny look like true roans [scroll down–not all the horses on that page are his, btw], a gene heretofore undetected in Thoroughbreds, and some have odd coat textures…)

Catch A Bird

Catch A Bird (Noble Bijou x Showy Countess)

Update: Apparently this neglect had been going on for quite a while, with many people trying to get the authorities involved to no avail. Once people started bringing hay for them, the RSPC of Australia couldn’t get involved because now they were being fed. UNBELIEVABLE.

Girl killed during rodeo parade

22 02 2007

A five-year-old girl was killed after falling off her horse at the Tucson Rodeo Parade. Apparently her horse was spooked by another team of horses and threw her. Link Dammit. I wonder if she was wearing a helmet, and if not, why the hell not.

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