On Saturday, Leslie Mann & John Cho hosted the awards we don’t see (their 3 hour ceremony will be distilled into about 1 minutes of broadcast during the Oscars) – the Academy’s Scientific and Technical Awards. There are no nominees at these awards, just winners, people the Academy have chosen to honour for their contributions to film making (the Academy’s Board of Governors does the voting). These are often inventions and discoveries that make cameras better, or CGI more realistic.
“Simply put, the movies we love would not exist if not for your talent, your knowledge and your creativity,” academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs said in her opening remarks. “There’s a reason it’s called the Academy of Arts and Sciences.”
Awards were given out for all kinds of sciency things I don’t really understand, motion capture stuff, programming stuff, and improvements to digital cameras. One thing that caught my eye thought was called an Animatronic Horse Puppet.
Okay, I’ll bite: animatronic horse puppet, you say?
Mark Rappaport is credited with the concept, design and development. He runs a company called Creature Effects, Inc, that specializes in creating hyper-realistic make-up effects and animatronic animals for use in movies. Most movies will still use primarily real animals, but for certain scenes, animatronic replacements is just plain safer for both actor and animal. The trick is to make the “puppets” look real and move realistically.
Scott Oshita is credited for the motion analysis and CAD design; Jeff Cruts with the development of faux-hair finish techniques; and Todd Minobe for the puppet’s articulation and drive-train mechanisms.
The production crew of The Last Samurai needed an animatronic horse able to perform stunt sequences that would put a real horse and rider in danger, and goodness knows we can’t risk Tom Cruise’s pretty face.. Rappaport was commissioned to build a horse that could seamlessly replace Tom Cruise’s real horse for those scenes. Rappaport said “It’s probably the most sophisticated horse or animatronic creature ever made for film. It cost $1.5 million to make. It gallops in place. It reared up. It fell over. And it looks completely real.”
Those horses came in handy again for the 300 movie, and Rappaport was given a new challenge: a wolf to attack young Leonidas. This wolf was able to blink, movie its head, its neck, its brow, its jaw, and its tongue, it could even salivate and had glowing eyes!
Their animatronic horse has also been used in The Lone Ranger and The Revenant.
Pretty cool, eh?