Massey and Weta join forces

23:27, Aug 22 2012

Massey University vets have had a taste of Hollywood working with Weta Digital on constructing a believable horse for the big screen.

The Wellington-based visual effects company wanted to know how a horse worked from the inside out so it could create lifelike horses for the film Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and others.

Staff from the Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences jumped at the chance to work with the company behind blockbusters Lord of the Rings, King Kong and Avatar.

Equine scientist Dr Chris Rogers said it was a great experience and something that really made the vets think about something they normally take for granted.

‘‘It turned a lot of our thinking on its head, when we were asked questions about why muscles and bones did the things they did.’’


Weta had previously built models by looking at the horses from the outside, but Massey’s scientists were able to give them an understanding of the structure of the animal.

Dr Rogers said Weta wanted to know how a horse worked from the inside out so it could build realistic computer generated images.

Muscles had to work in synchronisation with skin and bones and facial expressions needed to match too.

The institute’s equine treadmill was used to collect motion capture images by several cameras that the company could then use to build its computer-generated horses.

‘‘We filmed the horse at different gaits so they could get information that related to a horse doing different things.’’

Dr Deb Prattley was also part of the vet team and said Weta picked the brains of other scientists at the institute including getting CT scans of horses.

“They also spoke at length with our anatomists because they really wanted to make sure the shapes of the horses were right and that they moved properly,” she said.

Using computer-generated animals means on-screen action can be captured without concerns about animal welfare.

Weta Digital visual effects supervisor Martin Hill says the work done with Massey added greatly to the realism.

“The nuances when you apply them to our digital model suddenly give an extra level of reality.”

Manawatu Standard