It may seem hard to believe once you’ve seen Abbott Mead Vickers
BBDO’s new masterpiece for Guinness, but the horses in the waves have
never been to Hawaii, where the film was shot, nor did they ever ride
with the surfers who seek the ultimate wave in the 60-second epic. In
fact, they didn’t even have to put a hoof in the water for their
starring role in the ad - it was all made possible by computers.
The idea for the film was dreamed up by the AMV creatives, Walter
Campbell and Tom Carty, who fondly remembered being told tales as
children about the white surf on the crests of waves actually being
galloping white horses.
Their only problem was how to realise that image - until they talked to
Jonathan Glazer, the Academy director, who brought on board the Computer
Film Company. Glazer had worked with CFC on several pop promos, and knew
that the company had the ability to create the effects Carty and
The first decision the CFC team had to make was whether to use real
horses or computer-animated ones. Obviously, computer-generated horses
would have been easier, but wouldn’t look as real, so it was decided
that real waves and real horses had to be used.
The surfers were filmed in Hawaii over a nine-day shoot. For once, the
crew was looking for a cloudy day but the weather during the shoot was
mostly typical Hawaiian sunshine, so the stormy sky had to be imported
using film that Glazer had shot earlier.
Meanwhile, three horses were filmed over three days jumping over a pole
in a studio. Hair extensions were used to give the horses a wild,
unkempt look, and all three were made up every day so that their bone
structure was acutely defined. The wild-eyed whites of their eyes were
added in post-production.
When the rough cut of the surf shoot came back, the 12-strong project
team had to decide which parts of the horse shoot would be spliced
The editor, Sam Sneade, started the laborious process of piecing the
films together to show the horses interacting with the surfers. All the
filming was shot in colour and only towards the end was it converted to
black and white.
Using the compositing software, Cineon, on silicon graphics machines,
the horses were added in and duplicated to make it look as though there
were about ten horses in the surf. Cineon was chosen specifically
because it has an application that makes it possible to mix various
speeds of film.
The movement of the water also had to be changed. Animation and 3D
software - Houdini, Maya and Renderman - were used to add water and surf
around the horses. One part of the film shows a surfer falling from his
board and narrowly escaping being kicked by a stray hoof, which had to
be artificially created using Maya and inserted using Cineon.
Finally, the waves were made slightly bigger and bubbles were added
around the horses’ legs using Houdini.
For those of you who were impressed by the hero who manages to surf the
wave, rest assured that he actually did it - although it had to be
filmed on a different day to the main surfing shoot.