Order our new book, Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders
Mini book

A Closer Look at That Oscar-Winning Animatronic Horse Puppet

This thing is incredibly lifelike.

At last night’s Oscars, three unexpected words sent spectators into a state of bewilderment. No, not “La La Land”—“animatronic horse puppet.”

Over an hour before the Best Picture announcement was bungled, presenters Leslie Mann and John Cho made reference to a robotic horse created by Creature Effects, Inc. The makers of this all-synthetic, animatronic creature scored an Sci-Tech Oscar at a ceremony held on February 11, with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences praising them for providing “increased actor safety, close integration with live action, and improved realism for filmmakers.”

So, what does an Oscar-winning animatronic horse look like? Thankfully, Creature Effects has a YouTube channel. Let’s take a look.

The horse, developed by Mark Rappaport, Scott Oshita, Jeff Cruts, and Todd Minobe, was originally created for the 2003 horseracing film Seabiscuit. In the video above you can see its lifelike eye movements and chewing.

Test footage from the “Luck” horse model shows how convincing the puppet is in race mode. It’s only when the camera pulls back to reveal a metal frame that you realize the creature has been created by humans.

A flipping test from behind the scenes of the movie 300 reveals how the artificial horse integrates with actual equines.

 And finally, in the video above, shot on location during the filming of True Grit, you can see an eye-patched Jeff Bridges enthusiastically waving dual pistols while sitting astride a moving fake-horse rig. Now that’s Oscar-worthy.

Every day we track down a Video Wonder: an audiovisual offering that delights, inspires, and entertains. Have you encountered a video we should feature? Email [email protected].