Spoiler Alert: this may contain a few spoilers so… you might want to watch the film first.
The Lone Ranger film has now reached TV (at least here in the UK) so I’m re-issuing this . (And the DVD is out). This film has some tremendous horse stunts – some of which were filmed for real (a refreshing break from the CGI). Yet the American Humane Association has given it the all-clear, issuing its famous “No animals were harmed” in the making of this film. So how did they do it?
The American Humane Association often posts film reviews which give some of the answers to this question. (They’ve got a great website). So this is what I found out:
For a start, as a matter of course, the horses used included specially trained “falling horses” and “lay down horses” that fell on cue and when they did that, their landing area was specially prepared to be soft.
Here’s how ten of the best horse stunts were filmed:
- In the scene where the Lone Ranger’s horse, Silver, picks up a bottle with his mouth and appears to drink beer out of it, horse trainers placed a rubber beer bottle into the horse’s mouth and then pulled gently on his rein to make it look as if he’s drinking it.
- The dead horse lying on top of a Texas Ranger was fake.
- In the scene where the Indians ride round the barn, shooting their guns in the air, the area was cordoned off by production with fencing. Only quarter load blanks were used (these are very light). After the action, wranglers came in to calm the horses down.
- Where Silver jumps from high up out of a burning barn and runs off in the distance, production achieved this image by capturing the horse jumping from a small height with different camera angles. The film crew used wands, each of which was on fire, at seven points to make it looks as if the fire was surrounding the barn. They placed a smoke pot in front of a strong wind machine. The horse actually jumped from a small platform onto mats and soft footing.
- OK, this one did use a tiny bit of CGI: In the scene where Silver licks off the scorpions from Tonto and Lone Ranger’s faces, two fake heads were placed in the sand, and covered with treats. The horse bent down to eat the treats from the fake heads – the scorpions were added into the film later by CGI.
- In the same scene, the Lone Ranger and Tonto are buried up to their necks and Silver pulls Tonto out of the ground by having him bite onto the reins while Silver backs up, pulling him out. This scene was accomplished by having the two actors buried in a special box with their heads sticking out. Trainers had the horse bend his head down, whereupon the actor bites onto the rein. The horse then backed up, so it looks like he’s pulling the actor out of the ground.
- In a scene where a stable explodes and the horses escape from the explosion, trainers built fence posts outside the corral to keep them in place as they run from the stable. The crew placed mortars under the ground which set off small explosions of dust – but the mortars were never near the horses. The explosions in fact took place after the horses were cleared from the set.
- In the scene where the Lone Ranger rides Silver across the rooftops, the crew had constructed a set made to look like the flat roofs of town buildings. There was a ramp for the horse at each end. A stuntman rode the horse from point A to point B, jumping over small barriers along the way.
- In one of the most exciting scenes, where the Lone Ranger rides his horse on the train jumping from car to car, the production crew had built a set that looked like the top of a train. The trainer rode the horse up a ramp to the set, and rode on the set, jumping on a blue screen placed between the two carriages. The horse was never actually galloping on a moving train.
- In the scene where the man pushes the woman off the train and she lands on the horse facing the Lone Ranger, riding face to face, the production team filmed the actors facing each other on the horse riding at a relatively slow pace, then the film was speeded up.