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An equestrian artist from Gloucestershire has landed the job of a lifetime after her work caught the eye of legendary film director Steven Spielberg.

Ali Bannister’s sketches so impressed the Hollywood director that he asked her to
be the equine artistic adviser on the film adaptation of War Horse.

Miss Bannister’s drawings will also feature in the film, which is based on Michael Morpugo’s novel set during World War I.

The film, which is already being tipped for Oscar glory, will be in British cinemas in January.

The portrait artist, who counts Frankie Dettori and Ringo Starr among her clients, worked on the film for four months, ensuring continuity in the markings of the many horses used in it.

Miss Bannister, who was responsible for how the horses had their “hair and make-up” done, told H&H: “It was such a privilege to see the film all the way through and to work with Steven Spielberg and such incredibly talented people.”

She joined the film crew after a friend put her in touch with one of the producers.

“She liked my sketches and when we started talking about horses and the way they express themselves, she asked me if I could come up with some ideas for hair and make-up for the horses,” explained Miss Bannister.

“It was hands-on and incredibly hard work,” she said. “The continuity was so difficult, getting markings exactly the same in all the different scenes, the length and thickness of tails and what side the manes were lying on.”

Although Miss Bannister studies horses intensely for a living, she said the film helped her notice new details about them.

“Looking so specifically at markings gave me an acute awareness of things I’d never noticed, such as the angle at which socks and stockings sit.”

But despite loving the experience — and “squealing with excitement” when she saw her sketches had made it into the film — Miss Bannister said art remains her first love.

“With film work you can spend hours and hours working on something that is only briefly glimpsed in the background, plus I miss the one-to-one relationship I have with portraiture.

“There’s also a trade-off between authenticity versus accuracy, which, as an artist, is difficult to accept. In World War I the horses would have had hogged manes and docked tails, but in the film they are left natural as it’s more aesthetically pleasing. For me that’s hard as I want everything to be perfect and true to life.”

For more on the artist, visit www.alibannister.com.

See Miss Bannister’s sketches in the War Horse trailer — www.horseandhound.co.uk/warhorse

This news story was first published in the current issue of Horse & Hound (14 July, 2011)