Director Steven Spielberg stated that the only digital effects used in the movie were three shots that lasted three seconds, and it was done to ensure the safety of the horse involved. Spielberg was quoted as saying, "That's the thing I'm most proud of. Everything you see on screen really happened."
Author Michael Morpurgo's original 1982 book "War Horse" evolved from chance meetings with three surviving WWI soldiers in Iddesleigh, Devon, Morpurgo's English hometown. After a number of meetings with the former members of the Devon yeomanry, and consultations with the Imperial War Museums (IWM), Morpurgo was able to write a story based on the experiences of the veterans and their poignant accounts of, not just human slaughter on the battlefield, but also the wholesale carnage and starvation of horses.
This film, directed by Steven Spielberg, was released in the same year as another of his movie, The Adventures of Tintin (2011) and both were Oscar nominated. However, the film represents another double Spielberg losing year at the Oscars. This movie received six Academy Award nominations including Best Picture whilst The Adventures of Tintin (2011) got one nomination. Both films failed to win an Oscar. In 2006, Spielberg also had two movies Oscar nominated, Munich (2005) and War of the Worlds (2005). Both those two films also failed to win an Oscar that year. Spielberg had a double Oscar winning year in 1994 with Schindler's List (1993) (won seven Oscars) and Jurassic Park (1993) (won three Oscars).
The film is based on both a children's novel of the same name set during World War I, by Michael Morpurgo, first published in the United Kingdom in 1982, and the 2007 stage adaptation, also of the same name.
The scene in which the horses drag German artillery through the woods is filmed in Bourne Woods, Farnham, Surrey, England, UK. That is the same place as where the opening battle scene of Gladiator (2000) was shot.
After this became Steven Spielberg and Michael Kahn's first film together edited digitally, the two swore off digital editing once again in favor of analog flatbed editing, stating that digital editing rushed their creative process too much.
Finder's two famous roles, Seabiscuit and Joey, were very similar. Both were remarkable mainly in their bravery and determination to overcome insurmountable odds they never should have been able to, considering what kind of horse they were.
Emily Watson also starred in the similarly named The Water Horse (2007). In both films, she played the mother of the title animal's owner during a World War, the First World War in War Horse (2011) and the Second World War in "The Water Horse."
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
Tom Hiddleston recalled director Steven Spielberg giving him "the most amazing" director's note for his death scene. "Spielberg told Hiddleston, "Give me your war face, and the camera's going to move across, and as you feel it come up in front of you, I want you to de-age yourself by twenty years. So you're 29, and when you see those machine guns, you're 9 years old. I want to see the child in you." Hiddleston said, "I just thought that was one of the most astonishing acting notes I'd ever been given."