Saturday, March 27, 2010

Basil of Baker Street, Part 3

My wife and I made hurried plans for a trip to London to gather reference for the film.We contacted Eva Redfern who managed the Disney Studio in our London branch and she worked tirelessly to set up the things we requested. Paramount to our quest for reference was a trip inside Big Ben itself. Security was and probably still is very tight around Big Ben as it is not only a famous London landmark but is considered part of the Palace of Westminister. We took our video equipment up those steps into the bell chamber. In those days, video equipment was heavy and in multiple pieces (camera and recording deck). After trudging up never ending sets of stairs, we found ourselves literally standing behind the huge face of Big Ben's milky white glass face. 

A reference shot I took just behind the
huge white clock faces of Big Ben
When the unseen bells were struck by the hammers above us, the tower actually vibrated with the sound. After that treat we then crawled up and lifted a sort of trap door with a pillow on top and found ourselves face to face within the bell chamber including the big one, BIG BEN. While being up in the bell chamber, we only had about 10 minutes to snap pictures and run video before the bells would chime on the quarter hour. Being close to noon, we knew we were in for some real ear splitting harmony and the ear muffs were very welcome. We spent the afternoon going inside, outside and around the structure until we were sure we had plenty of reference material of the tower for my needs as well as the crew back home.

One of the hundreds of photos
I took laying on the ground to
get a "mouse's point of view"
We must have been quite a sight to the British as I was perpetually lying down on the ground trying to get Basil's 6 inch high POV of London with my Nikon lens. We performed the same antics in front of Buckingham Palace,Tower Bridge and everywhere else that our brave intrepid little mouse might travel. Patty and I spent a late night in the East End of London because at that time it was filled with dilapidated buidings bordering the waterfront dating back to the Victorian age and beyond which was perfect for the Ratigan section. When the tube stopped off in Whitechapel, Patty and I were the only ones to step off into a deserted station. During our quest we also crossed the footsteps of Jack the Ripper while taking our photos. We became uneasy as we realized that we were alone in a deadend rundown section of cobblestone. The cabs didn't come to this part of town so we starting walking to the nearest tube which wasn't as close as we were hoping. As our imaginations kicked in, our pace got quicker until we eventually found ourselves safe and warm in our B&B back in Kensington Gardens. We hit Toystores while in London and brought back a collection of wind up tin toys and Victorian styled dolls that would make your hair stand on end. I made a corner of my room at Disney into a sort of turn of the century toyshop complete with fake iron window mullions made of balsa and cardboard.

A rough pastel concept for Basil's domicile
We also searched for the home of London's most famous detective. Although the 221 B Baker Street address of Sherlock Holmes didn't exist when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the adventure, we were able to find the Shelock Holmes Museum which is situated in a 1815 house similar to the one described in the stories. We also spent the afternoon in the Sherlock Holmes Pub which featured an extremely detailed replica of Mr. Holmes' apartment along with his collection of oddities. Don Griffith and Vance Gerry had both tipped me off about this place and I was glad they did. 

The basic structure for Basil's flat came from underneath my house. I crawled under my bathroom to take shot photos of the plumbing and wood/concrete construction. The sewer pipe was a wonderful device to set into the ceiling for proportion. Items like that gave it the identity of an area UNDERNEATH another living quarters and not just a miniature Holmes flat. I kept the large nails and wood grain which enhanced the scale and turned a piece of short pipe into a framed window. 

After sketching out the layout of Basil's flat I built a fairly detailed model of it that could be viewed from all directions. I even sculpted small posable figures of Basil and Dawson to scale to place into the set. This technique of building small set models had been done at the Disney Studio since before Snow White as an aid to directors, layout, BG artists and animators in visualizing scene settings. 

Ken Anderson had built a mill model for Walt Disney's classic 1937 Silly Symphonies, "The Old Mill ,"with detailed movable parts before production on that Academy Award winning short for those reasons. It was invaluable to many departments especially layout and story in planning unique angles and lighting patterns. With Walt's encouragement he went on to build a model set of Snow White's cottage for the next film also with great visual results.


  1. Amazing you actually got to go inside Big Ben like that. It would be quite a treat to see your footage.

  2. It wasn't easy setting it up, not exactly on the tourist itinerary. I will have to transfer the video to quicktime but I will try to post it along with some of the pictures we took behind the face and inside the bell chamber sometime.

  3. As I sat watching Basil and all our friends last night I couldn't help but feel I was right there in the clock fearing for Olivia's safety as Basil swoops to her rescue at the last moment. As the camera peers over the side I felt like I was standing on the ledge. Clearly yours and Patty's amazing adventure paid off as it shows in the details of the film. I would LOVE to see photos and/or video footage although I feel I already have in animated form. Would also love to see photos of the collection of toys you brought back. Thanks for going the extra mile to give us a great film!

  4. Hi P, glad you enjoyed our film.

    I do have a good idea where those Bog Ben photos and video we shot are but just have to find some time to dig them out. When I do, I will definitely post them on here for you and Daniel and others that have asked me for them.

  5. As I like Sherlock Holmes and Victorian era, "Basil" is one of my most beloved movie. I watch it at least once a year.
    I definitively would like to see the inside of Big Ben videos and photos. And I just love that model of Basil's home !

  6. Hi, as a fan of Sherlock Holmes and Victorian era, "Basil" is one of my most beloved movie that I watch at least once a year.
    I hope you will be able to put those pics and videos of Big Ben. And that Basil's flat model is just awesome !

    1. Thank you LeDidole. It's always a treat to meet a fellow fan of not only the Victorian era but of the master detective himself. I am slowly gathering photos of the models I built for the feature, Big Ben, toyshop, Basil's flat etc along with pics and video we shot for reference in London to post at a future Basil get together. When I do, I'll definitely let you know.