In a break from shooting, Wyndham takes time out in the Basic Comic parking lot to observe the hero-scale ‘Difference Engine’ as its fire spitting gyro is ignited by pyrotechnics dept. head, Brian Brushwood. This was by far the largest whole Difference Engine built for the strip, though there were several others, mostly for distance shots, that measured as little as 4 inches. These smaller models were largely scratch built from model battleships and Zoid parts.
Here is probably the only photo in existence of the BASIC video game (this picture was taken for the Sears Christmas Catalog in 1984 but was never printed). Given the runaway success of the comic, Atari approached us wishing to get a video game out in time for the holidays. Sadly the game was rushed and only featured two small elements from the early part of the story: the rocket powered boat trip and the lobster robot attack (as seen on the cover). The program was believed to have been completed but was never released due to several unfortunate factors: 1) The video game crash was well underway and any game, even a license, was going to be a hard sell, especially on the ageing 2600 platform. 2) It was felt that the title ‘BASIC’ would confuse purchasers as a BASIC language cartridge was already available. 3) The strip that was used (part 17) featured the word ‘Arse’.
A miniature ocean
Sometimes the best approach is a practical one. For instance, when a sequence required an undersea metallic monster, it just made sense to shoot underwater. The enormous ‘squid-robots’ were realised as two and a half foot models, with tentacles animated by a mechanism similar to the old grabbing-hand toy. These were lit with fiber-optics and immersed into a tank of slightly blue-tinted water. This gave the impression of depth and scale that the shot demanded. You’ll notice that only one of these models is really movable (the other g-clamped onto the tank edge and operated with a modified camera shutter-release). There was a longer sequence planned with the foreground squid-robot that necessitated an extra degree of motion, however this was cut due to budget and time constraints.
The art of the matte painter
For many of the fantastic vistas employed in BASIC, it often falls to the team of talented artists in the matte department to make the impossible believable. Here, matte artist Don Amott puts the finishing touches on the ‘Shark/Motorcycle tower’ scene. In this scene, our heroes emerge in their amphibious vehicle to be confronted by this colossal and surprising structure. The actors were filmed in a pool used to train lifeboat crew, with simulated wind and waves. This live action ‘plate’ will then be inserted into the painting you see here to produce the finished ‘composite’ comic panel. Painting on glass with oils, the matte artists job is to match the colours of the plate exactly so that the viewer does not question what they see. It takes a keen eye and many years of practice to attain the level of photo-realism that the job demands. Don here is an old hand, with over 20 years of experience working on projects as varied as the Snoopy ‘Red Baron’ sequence and the famous’ Hulk holding a mountain’ panel from Marvel’s ‘Secret Wars’.
Early BASIC costume test
Here is probably the only photo in existence of the early prototype BASIC robot suit. Early on in production, it was felt that BASIC could be portrayed by an actor in costume and this test version was quickly produced by the FX team. However, movement was restrictive and all too human. Also, lower arm movement had to be performed by a puppeteer wearing a blue full-body outfit (so as to ‘disappear’ against the blue-screen). The final BASIC robot was instead realised in many different ways, from stop motion to animatronics, depending on the required shot.
The keen viewer will also have spotted the actress who was to play Miriam. She had just been cast and had been called in to practise a few early scenes with the robot.