Please forgive the length of this first question of mine, which has a few parts, but I think you'll find it interesting and challenging! And thank you for taking the time to look through this and consider answering it!
What sort of research did you and your production team do concerning 1925 Nome, especially in its appearance and form, versus modern Nome? The animated version of Nome shows elements of both modern-day Nome and historical Nome (of the 1920s)...and even earlier. I've been to Nome back in 2008, so I'd like to hear some thoughts about how you and your team (the production designer, etc.) worked out creating the Nome we see in the movie:
- Balto's boat...was the inspiration for that the Helen W, an old tug which sits behind several buildings just south of town on the Council Road? The structural similarities suggest that you guys saw it and decided to include it as a story location (note this picture of the Helen W, and then Balto's boat from the movie...unfortunately, the best comparative angle I could get of the animated version was the one seen here, but the structural similarities are obvious):
- the gold dredge...pictures of gold dredges from the 1910s and 1920s vary from the type of gold dredge shown in the movie (picture #1, below). My thought is that the gold dredge we're seeing is based upon the Swanberg dredge, one of the last standing dredges from the early to mid twentieth century (which was not built until 21 years after the events of the real serum run - second picture below). Was that the dredge you guys used as inspiration, rather than looking into historic dredges of the early 20th century (an example is the third pic below)?
- Balto himself...In the movie, we see a brown & gray wolf dog (first pic below). But history shows that the real Balto was a (mostly) black & white Siberian Husky (with no wolf in him...second pic below). And that he was neutered at six months of age. Why the substantial changes in the character?
- Nome itself...when your team was designing the look of Nome, did it rely upon historical images (as seen in the photos below, or did you just generally go for a cookie-cutter frontier-style town?
Here is Simon's reply:
"Wow - you have done your research! Holy cow! We should have had you on the film...
Regrettably, I've never actually been to Nome (and I don't think any of the team had.) It should also be borne in mind (in our defense) that we made Balto in London back in 1993 and 1994, which was very early days for the internet, so research was not as stunningly easy to do as it is now. There was no Google Image Search - there was no Google at all. And precious few websites, almost none of them hosting pictures - and anyway it took forever to download a photograph in those days. (This sounds like we were making the film in the nineteenth century! Actually, we kind of were: all the animation was drawn on paper and most of the backgrounds were not only physically painted, but actually painted in oils.)
As I recall we had a lot of contemporary newspaper articles, and several books of historical photos to glean the appearance of 1925 Nome from. We did our best to be as authentic as possible. Clearly we didn't do as thorough a job as we should have done. Oh, well.
The Helen W looks very familiar. I can't recall if we had pictures of it, but I'm guessing we must have done, since the structural similarities are striking.
The Gold Dredge - yeah: busted. We knew that there were gold dredges in existence at the time of the serum run, but couldn't find any photos (again: no Google.) We guessed that the general design probably hadn't changed that much, and based our dredge on the pictures that we could get. In fairness, they're not THAT different... but okay. You caught us.
Balto himself: Yes, the real Balto was a regular working dog with no mixed ancestry. Nor was he the town outcast. He was part of a working kennel, although not the 'A' team. As you probably already know, after the events of 1925 he was bought and taken on a tour of America, paraded as the Dog the Saved Nome, Alaska. He ended up stuffed in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. I'm afraid I haven't visited that, either.
The design of Nome: We made a very conscious effort to try to represent Nome as faithfully as we could from the historical photos that we had, and some of the buildings are recognizable - for instance the Hospital. A certain amount of license was taken with things like the Hospital interior layout, to suit the requirements of the story. Bear in mind that we were setting out to create a piece of entertainment, rather than a historical document, so there is a lot we simply made up for the purposes of telling the story. But we did try to give the town the character of Nome as we perceived it, rather than making it a 'cookie-cutter frontier town.' The pictures you posted are familiar, and I think that church is actually visible in the movie. Not sure... it's a long time since I have watched it!"