101 Dalmatians: The Sets

Buy this video from Reel.com

Books from Amazon.com:
Buy The Book.

Buy The Making of the Film.

Music from Amazon.com:
Buy The Soundtrack.

Buy The Sing Along.

Designing the sets for "101 Dalmatians" provided production designer Assheton Gorton with his biggest challenge to date. Occupying seven of Shepperton Studios' largest stages, the task of building the enormous and elaborate sets took an army of over 120 skilled technicians, including plasterers, painters and carpenters.

With one or two exceptions, practically all filming took place on these sound stages which included the dilapidated De Vil mansion, Roger and Anita's town house and the snow covered barn set.

"Initially," explains Gorton, "everyone saw the film as being mainly on location, but my feeling was that we should build it all. There were too many variables to shoot on location. Not only would it be difficult to get the synergy between the different interiors and exteriors, but you have to remember that we were planning a lot of night shoots through an English winter. So we had to think about the animals as well as the logistics of it all."

As discussion got under way, it became clear that the only way to proceed was to build everything from scratch. As executive producer Edward S. Feldman concurs: "The main problem was taking the puppies out at night. Puppies don't care whether the crew are working nights, when they think it's time they sleep. And from a practical point of view we weren't going to be able to take hundreds of puppies into the center of London. We had to build. We always felt that the cost was justified by the need to protect the puppies."

Once the decision to build at Shepperton was taken, Gorton began work on his designs. At first, he admits, he deliberately avoided watching the original animated feature. "I knew it would influence me. If you see something good you want to copy it, so it's a no win situation."

Having finished his initial designs, Gorton felt safe to watch the original film and discovered that there were similarities including "making Cruella Gothic."

"I decided that Cruella had an Elizabethan medieval house which she'd let go to ruin; this is where the puppies are kept. In contrast I made Roger and Anita's home romantic and mid Victorian."

Equally impressive as the mansion set with its labyrinth of rooms, floors and towering and rambling frontage, is the barn.

"I wanted to make it look like an old barn that had once belonged to the estate. It's inspiration was the barns I grew up with in North England. I started with an octagonal barn which is the arena where all the animals gather to discuss what to do with Cruella. The barn was actually more difficult to design than the mansion because it's where Cruella gets her comeuppance. She flies through windows, gets kicked through doors, falls through floors, it's all extremely complex."

However, it wasn't just the look of the production which occupied a great deal of Gorton's time, nor ensuring all sets met the demands made on them by the director and camera crew. It was the animals.

Gorton spent many hours going over designs with Gary Gero to ensure that everything catered to the needs of the different animals whether it be fencing for rabbits or steps for puppies.

"The puppies and animals did present challenges, but that makes a job more interesting. I had to ensure that the risers on the steps are right for them to go up and down safely and that they wouldn't get their heads stuck through the balustrades. We used a lot of fake snow which needed disinfecting to protect the puppies and at one time we had a warehouse full of leaves that had also been through the same process," Gorton explains.

It isn't just the practical side of production design which remains one of Gorton's strengths. He had the daunting task of ensuring that the film retained the magic of the original animated feature, a look which can only mean Disney.

As John Hughes says, "When I first toured the sets with Assheton Gorton, I knew that this is what an animated Disney film should be like. We've taken Walt's artists' interpretation of the real world and re-interpreted it, getting somewhere back between the reality and what the animated picture was based on and the reality of a live-action picture. This can't just look like another picture because it's not. It's a Walt Disney Picture, it has a signature and attention to detail just like all Disney movies.

Back to "101 Dalmatians"

Look for Search Tips

Copyright 1994-2008 Film Scouts LLC
Created, produced, and published by Film Scouts LLC
Film Scouts® is a registered trademark of Film Scouts LLC
All rights reserved.

Suggestions? Comments? Fill out our Feedback Form.