You might not know it, but Anna is kind of famous.
The junior business and psychology major, whose last name the Campus Times is withholding out of safety concerns, runs the YouTube channel Basilmentos. Since 2009, she has garnered over 190,000 passionate subscribers. Several of her videos have racked up millions of views. One has almost 14 million. Her fans wouldn’t be able to recognize her — she has never revealed her face.
Anna’s videos, while professionally produced and entertaining, are a bit outside the mainstream.
She makes stop-motion videos starring American Girl Dolls.
“It’s fun to have a secret, especially something that big,” Anna told the Campus Times. “And it doesn’t hurt anyone.”
Anna writes the script for each video, sews the costumes for the dolls, assembles royalty-free soundtracks, records the voiceovers for each character (her favorite part), and tediously films the stop-motion action. The dolls’ eyes even blink. According to Anna, it can often take as many as six hours of filming for one minute of finished footage. Many of her episodes are over five minutes long, some even topping 10 minutes.
“I’ll hear my friends complain about taking 10 hours to finish an assignment, and I’m just like, ‘Yeah, well, it took me 16 hours, but I didn’t mind,’” Anna said.
The videos feature a cast of characters Anna refers to as “the sisters.” There are 12: Felicity, Samantha, Nali, Sarah, Eva, Julia, Gabby, Eleanor, Camile, Lucia, Alex, and Addy. Each sister has a unique personality and voice that carries from video to video. Nali likes to gossip and shop, Sarah is sporty, and so on.
Anna tries to use her videos to deliver small lessons to her audience, but not at the expense of the story or production value. She also adopts a clean, friendly persona.
“I know my audience,” she said. “They’re kids. They have parents who care about what they watch.”
Her favorite video is called “Mermaid Cove – an American Girl Stop Motion Film!” It is over 16 minutes long and took an entire summer to put together. Every day for two months, Anna would gather her dolls and set pieces in a bucket and walk down to the beach to film.
Anna started the channel when she was 12 years old. One day she was cleaning her room and noticed her dolls, Felicity and Samantha, gathering dust in her closet. Out of curiosity, Anna searched for American Girl Dolls online and came across a video: a stop-motion clip of dolls dancing together and doing cartwheels. The video, and others like it, blew Anna away. She was inspired. She ran back to that closet, grabbed her dolls, and started filming.
According to Anna, when she started making videos, the most popular American Girl Doll channel had around 2,000 subscribers in 2011. Basilmentos, originally named after Anna’s “Club Penguin” username, was a part of what many YouTubers in the American Girl Doll community refer to as “the Golden Age of AGTube.” The community has grown exponentially since 2009.
“I guess I started to really feel like I had made it once I hit 2,000 subscribers,” Anna said. “It might not seem like a lot, but that’s a lot.”
Because she was only 12 at the time, Anna’s parents made sure her account remained completely anonymous. She was not allowed to show her face, publish her full name, or reveal any specific details about her life. That foresight by her parents is something Anna is grateful for.
The mystery of the true identity of Basilmentos has captivated her fans for years. In a recent upload, Anna takes one of her dolls shopping. The video shows a rare glimpse at Anna, but only from the neck down.
“I was lowkey hoping to see your face,” reads one of the comments on the video.
“There are a few conspiracy theory videos about who I am,” Anna said. “I’ve seen one where they said I was in the Illuminati.”
Some of those conspirators have been less than innocent. Adults have found her Facebook account. So Anna takes her secret seriously.
When going to meet a fan, she wears disguises, ranging anywhere from a simple pair of glasses to full-blown makeup and wig.
“I was actually like Hannah Montana for a while,” Anna said.
She’s not far off with that comparison. Anna described how when her friends would come over to hang out, she would run up to her room and shove all of her dolls, costumes, set pieces, and camera into the closet so they wouldn’t see it all and ask questions.
Anna first revealed her hobby in 2014, to her friend Julia Scott.
“I remember thinking that something was up because earlier that year she had told me she needed to quit theater because she was too busy. And she didn’t have any other extracurricular activities, which I thought was strange,” Scott said. “So when she told me about Basilmentos, it made so much more sense.”
At first glance, her hobby seems strange, but once people see how much effort and talent it takes, they are accepting and often impressed.
“I had one friend that, once I told her, she went, ‘Ew, that’s really creepy.’ And I guess it can seem that way. But two months later she actually helped me make a video.”
As the years have gone on, Anna has become more comfortable with revealing what she does. When filming in public, she understands the weird looks, but encourages people to approach the set and ask questions. Some people are so interested that they go as far as asking to help. Anna recalled a time when she was filming in a hardware store. A young boy came in with his dad. Anna called him over, and the boy helped her film for a few hours while his dad finished shopping.
The “AGTube” community also offered her massive support. According to Anna it is “one of the healthiest, most supportive communities online.”
Her fellow creators have a close-knit relationship. They often get together over vacations and keep in contact with each other via Snapchat and Facebook.
“There’s an interesting YouTube family-friend-group thing we have going on,” she said. “It’s really cool.”
Anna met her best friend, Lydia, thanks to her channel. They first met in 2012, while Anna was on vacation in Vancouver. At the time, Lydia was also making American Girl Doll videos, and the two decided to get together.
“She’s my best friend in the whole world, and I met her because I make videos about dolls.”
Since she’s been in college, her video production has slowed a bit. But she does keep her dolls on campus and has filmed a few videos in her dorm and at nearby Genesee Valley Park.
After almost a decade, Anna doesn’t have any plans to stop making videos.
“As long as I still enjoy it,” she said. “Once it doesn’t excite me anymore, I’ll stop.”