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 Celebrating 40 Spook-tacular years of The Haunted Mansion

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PostSubject: Celebrating 40 Spook-tacular years of The Haunted Mansion   August 13th 2009, 08:18

Old Dark House, New Disney Magic: Re-Imagineering The Haunted Mansion
-- d23.com

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08.09.09 - Very few shows can run for 40 years and still maintain their "must see" status. Hit films could once run for a year or more if they were true blockbusters. A number of TV shows and Broadway musicals have passed the 20-year mark. But so far no entertainment has come close to the 40-year runs enjoyed by classic Disney attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Only their original home, Disneyland itself, has them beat with its 54 happy years of making dreams come true. And one of the reasons these particular shows have endured and flourished is that Disney Imagineers are constantly reinventing them — or re-Imagineering them — to keep them fresh and engaging for an ever-changing audience.

Walt Disney was the first one to add something, change something or tear it down entirely and start over with something new when he felt the audience wanted or deserved more. He was always looking for ways to "plus," or enhance, the Disneyland experience. He engrained that tradition in his team of Imagineers and they have carried it on admirably over the years, especially when it comes to The Haunted Mansion.


.As the Happiest Place on Earth approached its golden anniversary, Imagineers began to brainstorm new ways to polish up the Park's crown jewels in an effort to refresh and revitalize them for Disneyland's next 50 years. The Haunted Mansion was one of the first attractions earmarked for a not-so-extreme makeover.

There was a small, "homemade" pet cemetery (not the official enhancement of the 1990s) started by the local Imagineering team that very few guests actually got to see, thanks to its location near a side entrance to the mansion's foyer. Then there was the noble but ill-fated attempt to add a "living" suit of armor to the Corridor of Doors in 1984, but that proved to be so successful that terrified guests started to strike back and the faux armor wasn't enough to protect the knight inside! And then there was the addition of the hearse and the aforementioned pet cemetery to the attraction's queue. But nothing compared to the new magic Imagineers began to cook up in anticipation of Disneyland's 50th birthday in 2005.

As the Happiest Place on Earth approached its golden anniversary, Imagineers began to brainstorm new ways to polish up the Park's crown jewels in an effort to refresh and revitalize them for Disneyland's next 50 years. The Haunted Mansion was one of the first attractions earmarked for a not-so-extreme makeover. The attraction had enjoyed a resurgence in popularity since the premiere of the seasonal "Haunted Mansion Holiday" enhancement in 2001, and the Imagineers decided they should create something a little more permanent, and in the process reward loyal fans for their patience during the downtime it took to install and strike the holiday show.

The Imagineering team in charge of this "new magic" first turned their attention to Séance Circle, longtime home of the disembodied clairvoyant, Madame Leota. They decided that, impressive and convincing as the original Leota projection effect was, it would be even more magical, more supernatural, if the crystal ball containing Leota's spectral visage actually floated around the room as she recited her plaintive incantations. Imagineers designed an ornate bookstand supporting an ancient spell book to shroud some of the additional technology required to create the illusion. They also added another special effect in which a ghostly face slowly materializes from out of the gloom as Leota calls forth the restless spirits.

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The Disneyland Haunted Mansion enjoyed a resurgence in popularity following the enhancements of 2005 and 2006, making the classic attraction just as popular during the rest of the year as it was during "Haunted Mansion Holiday's" annual run.

The "floating Leota effect," as it came to be known at Walt Disney Imagineering, made its debut in 2005 at Disneyland and two years later during a similar enhancement at Walt Disney World. The new-and-improved projection effect is truly the 21st-century equivalent of the original Leota gag, made even more magical by its seemingly impossible flight through the shadows.

The open spell book contains a couple of hidden details for eagle-eyed Disney fans (or anyone wearing night vision goggles or rudely taking flash pictures!). The scythe-wielding "Death" figure is actually a cloaked version of the skeletal Hitch Hiking Ghost (or the Hatbox Ghost, who shares the same look); the spell itself is the same one actor Dean Jones recites when he inadvertently calls forth Peter Ustinov in the 1967 Walt Disney production, Blackbeard's Ghost: "A spell to bring to your eyes and ears one who is bound in limbo. Kree Kruh Vergo Gebba Kalto Kree." That little piece of black magic is followed by Madame Leota's incantations in their entirety.

As part of the same 2005 enhancement at Disneyland, Imagineers also updated the transforming portraits in the Portrait Corridor with new technology that enabled them to realize the original design team's creative vision of images that would change in perfect time with the lightning flashes outside. With each flickering flash of lighting, the portraits undergo startling transformations: a gallant knight and his steed both become skeletons; the master of the house decays into a ghastly corpse; a proud galleon devolves into a ghost ship; the beautiful Medusa turns into a hideous Gorgon; and a young princess reclining on a couch transforms into a white tiger. During the 2007 enhancement of the Walt Disney World attraction, the original paintings with "moving eyes" in the Portrait Corridor were replaced with four of the transforming portraits from Disneyland.

"Floating Leota" was so well received that Disneyland eagerly enlisted the Imagineers for an encore in 2006, a new show enhancement timed to coincide with the attraction's grand reopening following "Haunted Mansion Holiday's" 2005 run. The Imagineering team ultimately decided to focus on one of the mansion's most recognizable yet mysterious characters, the bride in the attic. An ill-fated bride had been part of almost every creative treatment developed for the attraction, dating back to Imagineer and Disney Legend Ken Anderson's very first 1957 storyline. Perhaps in keeping with the "girl power" attitude of the 21st century, Ken's creative heirs at Imagineering decided to turn the tables on the homicidal groom of the previous back stories and make the bride herself the villain of the piece. Constance, the "Black Widow Bride" as she came to be known at Imagineering, first materialized in 2006 at Disneyland and 2007 at Walt Disney World. The bride's sinister new story deepened the veteran Mansion character by turning her into a gold digging seductress with a taste for the finer things.

Wedding portraits and gifts tell the story of how Constance improved her station through each of her five marriages, culminating in her wedding to one of the mansion's many owners. It is clear that the gifts became grander with each successive wedding, and guests quickly notice that the same beautiful young woman appears in all the portraits — but with a different groom in each one. The bride clearly gained in wealth and social stature with each wedding. She wears the same wedding dress in each portrait, but adds a strand of pearls for each subsequent marriage. Even more disquieting, each husband's head disappears from his body only to reappear seconds later. Then guests encounter a luminous, floating apparition of the bride herself, who has manifested herself in the attic. As she repeats her vows and wedding phrases, a razor-sharp axe materializes in her hands, glinting in the moonlight. The "black widow bride" offers a sinister smile, the axe disappears, and she recites another of her favorite vows in a haunting voice.

Imagineers used a higher-tech version of the classic "Leota Effect" to create Constance, using a state-of-the-art digital projection to depict the black widow. They even continued the tradition of having two different performers play one character: actress Julia Lee physically portrayed the Bride, while veteran voice-over artist Kat Cressida supplied her haunting voice.

The Disneyland Haunted Mansion enjoyed a resurgence in popularity following the enhancements of 2005 and 2006, making the classic attraction just as popular during the rest of the year as it was during "Haunted Mansion Holiday's" annual run. Taking their cue from Disneyland's success, in 2006 Park executives approved an extensive renovation and enhancement for the Magic Kingdom's Haunted Mansion, one that would restore the old manor house's opening day doom and gloom, bring Disneyland's various enhancements to its Walt Disney World sibling, overhaul the ride's entire sound system and see the addition of an entirely new show scene.

The Mansion's new additions were evident to guests almost immediately. Imagineers implemented a state-of-the-art, three-dimensional audio system for the Portrait Chamber to create the illusion that the Ghost Host is gliding around the room as he delivers his infamous narration. When the room begins to stretch, a low rumbling emanates from the floor and the walls begin to moan and groan as guests actually hear and feel the chamber elongating around them for the first time. Once the Ghost Host's grim fate is revealed and the lights go out, guests hear the disquieting fluttering of bats' wings accompany the familiar descending scream, as though the supernatural commotion has disturbed their peaceful slumber. If guests listen closely as they file out of the Portrait Chamber, they can actually hear playful voices urging them to "stay together" and, ultimately, "get out!" The audio adventure continued with the new and improved audio playback systems installed in each and every Doom Buggy, making the Ghost Host's haunting words more crisp and clear than ever before.

In addition to the aforementioned transforming portraits, which had never found a home in the Walt Disney World Haunted Mansion, and the new Floating Leota and Black Widow Bride scenes, the most dramatic addition was a brand-new show scene that would be exclusive to Walt Disney World, at least for the time being. The enhancement finally gave the Imagineers an opportunity to realize a longstanding dream: replace the former Grand Staircase's pitch blackness and two less-than-convincing rubber spiders with a more compelling show scene. The design team considered everything from animated statues to digitally projected "virtual rooms" before settling on an "Endless Staircase." The Imagineers felt strongly that the new scene should be "architectural" in nature, and staircases running every which way were partially inspired by some of Ken Anderson's original concept sketches as well as one of his primary design influences, the Winchester Mystery House.

In the new scene, a ghastly gargoyle crouched on the banister of the Grand Staircase leers down at the guests as they depart the music room. The Doom Buggies then ascend a nightmarish "endless" staircase. To the left and right of the main staircase, additional flights of stairs float illogically in mid-air, right side up and upside down, leading this way and that, to and from nowhere, illuminated only by flickering candelabra. Even more disquieting, glowing green footsteps can be seen strolling up and down the stairs! The unseen spirits blow out the candles in the candelabra, which then mysteriously relight themselves.

Guests then proceed down a short, gloomy corridor in which glowing, bestial eyes stare at them from the darkness. The eyes begin to blink and study guests as the Doom Buggies pass by, revealing themselves to be part of the mansion's signature wallpaper pattern.

The 2007 enhancements proved to be just as popular at Walt Disney World as they were at Disneyland, refreshing The Haunted Mansion for decades to come and renewing its iconic status as one of the Magic Kingdom's crown jewels. Only Madame Leota knows whether the Endless Staircase — or other new show scenes entirely — will materialize in other Haunted Mansions around the world, or new characters yet to be envisioned might come out to socialize, but one thing is certain: to paraphrase Walt Disney himself, The Haunted Mansion will never be completed as long as there are Imagineers left in the world.

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PostSubject: Re: Celebrating 40 Spook-tacular years of The Haunted Mansion   April 12th 2010, 07:21

Which exterior to the Haunted Mansion do you like better? This one or the WDW?

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PostSubject: Re: Celebrating 40 Spook-tacular years of The Haunted Mansion   April 15th 2010, 05:20

definitey wdw's. i think it best screams "disney" ..dl's take on the haunted mansion is too serious. =\

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PostSubject: Re: Celebrating 40 Spook-tacular years of The Haunted Mansion   April 18th 2010, 00:26

But DL's fits in it's Land very well, it's in New Orleans Square in DL, so you can see the design of the building reflects that.

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