Imagineering on the WDW Haunted Mansion updates
Death Becomes Them
Like its counterpart in Anaheim, the Haunted Mansion at the Walt Disney World Resort's Magic Kingdom will be getting some new magic when it re-opens in September, after its current refurbishment is completed. But make no mistake, warns a team of spirited Imagineers, this is no typical touch-up-the-paint-and-remove-(okay, add)-the-cobwebs project.
"To call this a refurbishment doesn't even come close," says WDI senior principal production designer Neil Engel. "We're taking a classic attraction and using new technologies to present the existing, signature show in a more exciting and immersive way — which has us just as jazzed as the guests will be!"
The Haunted Mansion Imagineering team is hard at work in both California and Florida, getting ready to add new magic to several key scenes, including the attic scene (complete with the now-infamous bride whose husbands always seem to get the ax … ) and the séance scene. They're also adding a completely new story to a previously
dead space and upgrading the attraction's audio, lighting and special effects systems.
"With a project like this, it's so exciting knowing that you are going into and touching a classic attraction," says Kathy Rogers, senior show producer, director. "And in the end, the show winds up even better than it already was; we know it will remain a classic."
It's All in the Details
A portion of this refurbishment involves re-propping a few key scenes, such as the attic. But locating items that clearly and quickly tell the story of the perfect murder(s), as well as pieces to complement a mid-19th century Southern motif, isn't as simple as heading to the closest Ikea.
"The challenge has really been finding the right prop and period dressing that tells the story you want to tell," says Steve Probus, set decorator, principal. "We're looking for mid- to late-1800s furniture, books, drapery and a multitude of props and dressing that convey information about each of the couples that have inhabited the mansion. In addition, we want to add an extra layer of props for more depth in the scenes."
One Step Beyond
The other components that will give new life (of sorts) to these scenes are a few key special effects that will be updated during the refurbishment. Both the floating Madame Leota head and the Haunted Bride, two characters whose latest technological incarnations debuted at Disneyland, have been upgraded even further for their reappearance in the Magic Kingdom.
"The Haunted Bride special effects are an improved version of what we installed a few years earlier in Disneyland," says Ken Horii, digital media production supervisor, director. "R&D had done a great job with that last bride, making her look like a lifelike-looking ghost, as much as that is possible, anyway! And so this time, we wanted to take it one step further."
Stairway to … ?
If all of that isn't enough to raise the dead in eager anticipation of the Haunted Mansion's resurrection, Imagineers are also installing an entirely new scene into a previously uninhabited space … and taking that space in a few new directions.
"I think I'm most excited to see the staircase scene when it's finished," says Eric Jacobson, senior vice president, Creative. "We haven't seen it before and it adds something completely new to the ride, in a space where there wasn't really anything before. But there is just so much to this refresh — it really is the sum of the parts. The whole ride will be enhanced and end up better than before."
As part of Imagineering's commitment to enhancing classic attractions around the world, the new magic that this team is spreading to the Haunted Mansion is sure to be something Magic Kingdom guests will be dying to see.