Things You're Just Supposed to Know

Most of the time, Long-Forgotten assumes that its readers are already familiar with basic facts
about the Haunted Mansion. If you wanna keep up with the big boys, I suggest you check out
first of all the website, Doombuggies.com. After that, the best place to go is Jason Surrell's book,
The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (NY: Disney Editions, 2003; 2nd ed. 2009).

This site is not affiliated in any way with any Walt Disney company. It is an independent
fan site dedicated to critical examination and historical review of the Haunted Mansions.
All images that are © Disney are posted under commonly understood guidelines of Fair Use.

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Beware of These Hitchhiking Ghosts

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Let's look at the other major addition to the WDW Mansion: The new Hitchhiking Ghosts.  Carsillo's team spruced up the classic threesome we encounter as we enter the crypt, and they changed the mirror effect.  No longer is there a solitary hitchhiker sitting beside us.  Now, thanks to some fancy high-tech equipment, we have computer generated hitchhikers frolicking about and pulling pranks on us, like switching faces around, blowing our heads up like a balloon, falling off the top of our doombuggy, etc.


As with Pepe Le Queue, there are some good things here, along with a whole lotta bad.  Let's start off with the good things.


Lonesome Ghosts

This time, the concept actually makes sense.  After the ghosts have materialized, and you have discovered to your relief that they are not hostile, you start to wonder if they take notice of you at all.  None of them seem to pay any attention to your presence, with the exception of the pop-ups, who seem to get a kick out of scaring you.  Eventually, near the end, the Ghost Host informs you that they have indeed taken particular notice of you; in fact, they have selected you and will follow you home, haunting you until you return.  The new mirror gag cements that message by showing the ghosts teasing you and pulling good-natured pranks.  Well what do you know, they like us, they actually like us.

One of the cinematic influences on the HM, mentioned briefly at the end of an earlier post, was the 1937 short, Lonesome Ghosts, a Mickey Mouse vehicle (with Donald and Goofy) featuring a haunted house full of silly spooks who like nothing better than scaring visitors.  They pretend to terrorize.  It's all in good fun.  Ken Anderson, you will recall, was actually going to use a ghost host with the name, "Lonesome Ghost" in his early walk-thru designs for the Disneyland Haunted House.  But pranky spirits who could actually play tricks on you were beyond the reach of 1960's technology.  You just couldn't do something like this:


Trying to bring a little of this into the Haunted Mansion was a bold step and not necessarily a bad idea.  A kind of Lonesome Ghosts atmosphere is clearly what the Carsillo team is going for with these new mirror HHG's, and I'll grant to them that it's done at the right place in the ride for it.


The Three

Another good thing is the spruce-up job on the audio-animatronic hitchhikers in the classic tableau.  The figures themselves have been redone tastefully and look very good, although I wish they had gone back to the original, bald Ezra, and I think Gus's bindle is ridiculous.  He's not a hobo; he's an escaped con with a ball-and-chain.  But everyone tells me I'm being too picky about that, so I'll let it go.

(pic by Joe Penniston)

You can compare those with the originals:


One reason the new figures look good is that the Carsillo team meticulously reproduced the original Blaine Gibson heads
and simply added more detail.  They talk about this in their promotional video.  First class craftsmanship on display here.



How about Ezra in 3D?


I wish I could end it here, but alas, there is much that is wrong with these new additions.


Is that supposed to be Ezra?

The first problem is that the CG Ezra doesn't look like Ezra.  This is absolutely baffling.  How could they so carefully and lovingly reproduce the original figure in the AA, and then get the CG character so horribly wrong?  I'm mystified.

While they were working on the new figures, they covered the tableau with a black screen and projected CG figures onto it, a stop-gap until the new ones were ready.  When they first appeared, folks were a little alarmed, since everyone seemed to agree that these cartoons looked pretty dorky.  Especially Ezra.  But word quickly got out that these were just temporary substitutes until the real thing was ready.  So chill.

(pic by Jeff Fillmore)

Fans should have stayed alarmed.  Unbelievably, the new CG hitchhikers in the mirrors seem to be cut from the same cloth as these ugly things.


I say unbelievably, because they did such a careful job of maintaining the authentic look of the
originals when they re-did the AA figures.  What were they thinking?  Do these look the same to you?


Never mind the head; look at the hands.  Great Caesar's Ghost, how simple is this?  Blaine Gibson gave the hitchhikers BIG hands, with BIG thumbs, in order to immediately slam their hitchhikerliness in your face, as I've said elsewhere.  Okay, now ask any animator whether hands are important in conveying character.  What, are you stupid?  They're extremely important.  I mean, Duh.

Ezra is a tall, gangly, loping figure with big hands.  At Disneyland, the hitchhikers on the ghosty-go-round behind the mirrors have no hands, but at WDW and at Tokyo they do.  The guys who made those figures took a number of liberties of their own in reproducing the trio, it is true, but one thing they got right is the hands.  I think they just used the same molds.

(pic by PhotoMatt)

In contrast, the CG Ezra has delicate, small, skeletal hands.  Check out the first photo at the top of the page.  And besides that, he flutters around like a nimble ballerina.  Huh?  Guys, he's a giraffe, not a butterfly.  This is sheer incompetence.  Whatever else they do, the Carsillo team needs to call their computer animators back to their terminals post haste and thoroughly re-do the Ezra figure.  This is just embarrassing.


High Tech and Low Tech

Reports about the appearance of the HHG's in the mirror vary wildly.  Many say that they look convincingly three-dimensional and the effects work well.  Others have experienced poor performances from these high tech wonders and complain that the ghosts look flat.  I'll leave that issue aside, since I have no solid basis for forming an opinion.  I will comment on one complaint I've read several times, however:  When you look sideways in the mirrors at the ghosts in the buggies on either side of yours, and even further down the line (and who doesn't do that?), they do indeed look flat.  You can see it in photos.


If you're expecting another furious blast, or at least some snark, sorry to disappoint you.  I can't get worked up about this defect, for two reasons.  First, I can think of a way to fix this problem for about $100.  Seriously.  I won't say anything about it, because if I do, and the same idea occurs to someone at WDI (which is entirely possible), they won't be able to use it for fear I'll sue them for stealing my idea.  That's how it is these days.  It's sad, but such is our litigious society, ladies and gentlemen.  Second, yeah, it's true, they don't look too good at an angle like that, but guess what?  They never have.  Oh, certainly, the old types look fully three-dimensional (being as they are three-dimensional), but they look bad in another way that we have all gotten so used to that we don't even notice it any more.

Pardon, your slip is showing.

There is something else about the new mirror HHG's that worries me, though.  They represent eye-popping, cutting edge high tech—today.  So tell me, how many years do you suppose it will take before you can download a set of programs, buy a couple of pieces at Fry's, and achieve the same sort of effects at home?  Four years?  Six, maybe?  The Imagineers have committed themselves now.  When the razzle loses its dazzle, what kind of antics will the mirror ghosts have to display in order to stay ahead of the curve?  And does anyone believe that thematic consistency and good taste will survive this process?  Hah.  Those will be the first things thrown under the bus.

"Well, that may be true, but let's face it: the old effect needed to be upgraded.  Sure, it
wowed people when it was new, but that was in 1969.  Today it looks old-fashioned."

I've heard that one more than once.  What absolute rubbish.  The original mirror effect wasn't anything close to high tech in 1969.  It was low tech.  It was like Pepper's Ghost and changing portraits and all those other 19th century (and older) magic tricks.  There is nothing about it and its mechanics that would have puzzled a stage magician from the 1890's.  Criminy, this thing could have been built in the 1890's.  The hitchhikers on the ghosty-go-round are nothing more than rod puppets.  They aren't even electric.  Two-way mirrors are nothing but regular mirrors that have been partially silvered instead of fully silvered.  Old as the hills.  Tracks.  Wheels.  Connecting rods.  A couple of simple electric motors and some basic lighting and you're there.



Despite the whole Lonesome Ghost thing, which I kinda like, I get a bad feeling from all of this.  

Every time they trade in a classic, low tech magical illusion for a gee-whiz high tech wonder, I fear that something of the character
of the ride is being diminished.  It's that old-timey magic show feeling that suits so well the Victorian look of the Haunted Mansion.


The Hitchhiking Ghost Tableau

Back around the corner again for another look at the tableau featuring the famous trio.  Surely this is the icon of icons for the Haunted Mansion, a slice of elegant perfection, a stroke of simple genius.  Who would deny it?  So ... what can be said about a mentality that looks at that classic scene and thinks, "Gee, look at all the wasted space!  You know, this would be a perfect spot to place a portrait of one of our new characters.  There's plenty of room.  Great opportunity for blending in one of our new narratives."

Thumbs Down
(pic from Orlando Attractions Magazine)

Like I say, what can be said about such a mentality?  Stupid, you say?  Evil? Insane? Did I hear someone say incompetent?  Well, look, we can all be friends about this.  Let's just say that we all agree that anyone, anyone, who thinks that that right there is a good idea should never have been allowed anywhere near the table where decisions about the future of this attraction were made.  Shouldn't have been allowed in the same building.  Can we all agree to that?  All right then.

By the way, why would someone living in the house store their artwork in a crypt in a public cemetery adjacent to the house?  Oh, that's right.  How quickly I forget the lessons of Pepe Le Queue.  The Haunted Mansion doesn't have to make any sense.  The Haunted Mansion is wacky land.  Woo hoo.

I keep forgetting.