Things You're Just Supposed to Know

Most of the time, Long-Forgotten assumes that 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)
and Jeff Baham's The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion (USA: Theme Park Press, 2014).

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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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Do You Remember Miss April-December?

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I do.  So do many of you.  She is the only prominent Mansion resident other than the Hat Box Ghost to be removed absolutely, leaving no trace behind.  (Purply Shroud is another, and so are the attic popup ghosts, including the blast-up variety, such as you see directly to the right —>, but I don't consider any of those to be prominent ghosties, much as I like them and miss them.)  The Hat Box Ghost got his post, and even Purply Shroud got one, so April certainly deserves one too.  The more time that passes, the fewer there will be who remember these things directly.  Already there are young doombugs running around with no personal recollection of April, having seen her only in pictures and on video, if that much.  It's not too soon to put something more substantial on record before she too joins the ranks of the long forgotten.


April is unique to Disneyland.  She hung in the changing portrait hall there for 35 years, from opening day until the ride went down for the Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay in the fall of 2004.  When the classic Mansion returned in late January, the portraits had all been replaced with new ones employing more modern technology, and let's admit it, the new effect is better than the old one—better, I should say, if and when the light levels in the room are properly balanced.  The new set of portraits was also different in content.  Panther Lady was now Tiger Lady, April was missing from her place on the far left, Medusa had been moved from the middle to April's old spot, and "Master Gracey" had taken Medusa's former position.  Gracey was one of the original residents in Florida (and later Tokyo), where he continues to occupy a unique place of honor, but only now in 2005 did he make his Anaheim debut.  So things stand, here in the fall of 2012, more than seven years later.


Just as "Master Gracey" finally came west to Anaheim, it's possible that at one point they were planning to bring
April-December east to Orlando, if we may judge by this concept sketch of the new WDW HM changing portrait
gallery. She's one of five paintings, the same five that had hung in the Disneyland Mansion from the beginning:


But when the new gallery in the Florida Mansion debuted in
2007, it had only four paintings, plus a table-and-mirror set.


(pic by Brandon "GRD")

Why was April replaced with "Master Gracey" at Disneyland?  I've heard more than one theory, but the simplest explanation may be that the word game couldn't be done very well with the new effect.  "April" would have had to be dark, while "December" would have had to be white.  Maybe they decided that that would have looked funny.  Perhaps this also explains why WDW got a table-and-mirror instead of April-December, assuming that there really were plans at some point to bring her to Florida.


The Fab Four

As pointed out in the previous post, April originally changed back and forth with December in a lightning flash, in the same manner as the other portraits.  This went to a slow morph effect early on.  I can't say exactly when, but it was within the first few years.  The current lightning effect is a return to the original mode of presentation.  (I'm aware that this has all been said before.)


Another thing we have said before is that April - December was originally going to be April - June - September - December, a four-stage show, but all such multiple-paneled portraits were reduced to just two stages, changing with the lightning, because it was believed there would not be time for the long versions.  I realize that even the first time around, these were familiar factoids, things many of you already knew.  It's pretty hard to do 88 posts on the Haunted Mansion without occasionally repeating a point.

Ironically, the portrait was discovered missing in January of 2005.  That's right,
January, the next month past the end of the series.  I guess it was time to bury her.


If you think about it, what we have here is not an illusion but the shattering of an illusion.  With a typical portrait, you hear stuff like, "Ah, how splendidly the artist has captured the golden moment of youth on his canvas, preserving it there forever," blah blah blah.  But "forever young" is a fantasy, right?  Here is one portrait that follows the plain truth to the bitter end.

I want to call your attention to Miss September in
those original Marc Davis concept sketches.


Why?  Because she's the only one of the four without any sort of afterlife in the Disney parks, and a ghost without an afterlife?  Tain't natural.  You see, not long after April was removed, a copy of her Marc Davis portrait appeared in a New Orleans Square shop on top of a bookcase, a poignant tribute to the lost character.  (It's now been joined there by Davis sketches of various stages of Medusa, which waters down the tribute, IMO.)  As for June, she finally made her Disney debut as part of the pirate swag on display at the temporary outdoor pirate stage where they had live entertainment for awhile.  Didn't last long, but at least June had her moment in the sun (literally).  And December?  She's always had a twin at WDW and Tokyo, one of the "Sinister 11," and as such she's still there.


So three of the four have enjoyed some sort of presence beyond the walls of the Mansion, but alas, no love for poor Miss September.  Consider this a corrective of sorts.  Let us propose a toast.  This one's for you, Miss S.  Cheers.


The Spot

One reason I miss April is that for all those years she kept watch over what is for me the most magical spot in the entire attraction, and hence the most magical spot in the entire park.  (I hate to use the words "magic" or "magical" in this way, as they are surely the most overused words in the Disney lexicon, but in this case they happen to fit.)

Cue the atmospheric soundtrack


You're on foot, as the Mansion was originally going to be throughout.  The windows are
full of dark, stormy weather.  They're mesmerizing mini-masterpieces in themselves.

(pic by Old Grimm Guy)


The corridor before you looks longer than it really is, thanks to that favorite Imagineering trick, forced perspective.  The music is eerie, the thunder crashes, the paintings silently do their best to unnerve you.  At the end of the hall the busts are scrutinizing you in a most unfriendly manner, and down there you also see a corner to be turned, beckoning you onward to some place as yet unknown.


If you manage to be last in your group and lag behind (you naughty, naughty guest), letting all the others go around the bend, then you can sometimes have the hall to yourself for a few moments.  Mmm.  Mighty fine.  You stand there all alone in one of the most immersive atmospheres the park offers.  Big Brother is watching you, though, so don't overdo it.


Reluctantly you turn and begin again to approach that corner where you will make the turn.  Sorry if I've said it before, but if there's a place in the HM where you can almost make yourself believe it's all real, then surely this is that place.  It was April's place.  I like to think she's still there, unseen, and I have to admit to a little stab of resentment when I see Medusa occupying her spot.



Wanted Dead or Alive

The drastic abbreviation of the original changing portrait sequences affected some of their interpretations.  Most glaringly, what had been a ghostly Flying Dutchman manifestation became simply a nice ship getting ripped up by foul weather, as we have seen.  But April-December also underwent a change.  The full, four-panel sequence is clearly a statement on the brevity of youthful beauty, as a young lady's life is allegorically reduced to the span of a single year.  But that's not how I read it when the effect was new.  Contrary to what you might think, the word "December" was perfectly readable even in the lightning flashes, but by its very nature the effect in its original presentation disallowed you a good close look at the December phase.  I thought it was a corpse, and I thought the point of it all was that someone young and beautiful in the month of April could be (and in this case would be) a rotting cadaver before the year was out if Death should happen to pay an untimely visit.  "This was her in April, and this was her by December."

Funny thing is, even after you get a good look at December, I'm still not sure that that interpretation can be ruled entirely out of court.  The difference between Marc Davis's concept sketch of April and the portrait actually used in the ride (painted by Ed Kohn) is slight . . .


  . . . but the difference between the two Decembers is quite noticeable.


Kohn's December looks more corpse-like to me, and I don't think it's impossible that they made a conscious decision to turn the transformation into that kind of contrast, once they had decided to reduce the effect to just the two panels, the second only briefly seen during lightning flashes.  With the four-step original, the steady and inexorable progress of the aging process is itself part of the point:


It seems to me that going directly from April to December doesn't make exactly the same
point, and indeed cannot.  It's the difference between a grim reminder and a brutal shock.

The WDW hag was given "living" eyes, so she's alive, no question.



But December? I'm not so sure.  In some photos I've seen, she
looks like she could represent a corpse as easily as an old lady.

(pic by Allen Huffman)

The fact that she's dressed and sitting up doesn't mean anything.  If December is in fact dead, it would make April-December a female counterpoint to "Master Gracey," who also winds up as a corpse at the end of the line, even though the skeleton is still maintaining the original posture.  This is prophecy and symbolism we're dealing with.

(Marc Davis concept art)


And note that when April-December was evicted, what was it that took her place?  Might that be because "Master Gracey"
represents exactly the same idea?  In the Disneyland version, he flashes back and forth from panel one to panel six.

December's arms and hands, however, don't look very necrotic, so...I don't know.  "Questions remain," as one of my
profs used to say whenever he didn't buy your argument (which was often).  When it gets right down to it, I'm not
going to press the point very hard.  Let's just say Ed Kohn's December is probably alive, but it's possible she is not.


Inspirations

Well, let's leave off the speculations about December's health and turn to something more typically Long-Forgottenistic.  Are there any sources of inspiration for Marc's portraits?  The pose is rather unremarkable in itself.  It's typical of Victorian portraiture, especially in photographs.


Young ladies and old frequently have their hands on a book (suggesting intelligence, education, and well-breeding), and you see heavy drapes, nice little tables, and dainty objects in the hand—all clichés.  These are fun to look at and compare anyway.





(Look at those drape cords.)



This melancholy illustration from Quiver magazine (1889) is close to our theme.
A young lady appears to have painted a portrait of herself as an old woman.

(Hat tip to Craig Conley)

However, this cartoon from the January 1880 issue of Punch is downright startling:

(Hat tip once again to Craig Conley for finding this one)

Highly suggestive, but I don't think it's an exact parallel.  If I'm reading this cartoon rightly, the point seems to be that some beautiful young women (center) retain their looks quite well into middle age (left), but others . . . not so much (right), and it's hard to predict which way your particular belle may go.  (Yes of course it's sexist; it's 1880.)  But if I'm correct about April-December swapping out an allegory about time's steady and relentless onslaught for a starker, blunter contrast between youth and death, then who knows?  The specific message of the changing portrait may have been more negotiable than the visual imagery itself.   So I suppose it's at least possible that a Punch illustration bearing yet a third message could still have been one of the things that got the ball rolling in the first place, much as "Master Gracey" was loosely inspired by The Picture of Dorian Gray, even though in the end it really has nothing in common with the story.


Life is But a Dream

Ed Kohn's rendition of April is lovely and fascinating.  I find her far more interesting than the girl who turns into Medusa.  That message is pretty straightforward:  Beneath a soft and feminine façade may lie something dreadful and deadly.  I use "feminine" advisedly, as Davis seemed to like the femme fatale theme quite a lot.  There's the Cat Lady down at the other end of the line, of course, and there are a number of other changing portrait ideas exploiting this general motif that were never realized (even if one of them did turn up among the "Sinister 11"minus the gag).




Incidentally, with the gorgon girl, look how skillfully Ed Kohn reduced Marc Davis's first two panels to one.  (Reportedly, he worked closely with Davis.)  He has reproduced the first panel, but with more unruly hair and the barest hint of a frown in the eyebrows, so there's a taste of panel two in it as well, just the faintest whisper of the monster to come.



Snakes.
Why 'd it have to be snakes.




















But April is not a monster in waiting.  She's like "Master Gracey," but without the smugness that loses our sympathy.  What is she?  Look all you want:  Not only can't you tell what she's thinking, you can't even tell if she's thinking.  She could be sleepwalking through life, unaware, like the Tightrope Girl, but without the humor, without the surrealistic and cartoonish denouement following the introduction.  There's nothing funny here.  She's something like the unused "corpse bride" portrait, but without the suggestion of a specific and tragic background story.


The closest thing to an exact parallel is really the bouquet of wilting flowers we met in the previous post.  But flowers have no soul.  No one wonders what they are thinking.  In the end, I think April is one of the most enigmatic characters in the entire Haunted Mansion, like the Hat Box Ghost, ironically, whose company she now keeps in that elite club of the elided.  They are shades now retired even from that most ultimate of retirement homes, the most invisible of the invisible, presently present only in their absence.  And if I could think up some more clever descriptions, I'm sure they'd be those too.


Fare thee well, April, wherever you are.



27 comments:

  1. However, at some part of her short life, miss April probably became mrs June and mrs September, as she gained a ring, not seen on April nor December...

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  2. I noticed that. It seems a peculiar design for a wedding ring, but who knows?

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  3. Considering the Florida Counterpart has taken, and in many cases, butchered, a good chunk of DL's attractions, I guess it's safe to say that it was time for DL's Mansion to get a piece from Florida (Master Gracey, of course). Though it is, I must say, a gross understatement.

    I always wondered why we on the east didn't get Miss April. It could have worked at least in the corridor of doors or by the piano.

    One thing I don't get is how Miss June is to be interpreted by the audience with the wink and everything.

    Great post, as always!

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  4. When I was younger and could only read about the Disneyland house, April-December (and the changing portrait gallery itself) were of the absolute highest interest to me. Once I saw them in person, it did not disappoint (and I was lucky to see April when I did). It really is one of those perfect spots in Imagineering, like the waterfall to the left in Pirates before you turn the corner and see the skeletons, or the exit of the Tiki Room at night.

    One thing that will always be to the Florida version's discredit is that by getting you into the Doombuggy so quickly, the reality of the house was compromised. I think part of it is also that you can't go right up onto the porch and "kick the tires", so to speak, try to peek in the windows, poke the siding. So to me the Portrait Hall is absolutely part of the Mansion's mystique. Once Holiday gets out of my life (I moved to California at the wrong time), I look forward to having a Haunted Mansion to call my own again.

    I also used to think that anything missing from each Mansion was clearly an erroneous oversight, but as you know on my blog, I'm now more likely to rally in support of the weird little differences. The "change-o portrait" scene in WDW just isn't as good or as real as it is at DL, partially because you ride by it, partially because the windows aren't awesome, and partially because the "staring eyes" at WDW was a much more worthy on-ride introduction. That scene was quiet and disturbing because it usually took people a few moments to even notice that the eyes were following them, and then notice just how many there were in the room. The hushed quiet of the (pre-load spiel) load area, the candles floating at the top of the stairs (which maybe only 20% of riders ever see), the room full of watching eyes, then, finally - did that ladder just move?

    I think one reason April-December was removed is because it's the one portrait that demands interpretation, and I think the guys in charge of the changes in Mansion around this time just really didn't "get" that aspect of the ride (look at the Attic). The "cat lady" is pretty obvious, even if the tiger is a way cruder metaphor than the panther and the way only her upper body used to change was much more disturbing. The "ghost ship" and "skeleton knight" are obvious gags, and Medusa is more of a "Boo!" moment, although I've always wondered why they went with the "full petrification" frame instead of the "I'm a scary monster" frame.

    April-December made you reinterpret everything you'd seen before. Which version of these portraits is "reality" - the "normal" state or the "haunted" state? Depending on what you made of that portrait, the context for the rest of them would alter.

    I also think April-December was one of the precious few things in the California house that seemed to connect it explicitly to southern plantations. April seemed to fit right in with wrought iron and Greek columns. I think her portrait was specifically designed to evoke that mileu, just as the "Aging Man" portrait looks much more like something you'd find in staid old New England.

    (side note on "Aging Man": I've always found it sad that the current "morph" effect goes right past the most disturbing frame in the series, the second to last "rotting corpse" image, using it just as a transition to the skeleton. There used to be a hush in the room when that "decaying mummy" image would come up above the fireplace and the 2007 guys seem to have underestimated it).

    I really hope April-December comes back, because it was the best thing about maybe my favorite scene in the Disneyland house. California needs to keep April-December and Florida needs to keep "Master Gracey". These things are important to their identities.

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    1. Just one little observation: I don't think Master Gracey is dead until the sixth panel. The fifth looks to me like a very old man, frail, but still drawing breath. The thing that screws people up is the shoulder. But if you examine it closely, you've got a badly fraying hole in his coat on the lower part, and a thin but still shirted shoulder showing above. It's not bone. It's the same color as the bit of shirt cuff sticking out of his sleeve by his hand.

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  5. Oh man, thanks for this post! I for some reason completely forgot she had gone! I don't look closely at the Haunted Portraits that much anymore. But I remember when they took her down and thinking it was pretty sad.

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  6. So-called Master Gracey has always been my least favorite portrait, if only because of the legend that has sprung up around it, and perhaps because of how foreign it is to the Anaheim park. My heart skips a beat every time I hear a fellow butler or maid shouting out "To better view the paintings that 'my master hung himself', step into the dead center of the gallery!" The guy hanging above the expanding room is not your master! BLAH! As for April-December, I really feel the weight of her absence. For me, the portrait hallway is one of the genius scenes of transition from the Mansion of the living (outside), to the realm of the dead. Intentional or not, the fact that three of the paintings were beautiful women sliding back and forth between youth and decay seems to echo the larger frame of the building itself changing from a place of beauty to one of horror. Her loss is greater magnified by the WDW portrait's intrusion, I cannot stomach it.

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  7. Another great post. The April/December portrait really was my favorite and I was disappointed that it was taken out. I disagree that the new/original changing effect is better. I liked the slow transition much better: The flashes that change the portrait don't illuminate anything else in the hallway, just the images themselves, so even though they are synced to the lightning outside, it doesn't feel like the lightning is really what's illuminating the portrait. And like the update lightning effect that illuminates the sailing skeleton in Disneyland's Pirates now, the stutter and rythm of the lightning feels very artificial. Plus panther women are way cooler than tiger women.

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  8. Not bad information. I want to tell you someone, man. About 'September' portrait. I'm from Moscow, Russian Federation and I love Haunted Mansion so much. I was on August 18, 2011 in WDW, Orlando. So I noticed that woman from 'September' portrait at the Grand Ballroom. Isn't it? She blows out the candles on the cake. I really missing Old Portrait Hallway (1969-2004) and Old Attic. I looking for April/December and Lady Panther in Internet. But there're not there. If you have anything portraits, send to: bairpinuev@mail.ru. Thank you very much.

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  9. April to December -- a nine-month gestation period for the death growing inside her?

    Perfectly lovely post, by the way!

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  10. Can you stand another Dark Shadows comment? I’ve always seen April and Gracey as a couple, too, because they remind me so much of the bewitched portraits of Amanda Harris and Quentin Collins in the 1897 storyline. Although Amanda was Galatea to Quentin’s Dorian Gray, the pairs of portraits really strike me as visually similar. Here’s all four put together: http://i47.tinypic.com/2vt5i7t.jpg

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  11. Great post! I've always loved the morphing portrait ladies, but all the others seem ironic, like the new attic bride (just because she's a woman and a dainty beauty doesn't mean she isn't powerful and dangerous). But not April. I was a big fan of Roald Dahl's "The Witches" as a child, so I always thought the point of April December was that she was a person trapped in/haunting a painting. She lives her life, she visibly ages -- she even winks at us!

    One of the best things about HM is that it just shows you the spooky stuff, and leaves the interpretation up to you.

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    1. "One of the best things about HM is that it just shows you the spooky stuff, and leaves the interpretation up to you." Or it ought to! I wish that all of the current Imagineers understood this.

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  12. I love this portrait! Too bad it's gone! Thanks for sharing!

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  13. Growing up, I always thought that April-December was a play on "May-December" which is when an older man marries a younger woman. I had always imagined that the point of her portrait was to show how marrying into the family associated with the Mansion could curse a beautiful young lady. Thus, look at how pretty she was in April and by December, she is nearly dead. And the 9 month difference in portraiture time always struck me as a subtle but very sad gag... that this vibrant young woman who married in the hopes of having a family would herself wither away within the timeframe that she would have otherwise been able to bear a child. Perhaps there's a hidden level in the story where the child that she is carrying is what is causing her demise? A reincarnation taking place within the Mansion? :)

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  14. When I visited Disneyland a couple years ago, I was constantly being a 'naughty guest' and linger behind in the hallway while the rest of the herd went off into the abyss. Despite the doombuggy trying its best to keep the blinders on and focus your attention, it's still pretty obvious that you are surrounded by people while riding. The hallway gives you that one chance to "find the way on your own". So why not pretend?

    Despite knowing how every trick more or less works in that scene, I still felt uneasy standing there alone, watching the hallway do its thing. To me, that's the power of a well executed, constructed environment. It allowed me to lose myself, just for a second.

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    1. That hallway is the reason why the California Mansion will always be superior to the Florida one.

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  15. The spring (April) symbolizes youth and fertility, while the winter (December) symbolizes death.

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  16. Please kind Sir, Bring on the busts! I must know who they are! I must know about the broken one that I remember being whole at one time.... or is it just my imagination hmmmm?

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  17. I didn't know that they took April-December out. That's terrible! I remember the first time I went on the Anaheim Mansion and my dad said something like "Boy that was a quick aging" with a laugh or something to that degree. It made me feel just a little bit better about going on the ride at 11 or 12 years old in the late 90's (I mistakenly said said early nougties in an earlier comment). I was scared and excited and had a lot of fun. The fact that they removed April-December kills a piece of my childhood. Why get rid of it when they weren't replacing it with anything (putting Medusa in April's place doesn't count)? And I agree with Eric Scales, the stutter effect looks like a rave and a risk for those with Epilepsy. Also the panther woman looks like more of a natural change than a tiger because it looks less cartoony. Also I think that April-December was a metaphor showing an even earlier beginning within the mansion of the theory on the house falling apart the more supernatural events we witness motif, Dan.

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  18. Actually my favorite of the transition panels. April losing her innocence by June, causes a look back to April. There you see the seed for destruction already sown and September / December confirm the suspicion.

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  19. Considering the idea that December has released her mortal coil, that brings the idea of Post-Mortem Photography into play. And I would say moreso than the black and white photos of the pop-ups in the Corridor of Doors. They are obviously dead, and have been for some time. December is in nice clothes and is propped up much the same way a postmortem photo subject would. Heck, April could be a postmortem and you couldn't tell immediately.

    Here's some reference: http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/wp-content/blogs.dir/445/files/2012/04/i-e8848d94076b1076a01d0293e2b0c88e-190.jpg
    http://ken_ashford.typepad.com/.a/6a00d834515b2069e20120a57cbaf3970c-500wi
    http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2013/01/29/article-0-173B560F000005DC-696_966x671.jpg
    http://ken_ashford.typepad.com/.a/6a00d834515b2069e20120a57ccad8970c-320wi
    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-Fr_Ikjlo6LA/Tfe0WTasq5I/AAAAAAAABcs/DjTiQGO5HJI/s640/Dead+girl.jpg

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    1. I hadn't thought of post-mortem photography, but that's an interesting consideration with regard to the April-December portrait. It may have been part of the general mix of morbid Victoriana that influenced the Imagineers.

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  20. I am also in the group prefering the old "fade" effect to the newer "strobe" effect. I enjoyed watching the detail of the painting change over time. With the new painting, you only get a moment to see the 2nd painting: you can barely tell that the columns behind Medusa have holes in them, as does she - implying that you (the viewer) has turned to stone. You can't see the details of "Mr. Gracey's" skeleton or the details of the waves smashing against the Flying Dutchman.

    It doesn't give you time to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the details. It's turned into a quick, 1 second gag forcing guests to wait for the next lightning strike to look for another detail.

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  21. There is "something blue" in September, at the end of the handkerchief she is holding. It looks blue to me there, but not before - what do you think?

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  22. Mmm...I'm not seeing blue in there anywhere (color will vary with monitors, of course).

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  23. Great post! One of my absolute favorite series of paintings from Marc, a much-missed subtraction from the ride, but a very cool piece of lenticular artwork that was sold during a special anniversary at Disneyland, that actually allowed the 4 original paintings to really "morph" - a much cooler, creepier effect, in my opinion than the scary lightning flashes.

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