Updated May 16, 2020
Let's wrap up our current tour of the attic. Don't worry, we'll be back.
Consider the following scenario:
A razzle-dazzle new ghost is installed at the DL HM attic, with high expectations, but the effect is basically pretty simple, achieved simply by clever manipulation of light projection. Alas, the figure is too close to the track for the effect to be truly convincing, and the Imagineers fiddle unsuccessfully with the new figure, trying to get it to look right...
Sounds like you-know-who, but of course I'm talking about Constance. The only thing missing is the part where they give up and take it out.
There isn't much to say about how the Constance effect works. It's the old "Leota effect," a projected movie on a white dummy. The problem for many fans is that it looks like what it is, a two-dimensional projection. The arms in particular are unconvincing. There's evidence that the Imagineers are aware of the problem and have experimented with ways to improve the look. Compare these two shots of the mannequin under regular lighting.
If anyone wants MY free advice, I'd say the secret is to go fuzzy. Her arms should be nothing more than white, blurry shapes, just thick cloudy hoses. You could sharpen up the hands and hatchet when the hatchet appears, but only for a second. Murk it up, boys, murk it up.
By all counts, the WDW version looks and sounds better than the DL version. Even in photos you can see the difference. Here's DL Connie:
And here's WDW Connie:
(pic by Jeff Fillmore)
UPDATE May 16, 2020: Special thanks to Christopher Biggs and to Micechatter "whodudis" for bringing to our attention a Theme Park VFX video (called a "sizzle reel" in the industry), which features a short clip of the actual source video used at WDW, and thanks to Brandon Hardy for creating an extract of the bride portion:
Nevertheless, we're still not at the "Gee whiz, how do they do that?" stage for anyone over 11. Hate to sound harsh, but there it is. Is she better than what she replaced? For ease of comparison, here are three nice 3D's, showing the three basic bride types over the years.
Let's talk about something else. Let's talk about the other razzle-dazzle effect that came into the attic with Connie: the wedding portraits. Here the verdict is much more positive. When they're working right, they are impressive, very much in the coveted "how do they do it?" category.
So how do they do it? You may have noticed that when people don't know how a Mansion effect is achieved, and they want to sound like they do know, so as impress their friends, they mumble about "fiber optics" and "holograms" and sprinkle the word "digital" around like oregano on a pizza. Most of the time they overshoot, spinning out elaborate explanations when the reality is some ridiculously simple trick. Like so many other effects in the HM, this attic-portrait effect is essentially pretty simple. You have a painting on a thin, translucent fabric, and another painting underneath it. There's a spotlight on the front and a sort of light box behind. Actually, it's a little more technical than that, but I'm going to spare you the details. It's all digital fiber optics, and other things you wouldn't understand. Anyway, when the light box is dark and the frontal spotlight is on, you see the front painting with the guy's head on. When the spotlight goes out and the light box in back goes on, you see the headless version behind it. That's because when the back one is lit up, you see it through the translucent front painting, which is now unlit and essentially invisible. It's the old scrim trick, not different in principle from the ceiling in the stretching room.
You can most easily figure out how it works when it isn't working! It is extremely important that the spotlight fade in and out in such perfect coordination with the fading in and out of the back lighting that you don't notice any difference in overall luminosity. Sometimes they're out of whack, and you can notice the picture brightening and fading in synch with the disappearing head. The following two shots are grabs from the same continuous video. Note how the frame is illumined when Reginald's head is visible, but not when it isn't. It's not supposed to be like that.
The other reason the effect can be figured out is because it's been done before, more or less.
Sherman, set the Wayback machine for Paris in the 1890's.
The Montmartre section of Paris saw the invention of the fully-themed nightclub during the late Victorian era, including costumed staff, elaborate decor, and theatrical floor shows. Some of them had otherworldly themes and put on ghost shows. One of the most successful was the Cabaret du Néant ("Tavern of Nothingness" or "Tavern of the Dead"), where the theme was death and decay. In the first room, the waiters dressed as undertakers and you sat at tables that looked like coffins. In the second room they had a first-rate magic stunt in which volunteers from the audience would stand in a coffin and turn into a skeleton (and back again; sorry, it's the law). In yet a third room the volunteers would sit onstage while ghosts that they could not see (but the audience could) made them look like perfect fools. By that point you were pretty drunk and thought this was the funniest thing you'd ever seen. And I dunno, maybe it was. We'll go back to the intriguing C du N sometime later, since it is undoubtedly a source of inspiration for the Haunted Mansion, but for now I want to point out a special effect in the first room, which room looked like this:
Like the chandelier? Anyway, the walls were covered with normal-looking paintings that changed before your eyes into gruesome scenes. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? You would think such a subtle effect would not be picked up under the harsh lighting necessary for 1890's photography, but not so. In the photo above, note the large painting on the left with a skeleton in it and another, smaller painting up in the right hand corner with nothing showing on it:
In other photos of the Cabaret, the skeleton in that left hand painting is halfway or nearly gone.
Conversely, in other photos the smaller painting has a skull in it. Here's a side-by-side:
You're looking at the direct predecessors to the changing portraits in the Haunted Mansion, kids. But how did they do it back then? The gullible masses may have been baffled, but not Albert A. Hopkins. No, siree.
"Around the walls of the room are placed pictures to which the spectator's attention is called by the lecturer. Seen by the light of the room these pictures are ordinary scenes, but a new aspect is given to each when the lights directly behind it are turned on; the figures in it appear as skeletons, each picture being in fact a transparency giving a different effect as it is lighted from the rear or as seen simply by reflected light."
The main difference between this effect and the HM wedding portraits is that the Cabaret du Néant pictures were evidently paintings on both sides of the same thin cloth, while the Disney version uses two separate paintings on top of each other and more sophisticated lighting so as to make use of the scrim trick. Still and all, the similarities are greater than the differences. [Edit: I now think Hopkins got it wrong.]
There's an interesting footnote with regard to these changing attic portraits. They were installed in May 2006, but more than a year before that the pictures in the changing portrait hall were replaced with fancy new ones with a more impressive lightning-flash effect. These work the same way the attic portraits work, with two layers and backlighting. That was in January 2005. A few months before that, something very weird happened in the portrait hall that is little-remembered today because it didn't last long. One day in August 2004, the stretch room doors opened and guests found themselves in a noticeably lighter portrait hall, with out-of-place looking Art Nouveau-style light fixtures by the doors, a more lurid, bright green EXIT sign over the chicken exit, and a row of light fixtures along the wall under the portraits, illuminating them. As usual, Allen Huffmann at Disneyfans (an invaluable resource) got some photos.
Everyone thought these abominations had something to do with "safety" and muttered unkind things about Disney lawyers and OSHA inspectors. When the EXIT signs returned to sane levels and the goofy lights were gone, the whole business was quickly forgotten.
I don't think the mounted lights under the portraits had anything to do with safety. I mean, come on, were people bumping into the wall? What I think the Imagineers were doing was experimenting with frontal illumination for the hallway portraits. If the lighting could be successfully controlled so that the front could gradually come up while the backlighting went down, these paintings could have been as sophisticated as the wedding portraits. If this surmise is correct, the experiment must have failed. The changing portraits have no special frontal illumination. This means that in order for the back-side portrait to be visible, it has to be very light and the front portrait much darker, so that backlighting alone can do the job. It's a cruder effect. That's why the changing portraits in every case flash to a secondary image that is all white.
(pic by Photomatt)
Ever consider that it's possible for the Connie FX platform to duplicate, or at least approximate the look of the previous brides? Shuffle mode anyone?ReplyDelete
Hadn't thought of it, but yeah, if they wanted to they could probably project the dark-faced Beating Heart and her successors. But I can't think of any thematic reason to do so. I think it would smack of "Hey, look what we can do!" more than anything.ReplyDelete
"Hey, look what we can do!" is the only thing the current attics (DL/WDW) project. And as such, regrettably. Ditto: Cirque du Soleil Leota.ReplyDelete
With our current technological advancements, the axiom of "less is more" has become an important concept to regard.
I'm glad they went with the current version of the changing portraits. One of my big problems with the originals was that they never looked like real paintings, they always looked like projections. Now they are as bright or dark as it is in the room, and they look like real paintings, I love it! Now if only they can get the lighting to shine ON them :DReplyDelete
Also thank you for showing proof of the wall sconces below the portraits! I keep mentioning to them to my friends but they think I'm crazy :D
You know the "scrim" effect is being used on the Disney cruises now. One dining room has black and white illustrations on the wall, over the course of your dinner, they slowly change to full color.ReplyDelete
The old bride with the beating heart and terrifying eyes used to scare the CRAP out of me. I couldn't even look at it. And the sound effect of the beating heart almost choking you. That new bride is not scary at all. Unfortunate. I do like the portraits though. And...what happened to the popping heads in the attic?ReplyDelete
Man, I wish I would have known about this site when you started it. I always took photos of things that were "different" or that puzzled me.ReplyDelete
Very interesting reading theories on those lights. I knew the EXIT lights were a problem throughout the ride (being so bright), but I thought the lights under the paintings were just supposed to make you think they were real paintings instead of rear projection effects. I had no ideas on the new light fixtures since I always thought they place was plenty bright enough.
My problem with the portraits in the attic is that stylistically, they don't go with any of the other portraits. Also, they look like anachronistic color photographs rather than paintings.ReplyDelete
It may be that they are intended to be seen as tinted photographs, which did exist in the 19th c.Delete
Great piece. Personally I've always liked Connie, but then again, I'm enough of an outsider, and have a black enough sense of humour, to appreciate that she feels out of place! That or my Goth side just appreciates a hopelessly dark, sarcastic female character smack dab in the middle of the Mansion. Could be the origin of a proper HM story for some future adaptation, but maybe that's wishful thinking...ReplyDelete
Anyways, on the question front: any idea precisely what has been done to make WDW Connie so much more effective than DL (which is questionable at best, effects-wise, anyways)? I get the basics of the static-form effect but can't tell why that version is so substantially improved. At her best WDW Connie is a fairly convincing effect to me, although with the new projected face business (see HG and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) I wouldn't be shocked if an improvement was forthcoming.
Thanks so much for running a brilliant, insightful piece of work here - one of the finest Web sites I've come across in my 23 years! Best from Newfoundland - Ophelia Ravencroft
Thanks very much.Delete
I'm not sure why the WDW Connie looks better, to be perfectly honest.
I don't think there's anything to salvage with the whole Constance thing. Like most of the changes in POTC it's a poorly thought out idea that's badly implemented. The changing portraits are neat but at that point in the ride we've seen much better.ReplyDelete
Constance is odd. Most don't like her because she's different from the older bride, but as this blog points out, she's pretty much what the original Bride was supposed to be- a black widow who stuffed hubbies' heads in the boxes. She was only change get since Hattie wasn't able to convey the punchline of the situation, but they brought back the idea and telegraphed it differently, and they still managed to make the HBG work by letting him reveal the evidence instead of the crime. Tonally, she is closer to the rest of the ride- darkly comic, but most prefer the scary, mysterious version- a case of intention clashing with fan perception.I suppose the depth of detail to her story also bugs people who like mystery, but I can't think of how they would simplify the current scene without it looking silly.ReplyDelete
Personally, I think the entire Attic in any of its forms fails to jive with the attraction. It's always been uncharacteristically dark for that part of the ride, and the Bride herself begs for a story in any form, and that's not really what the ride is about-it's not about specific people, and to have a terrifying Bride who instills fear of the afterlife goes against the whole point, especially once thi gs turn out to be fun. The only way I think it would have worked as its own idea is if the Bride sitch was presented as scary initially, but revealing that there's no hard feelings in the end...but the knight and executioner already do that joke. I don't think the idea of "memento mori" is enough to justify the scene, especially since death hasn't trodden on Constance's spirit, so to speak.
As is, I have no HUGE objection to Constance. For an entirely unneeded scene, it's arranged very nicely so the gag falls into place. Connie could use a better projection, though.
Also, I've heard that some Imagineers want to bring Constance back a bit toward the original Bride.Delete
The only thing I can think of that they could do with that, while keeping her Constance, is to simply shut her up. While I can appreciate her cheesy one-liners, there would be more of a threatening air if she stood silently and brandished her axe, hinting a bit more subtly at the events depicted therein. Honestly, make her scarier or don't, because the scene still doesn't make sense.
First and foremost they have to make her a convincing-looking ghost. At least at DL, she's so obviously a projection that she's not even interesting visually. They need to make her fading and flickering, murkier, there/not there, harder to make out in the darkness.Delete
Me...I never saw the original Bride as sinister, just tragic and melancholy. (Of course, I first saw her long before I knew about the removed Hatbox Ghost--which might have hinted at her murderous past--or her original incarnation as a skeletal corpse. The only backstory I knew about was the abortive pirate-kills-wife-and-hangs-self one, which I read about in a Disney guidebook.) The reason I thought of her as such was the beating heart--that seemed to me to indicate a lost love, and a heart that beat for it beyond the grave. (And didn't some versions of the heart's outline look broken? Some old videos look a bit like that, but they're fuzzy.)Delete
So what I'd love to see is a bride that has up-to-date technology like Constance and the new HBG do, but keep that feeling. (Like the one bit of concept art you had on another post, which you described as "a coked-up version of the middle bride.") I mentioned this in a post long ago, but it would be neat if they could manage the technology to make a sad-faced, beating-heart bride that aged and corpsified before viewers' eyes--I know it might be tough to pull off with the speed of the doombuggies (unless they slowed them down slightly), but it would be a nice nod to that unused Marc Davis changing portrait, the original Corpse Bride, the earlier incarnations, and a hint of Dickens' Miss Havisham as well.
For me, the best thing is ambiguity. I would like a bride that can be read as either sad or menacing, depending on what details you want to focus on or simply your own instinctive reactions. The older bride versions were that way.Delete
My interpretation of the original attic bride was, I'm sure, influenced by having seen Miss Havisham and The Baldwin sisters from the Waltons on television before my first visit to Disney World the summer of 1972. Eliminating the ambiguity IMO was a mistake.ReplyDelete
Amazing post, as per usual. I've enjoyed the series on the attic brides and am so glad to be seeing new content!ReplyDelete
One problem: I couldn't see any of the photos hosted on Photo Bucket today; I've never had this problem before. Do you know what could be causing it?
They've been wonky today, and yesterday. Hopefully they'll have their act together soon.Delete
Well, they're working now. I'm glad to see them again since they're half of the information; it's always great to have something to live vicariously through, particularly nowadays.ReplyDelete