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, After that, the best place to go is Jason Surrell's book,
The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic (NY: Disney Editions; 2015). That's the
re-named third edition of The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (NY:
Disney Editions, 2003; 2nd ed. 2009). Also essential reading is Jeff Baham's The Unauthorized
Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion (USA: Theme Park Press, 2014; 2nd ed. 2016).

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.


Friday, September 24, 2021

Making Faces

(pic by Michael Hansen)

The old Master himself, Yale Gracey (with modest assistance from Rolly Crump), is credited with coming up with two different ways of creating a ghostly face, one by looking at the convex side of a blank mask ("the Leota effect") and one by looking at the concave side ("the Lucretia effect"). The latter is my own suggested term for what is sometimes called the "follow-you bust" effect, or any number of other clunky titles. [Edit: Richard Kaufman points out to me that the illusion itself has a long history and is commonly called the "hollow man" illusion. "Hollow face" and "hollow mask" are also common.] "The Leota effect" is actually anachronistic, inasmuch as Leota herself has not been done via "the Leota effect" for a very long time. The Singing Busts and Little Leota, however, still use the classic Leota effect, which involves projecting an animated facial image onto a blank white dummy face, so perhaps we should re-christen it "the Little Leota effect" or something like that, but alas, "the Leota effect" has been so standard for so long that it's probably an exercise in futility to try to change it now.

What's not obvious at first is how intertwined the two effects were, both in their original development and later on, when the Imagineers tried to improve both effects in the late 1980s and early 90s. Indeed, so confident were those guys in their new technology that they even conceived of using it to create a take-home souvenir, but that never materialized.

Today's post contains at least one bombshell revelation, along with a bunch of long-forgotten history, in some cases forgotten because it involves plans that either came to naught or half a page of scribbled lines (I'm feeling kinda Pink Floydish lately. Halloween of this year marks the 50th anniversary of the release of their classic album, Meddle, which immediately captured my imagination in 1971 and still lives there rent free.)

The Lucretia Juarez Effect

As many of you know, that sour-faced old spinster who glowers at you in the changing portrait hall (alongside an equally grumpy but nameless man with a Moe Howard haircut) is Aunt Lucretia. That's her official name. Originally, she was going to be part of the singing bust ensemble in the graveyard. Instead she ended up here in the portrait hall and on the mantelpiece in the ballroom. That's all been talked about before. Also well-known is the story of how Yale and Rolly supposedly invented the Lucretia effect. As Rolly tells it, he and Yale were messing around with a Lincoln mask, working out the beginnings of what would eventually lead to the Leota effect, when they noticed the weird optical illusion created by the convex side, and starting from there the two worked out the Lucretia effect (Surrell, Haunted Mansion [3rd ed], 81; Baham, Unauthorized, 89).

Here's a sketch from Yale's notebooks, clearly showing the effect exactly as it is today:

I don't doubt that Rolly is being truthful here, but the fact is, he and Yale were NOT the first to create this effect and put it to use in a haunted house environment. (That's the bombshell I was talking about.) It had already been in use for years in "El Sito Mysterio," a typical "gravity hill"* attraction at Frontier Village amusement park in San Jose, California. The park opened in 1961 and closed in 1980. "El Sito" was not one of the original '61 attractions but was built a few years later.

Before there was Lucretia, there was Juarez. Here he is in a 1968 photo:

Photos from: Bob Johnson, Frontier Village (Charleston: Arcadia, 2013), 50-51

UPDATE! Found a color photo of "Juarez":

I actually saw "Juarez" sometime in the 60s and was so amazed that I lagged behind when the group went to the next room so that I could get up close for a better look, only then figuring out how the effect was done. A few years later, when the HM opened, I immediately recognized the same effect in the portrait hall, but I forgot where I had seen Juarez, although I remembered that it was in one of those "Mystery Shack" attractions. I only ran across his photo in the Frontier Village book a week ago, solving a personal mystery that had baffled me for over half a century. Whether Juarez originated at Frontier Village or came from elsewhere, I don't know. I only know that he was there years before the Haunted Mansion opened.

Someone might argue that Yale saw Juarez while doing research into haunted house attractions, but I rather suspect that this is a case of the same illusion being discovered independently by parties unknown to each other. Any one with a Halloween mask can easily see it.

Lucretia in the 1980s and 1990s

In the late 1980s and early 1990s the Imagineers tried to use the great strides in computer technology to improve both the Lucretia and the Leota effects. The basic catalyst was the fact that photographic and videographic images could now be captured in computer files, opening up lots of new possibilities.

The first thing they did, however, was try to fix a very low-tech problem. Like they say, one picture is worth a thousand words:

The solution to this problem was to (1) round the edges of the cutout hole and (2) make the face shallower. 

They worked out the visibility angles in great detail, before and after.

Basically, change this . . . 

to this . . . 

(A link allowing a download of the entire patent can be found on this page.)

But they didn't do it. Why not? I have no idea. It wouldn't have cost much, and the positive results were meticulously worked out in the patent. The only thing I can think of is the confident belief that few people look at the busts long enough for the effect to fail. So why bother?

It's true enough that first-time visitors are going to stop looking at the busts and start looking into the room they are beginning to enter as they round the bend, well before Lucretia's nose gets pinched, but still, why not fix this thing for those of us who are not new to the ride but know it well and like to examine these details more carefully?

While they were at it, the Imagineers came up with two more ideas on the same patent application, ideas made possible by the new technology available. One of them revived the Gracey-Crump experiment of projecting animation onto the convex side of the follow-you busts while still viewing it from the concave side (i.e., having projectors inside the wall rather than a simple light bulb). That way they could add moving eyes and some limited animation to the mouths and eyebrows for Lucretia and her consort. The Imagineers even wanted to add audio, so that the busts would talk! This idea too came to nothing. My guess is that it either didn't look as good as they thought it would, or else they didn't want that much overtly ghostly manifestation so early in the ride. It does get uncomfortably close to violating the iron-clad "no ghosts shall be visible before Leota" rule, so yeah, I'm glad they didn't do this.

The third idea was to let guests pose for a photo somewhere (after the ride?), and print the photo on a sheet of thin plastic, which would then be heated and vacuformed over a generic face, and then trimmed, giving you a life-size mask imprinted with your face on it that you could use to make a Lucretia effect of your own, featuring your own face! Again, it never happened. Perhaps it didn't look as good as they hoped. Really, how would you find a face mold that worked for everybody, even roughly? Nowadays, of course, they could have a couple of dozen face molds, and the camera could include simple facial recognition software that would automatically select the face mold closest to the guest and rotate the appropriate mold into position for the vacuforming process. I wonder, however, whether the whole thing was rejected not because of technical shortcomings but because it essentially gives away the secret of one of the best and simplest illusions in the Mansion.

Still, one must admit that it would've been a pretty cool souvenir.

Leota in the 1980s and 1990s

As Rolly's account makes clear, the Lucretia effect and the Leota effect were created more or less simultaneously. Here again is a sketch from Yale's notebooks that clearly shows the Leota effect:

But right next to it is a sketch proving that they were also experimenting with projecting a face onto the concave side of the mask, actually foreshadowing the "interior projection" method which eventually came into use for Madame Leota.

By the late 1980s, new technology enabled the Imagineers to fix an old problem with the Leota effect. More radically, it made it possible to introduce a method of presentation similar to Yale and Rolly's experimental idea.

The old 16mm film loop cartridges were replaced with a captured image on laser disc. The loops used to break every few months and needed continual replacing. That's why so many film strips (usually incomplete) show up in the collector's market. It's actually pretty amazing that they lasted as well as they did, running upwards of 16 hours a day. The bin-loop system operated in controlled, dust-free cabinets, which not only increased durability, but reduced noise.

Anyway, concurrent with the laser disc came improved fiber optic technology, leading to the first attempt at an interior projection for Leota. (A link allowing the download of this entire patent can be found on this page.)

That first-generation interior-projected Leota debuted in the early 1990s and gave her kind of a "moon"
 face, not as bright or sharp as the old method and more distorted. Still, this version lasted until 2001.

You can get a pretty good look at her in this clip from a 1997 Discovery Channel special (with Tony Baxter):
Again, all of this history is pretty well known. What is less noticed is the fact that the interior-projection Leota enabled the Imagineers to reach back and realize original proposals for the Séance Circle that were impossible in 1969.

As initially conceived, the carpet under Leota was supposed to be animated with rippling and flapping, and the table with Leota's ball on it was naturally expected to wobble around accordingly. You can see this on one of the effects blueprints, which shows the carpet undulating:

You can also see the concept in Collin Campbell's artwork for the "Story and Song" album:

Why didn't they do this? Well, Imagineers like Marc Davis had a tendency to come up with cool ideas and then deliver them to Yale Gracey without the faintest idea how to realize the effects. That was Yale's job. Usually he succeeded, but sometimes he was stumped. A good example is the See-Saw royal pair in the graveyard. They are supposed to disappear as they go down, but Yale apparently couldn't come up with a way to do that, so it didn't happen.

One suspects that the wild scene you see in Campbell's artwork came to grief over the fact that Leota had to be absolutely stationary if you were going to project a face onto her. They somewhat compensated by making the carpet at least look like it was hovering in midair, although few visitors notice this and just assume the "floor" must be very dark. (And we've all heard the story about the guy who hopped the rail to get to Leota, only to fall about 10 feet and break his leg. That's when the safety screens went in.)

Anyway, with an interior-projected Leota, it became possible to incorporate at least some of the animation that couldn't be done before. It was all so subtle that many riders never noticed it, and as the years go by all memory of it threatens to dissolve into the land of the long forgotten. Be it here known to one and all that the table gently pitched and rolled during the decade or so in which the first-generation interior-projected Mdm L operated. Check these video clips from 1997 and 1999:
When they returned to the original, better looking, front-projected "Leota effect"
in October of 2001, the moving table effect also came to an end, sad to say.

The 21st Century: Floating Leota
Lucretia is exactly where we left her, unchanged since she left Yale Gracey's hands, so we're done there, but for the sake of completeness, a few words should probably be said about Leota's final chapters.

Floating Leota concept art by Chris Turner

The first attempt at floating Leota debuted in 2005 at Disneyland, and for the life of me, I can't imagine what they were thinking. It was essentially a projected image aligned with the moving target of the Leota ball. However sophisticated the equipment involved, anyone with half a brain should have been able to tell that it wouldn't work. It requires pinpoint precision, and any moving, physical, mechanical object is going to be subject to friction, wear, stretching (in the support lines), and all the vagaries of electric motors. Of course they couldn't keep the damn thing in acceptably accurate alignment. By 2007 they had abandoned this method for a new interior-projection system that really worked. Unlike its 1990s predecessor, the face really looks good, thanks to much improved technology. WDW got this one first, then DL.

One could argue that floating Leota is another attempt to bring back the more fully animated room that the Séance Circle was intended to be, but personally, I prefer the original, stationary Leota on the table, for thematic reasons. She is the central point of reference in the entire ride. She should be a fixed star in the midst of this mad and whirling firmament. But that's another post:
  • Floating Leota (2005) has never gotten anything more than a lukewarm response. The change felt, and still feels, wrong. Here's where treating this thing like a work of art proves its worth. What had always been the calm, stabilizing center of the ride was now simply another floating object. Everything about her—her chronological placement in the show flow, her pivotal position in the three-act play that is the Haunted Mansion, even her physical location in the room—announces that "here is the center, the eye of the storm." Nothing was gained and something was lost when she took flight.


*Gravity Hill is a common label for the hundreds of similar attractions around the world that use crazily-built shacks and tilted landscaping to produce a variety of optical illusions that seem to defy gravity and distort dimensions. The "Magnetic Mystery Mine" on WDW's Tom Sawyer Island, designed by Marc Davis, is a gravity hill attraction. Davis also drew up plans for a Fun House for the Fort Wilderness Campground that included gravity hill illusions, but that one was never realized. Knott's had a very good one for many years called "The Haunted Shack."