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From the team behind Haunted Overload
Lighting a scene to provide the most visual impact has always been very important to us at Haunted Overload. Lighting should always enhance a scene not detract from it. A mediocre scene can be brought to life with good lighting, just a fantastic scene can be ruined by the wrong choice or bad lighting job.
Fantastic effects can be achieved with a relatively low budget. Coming from a home haunt background just starting out we did not have the funds to purchase expensive lights and effects. We made do with cheap colored spotlights that stuck in the ground. We found that with just standard red, blue, green and orange spotlights we could achieve great effects by the proper placement and combination of colors in a scene. Using black wrap and gaffing tape we are able to feather the lighting effects or dim them down at will by bending and shaping the wrap over the light to suit our needs. These simple techniques are in use at the haunt to this day.
Mainly lighting from the ground up illuminating the natural environment, trees and structures provides dramatic shadows and highlights to each area.
Since our attraction is outdoors, we prefer big bold powerful lighting effects that cover a wide area. Our 500 W halogen work lights are slowly being replaced with LED versions covered with gels to change the color.
A good rule of thumb is to use warm and cool colors in each scene. For example if you are lighting something in the foreground with warm tones such as red or orange, a cool color in the background like blue or green tones will really make it pop and vice versa.
Rules are made to be broken and experimentation is always a good thing.
This year, I wanted to try to light one particular scene in the outside queue line with only natural light from candles or flames.
This may not be possible at every haunt location but if your fire marshal allows it in certain areas this could work great. I wanted it to look 100% authentic so we lit real jackolanterns with candles in jars and the outside perimeter of the scene with tiki torches. With a lot of fog pumped in, it made the scene look incredible with all the flickering natural light.
Another successful experiment was achieved by using a powerful LED blacklight. We knew we needed something spectacular for the main queue line so we built a massive four-story skull structure. But the lighting had to look incredible. So my idea was to mix glow-in-the-dark paint with invisible fluorescent paint and spray the entire sculpture with a Wagner power painter. We painted the whole thing black first to provide a deep rich base for the fluorescent glowing mixture on top.
The black light was turned on while the paint was being applied so we could judge the effect and intensity of the glowing areas.
Even though the photo is fantastic, it's hard reproduce the intensity when printed and to describe the finished results seen in person. The combination of tones and shadows produces an almost 3-D effect without the glasses. That entire section of queue line and skull structures can be lit with one 40° UV light by Elektra Lite with lighted pumpkins for accents. Impressive light output delivers incredible fluorescence at distances of more than 75 feet. Red LED lights in the eyes of the skulls on either side help make it pop.
I wanted to improve on this technique the following year and experiment with different colors. The same approach was applied to a 50 foot dragon bridge sculpture. Additional black lights from Fright Props were added to light up the entire length of the sculpture. Care was taken to cover them from the elements as well as position the lights high to avoid shadows from patrons entering the bridge.
This is one of my favorite lighting effects because patrons are really blown away when they are viewing such a large glowing object from far away that gains in glowing intensity as they move closer.
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by Ben Armstrong
Flying rigs in Haunted Attractions can be very impressive and something to consider adding to your event. However, there are large risks when adding aerial stunts (or any time you have an employee raised above the ground). Let’s discuss the various ways you accomplish such an effect.
- Air Powered Lifters and Droppers - In most cases, these are considered the safest as they usually start on the ground and lift an actor into the air. This is good because the actor doesn’t need to strap into the device up high on a platform somewhere in the dark. Also, these usually move somewhat slowly which is also a bonus. There are a few companies that make these, but generally they are not cheap, as they require massive cylinders to safely lift a person’s weight and a large amount of steel to support the rig and the actor. The downside is that the faster they get the more dangerous they become, and the amount of energy required to lift a person can be problematic if an employee gets a costume or hand caught in the works. As always, the method used to safely secure the actor to the rig is critical. These rigs are prone to the same sort of wear and tear as normal animations, so it’s very important to have an inspection system in place when using these devices.
- Bungees – These can be very effective ways to get fast scares. With this sort of stunt, it is essential to have professional equipment meant to take the weight of a person for both the bungee system and the harness. Also critical is the method of attaching the bungee to the overhead structure and the overhead structure itself. This is not recommended unless the equipment & rigging are supplied and installed by a professional. There are bungee systems that can be purchased as stand-alone units. These are very good. The downside is the potential for coming into contact with a patron is high. Careful positioning and training on this stunt are required to make it safe enough to use. Another issue is the athletic ability needed to perform this on a continuous basis. Bungees can be used all night by actors trained to use the bungee as the propulsion for the stunt, but even then, a high level of athleticism is required. Another factor is how the harness fits and the potential for rubbing or bruising. This is a factor in any stunt when the weight of the actor is held by a harness.
- Tracks – Tracks are stunts whereby an actor wearing a harness is secured to a trolley on a track and flies out over the patrons. This can be quite effective but has its own unique set of problems. As always, the appropriate rigging of the equipment and track installation is essential. A new factor to consider is how difficult it is for the actor to get into position to attach to the track. The factors of darkness, height and attaching the back of the harness to the rig are all very serious. A mistake along the way could lead to an accident. Another issue is the possibility of kicking a guest as you pass overhead or being grabbed or punched while being held in the harness. If the track is set at the appropriate height and the actor is carefully secured in place this can be a very safe & effective stunt, but an extraordinary amount of planning and safety considerations must always be in place. Downsides are the hazards in attaching to the effect, the proper wearing of the harness to prevent rubbing, and the potential for the guests grabbing at the actor.
- Zip Lines – Most of the factors involved in a track stunt come into play with zip lines but in an even more expanded way. Zip lines are more for show than for a scare, as the actor is often seen during most of the flight. All of the same issues of harness safety, professional installation and successfully getting onto the platform exist as before, but with this stunt the platform is usually higher, and therefore the actor will have even greater inability to stop once they commit to the zip. No chance of impact with guests or other objects should exist, but even more care should be taken when mounting this stunt. To purchase & install the correct cables and trolleys for this sort of flight is quite expensive, and this should be considered one of the most advanced stunts you might undertake despite its seeming simplicity.
As you can see flying stunts are not easy or cheap to do safely. Here is a checklist for what you should look at for every stunt you install in your attraction:
- Anchor Points: The structure must be strongly secured, so I always recommend hiring a professional rigger.
- Mounting: Ladders and platforms need good traction and handrails. Rails and safety clip on cables to protect the actor before they are clipped in are also required.
- Harnesses: Get professional harnesses recommended by the rigger you hire. Make sure they are correctly adjusted to prevent chaffing or bruising. In stunts like air powered lifters where only a belt is needed, make sure it is a belt designed to do what it is doing and one that is properly attached. Harnesses must be periodically replaced. They may only be usable on certain sizes of actors.
- Bungees & Cables: They need to be rated for the use desired and properly installed. They must be replaced, sometimes every season or sooner if they get damaged.
- Casting & Training: Your flying actors needs to be athletic, safety-conscious and smart. They must make sure everything is correct with the stunt to always take safety seriously. They must be very aware of their surroundings and what the guests are doing, especially if any possible contact could occur while performing the stunt. They need to be tough, but not oblivious to pain. If they pull a muscle or are dehydrating or are being hurt by the harness, they need to know when to stop.
- Carabiners, Trolleys & Other Rigging Gear: Professionally recommended and installed gear that is often inspected and used for what it was designed for is the only way to go.
- Cover the Mechanisms: Especially with air powered lifts, tracks and zip lines, make sure to design things in such a way as to keep your actors’ and guests’ hands off of the tracks and out of the linkages. A finger caught in a trolley will not make for a happy radio call.
- General Safety & Care: Your stunt actors may need extra breaks, and they need to checked on by staff frequently. It is very easy to dehydrate on stunts and often hard to access water while attached. They need to be able to release themselves in the event of an emergency, for example if the haunt needs to be evacuated.
So, there you have it…Stunts can be amazing, extremely effective at scaring your guests, and have a huge WOW factor, but they require an unending dedication to safety, doing things the correct way, training, and a serious dollar investment. If you are mindful, willing & committed to these issues then flying rig stunts might be for you. Good luck!
|Posted by Larry 6.37 AM Read Comments (
Oversized Pumpkin Creatures, step by step.
At Haunted Overload we strive to give the patron a unique and original Halloween experience. To do so, we must constantly build new set pieces that surround the crowd with exciting and visually pleasing images of Halloween. In this article I will focus on how to construct oversized static pumpkin headed creatures. These figures are meant to be set up outdoors. They could be used at an outdoor event or even outside an indoor haunt to attract attention. Last season we made 4 figures at once to be used throughout our expanded queue line section. People enjoy looking at them as they wait in line for the show. They also set the tone and provide the atmosphere that people have come to expect at our attraction.
When designing and constructing creatures like these, cost is always of the utmost concern. Strength is also a very important consideration because they will be battered by wind, rain and possibly snow. One of the figures was built on a hill and loomed over the crowd. We could not afford to have the thing toppling over on people so the design needed to bullet proof, using braces that blended into the scene and looked like small trees.
The heads and hands of the figures needed to have the most detail and look real. The goal was to make the heads and hands blend in with the organic material we covered the bodies with at the end. I was excited to try an all new technique for making the pumpkin heads last year. We secured the sponsorship of a spray foam insulation company. That was a huge help for the project because it kept costs to a minimum. The owner educated me about the two different kinds of foam that he used. I knew I would be able to use both in the production of the new heads.
The first step was to have the foam contractor spray 4 large piles of open cell urethane foam. This kind of foam is extremely soft, like a sponge and very easy to carve. You can almost carve it with your bare hands. I used a wood rasp to quickly round the shapes into spheres. Then I asked the contractor to coat the balls with closed cell urethane foam about 1.5 inches thick. This is a much harder foam with more strength. Once again I used a wood rasp and electric sander to shape the foam to appear like a pumpkin with ridges. Then the face could be carved just like a real jack o lantern. The soft foam was then pulled out by hand leaving a hollow shell. A hole was cut in the bottom to make a neck out of chicken wire and Great Stuff spray foam. The neck was used to mount the pumpkin to the body. At this point the shell could be hard coated. I prefer to run to the hardware store and get a bucket of Liquid Nails or any other brand of construction adhesive. Smearing it on with rubber gloves strengthens the pumpkin just fine and makes for a realistic looking skin by filling in some of the gaps and holes that may be left in the foam.
The stems were cut from pink foam, ridges made with a Dremel and hit with a heat gun. The heat gun made the ridges stand out more and hardened the foam nicely. We dunked the stems in black latex paint and let dry. Highlighting them with lighter colored paint brought out the details. I like to paint the entire pumpkin with thick black latex paint before a finish coat of pumpkin orange spray paint. The inside got a lighter yellow / orange color to make them look real. The nice thing about this technique is that all the imperfections in the pumpkin add to the detail and make it look more realistic than a perfectly shaped pumpkin made out of plastic.
The construction of the hands came next. The size of the pumpkin heads determined how big the hands would be. The hands were made to be roughly the same size as the heads. Once the proportions were determined, strips of plywood were cut for each bone of the fingers. They were then sandwiched between 2 strips of Romex electrical wire and screwed together. The wire held everything in place and allowed the fingers to bend at the knuckles. Two sections of electrical conduit were flattened with a hammer. Holes were drilled to make way for screws into each side of the plywood palm. A section of 2x4 was then bolted between the conduit for an extremely strong connection at the wrist. These hands are rather heavy when finished so this joint needed to be very strong to last in the elements. I wanted to make sharp fingernails for the hands. These were made by sculpting the nail shape over small sections of the Romex wire. Magic Sculpt 2 part epoxy clay was used. The nails could then be screwed to the ends of the plywood fingers.
The hands at this point looked pretty boring. They needed a good amount of detail to look real and organic. For this we used Monster Mud and strips of cheese cloth. Directions for Monster Mud can be found all over the internet. The cheese cloth is light enough to sculpt veins and crazy looking texture over the plywood hands. The hands can be positioned before the mud is applied. If the joints are covered with it they will harden in that position. Once dry, Liquid Nails was smeared over the hands for more protection and detail. Finally black spray paint was applied. I intended to highlight the hands with lighter colored paint but totally ran out of time. The hands were black for this year but will get more detail using a dry brush technique for the upcoming season.
With the heads and hands done, it was time to build the bodies. Great care and planning took place to position each of the 4 figures for the best effect before actual construction. I had a local saw mill cut me four beams 4x4x14 feet long. These would be the backbone and main support for each monster. Post holes were excavated deep enough for the beams to stand solid and strong when tamped down. Each one leaned slightly forward for a more natural stance. The proportions were calculated by laying sections of 2x4’s on the ground in the shape of a large body. Using high quality outdoor decking screws, the bodies were screwed together to look like stick figures. Various positions helped make each one look unique and as dynamic as possible. Once the positions were decided upon, smaller sections of wood were added to brace every single joint and possible weak area. The legs were staked into the ground providing three points of contact with the ground. The figures with outstretched arms needed to have saplings staked in the ground and attached high on the arms for additional support. The hands were screwed into position on each of the figures. The heads were attached by sliding them down over stakes secured to the top of the main 4x4. Once the desired position was achieved, Great Stuff foam sprayed into the neck hole held the pumpkin heads in place.
Chicken wire was stapled to the wood to form the rib cage and flesh out each statue. Black construction fabric was used to cover the entire body of each one. Finally, burlap, erosion cloth, pumpkin vines, and hay were used to detail the bodies. Lighting of the finished figures was also important to their overall effectiveness. By up lighting them, details of the burlap and pumpkin vines were accentuated for a more dramatic look. Battery operated flickering tea lights were used to illuminate the heads before each show. Lights that plug in are planned next year for convenience. The heads can be switched around from figure to figure for different looks as well. The Statues really gave our new queue line the eye candy it needed. Patrons were very enthusiastic about the oversized creatures and made many positive comments when viewing them.
|Posted by Larry 3.42 PM Read Comments (
By Larry Kirchner
The haunted house industry is moving into an entire new decade, the ROARing twenties. Who will scream the loudest in 2020? What haunted attraction or vendor will make all the right moves to survive into the next decade. If you haven't noticed things are drastically changing. Can I make a prediction? After seeing several haunts and suppliers call it quits in 2019, I'm predicting the industry as we know it is going to change once again. My prediction is several more suppliers are going out of business or downsizing. I believe we're going to see several middle to small haunts close their attractions, and haunt vendors can't survive on the Netherworld's of the industry alone.
Just as our country must have a middle class (otherwise we'll turn into the next Venezuela), so we must have small and medium sized haunts. They make up 90% of every attraction that will open in 2020. Most of these attractions do not make enough money to earn a living, yet they survive. Why? This is very much a passion-based business, and these people will borrow every cent they can find to re-open, because they love haunted houses. Many small haunts run their attractions with volunteers and in many cases operate for the sole benefit of a charity. I believe most of these haunts will survive on passion alone. But what about the haunted houses that strive for the next level, every year spending more and more, hoping to break thru?
These haunted house owners are quickly learning… there are other options to make more money with less hassle. To operate a professional haunted house in 2020 you must understand digital marketing, social media, and be able to evolve to meet a new level of competition. Haunted Houses are no longer just in competition with other haunts. No, no, no. Now you have all sorts of competitive social activities such as axe throwing, escape rooms, vintage arcade bars, botchy ball bars, Top Golf, plus wacky mini golf is about to invade the scene. Many haunt owners have already taken their operation skills and their ability to build themed attractions and have opened escape rooms and axe throwing. Some haunters opened escape rooms that are now grossing more revenue in 4 months than their haunted house. Some axe throwing facilities are grossing more money than the highest gross haunted house in our industry. You operate these attractions with a handful of employees, offering full time jobs, and gone are the hassles of dealing with 150 employees to operate one single haunted house. Many haunt owners are getting older and wiser. Let's think about this for a moment: less stress, easier to manage, and three times the money of a haunted house.
The other problem haunted houses face is competition from amusement parks who've totally embraced Halloween. Many theme parks advertise their events as FREE to season pass holders, while our haunted houses range from $20-$35 dollars. Sure, when those customers get to their local amusement park, only then they realize their “free entry” doesn’t include the haunts which cost an additional $30+, but that is a minor detail. Haunted House owners can't offer the type of concessions, rides, and infrastructure of an amusement park.
I believe this industry is headed for the cream of the crop mega haunts and the charity haunts with little to no middle-class haunts. Many haunters have sold or closed their haunts and joined other companies/haunts. The ranks are thinning and will most likely continue to thin big league.
We use to own Halloween, but now the competition is fierce and coming from more than just other haunted houses. One of the biggest killers of our industry stems from those who didn't further educate themselves to learn digital marketing or evolve their haunts into massive entertainment, rather than continue to only focus on the scares.
Let's look at The Darkness for example . My first mistake was building a side haunted house called The Hive behind my escape rooms. I quickly realized this mistake after I built a very successful escape room business. Now I want to sell that haunted house to free up space to build out my escape room facility to add more attractions that can be open year-round. I want to offer axe throwing, a bar, vintage arcades, pinball, board games, and maybe bowling. My up-charged haunted house makes about $65,000 a year, whereas my new bar might gross $500,000+ a year.
In the last 5 years, we've added tons of photo ops, to the point no one can even go into the haunted house without getting their picture taken. We want every customer to have a keepsake. We never opened for special events, but now we open for both Krampus Christmas and Bloody Valentines giving out free candy & photos. Never before did we focus on icon monsters not to scare anymore, but rather take pictures with guests so they can share on social media. Now we actively recruit our customers via Fear Ticket to leave us a review. Fear Ticket has a feature that allows me to send every single customer an automatic email 2-hours after their visit asking for a review. This year we had the best reviews ever! For 20 years, we told people no video, no photography. Now we encourage it, hoping they live stream their screams! For two decades once the customers left the last scary scene the haunted house was over. Now after the last SCREAM we have a massive entertainment room that features horror video games, horror pinball games, an electric chair ride, a 5-minute escape, gift store, snacks and tons of photo ops.
At Creepyworld, we built a really fun outdoor que line with photo ops, and a midway at the exit with zombie paintball, free horror movies, game booths, an escape room, a free pumpkin display and (again) tons of photo ops. Now, the most important actors are the ones in the midway who don't scare anymore but just take photos with guests. Imagine that! My focus isn't how many guests but the average amount each guest spends between the ticket, additional activities, food, drink, and gift shopping. Customers don't want to be scared as much as they want to have fun. They want an experience with friends that they can document on social media. With our marketing, we use lines like 'GRAB YOUR FRIENDS AND SCREAM TOGETHER'. Today everyone does things as a group and if one person in that group doesn't like to get scared the entire sale could be nixed, so you must learn to ENTERTAIN your guests. You need to make sure your guests are sharing their experience and showing their friends who didn't attend just how much fun they missed!
Here is the bottom line: The small charity haunts with volunteer staff will survive, but professional haunts will not survive on that passion alone; you must adapt to 2020 customer demands or you will not make it. As for vendors, we don’t need more dead bodies. We need innovation that meets these new 2020 demands like innovative photo ops, things that promote our business, maybe an arcade machine that triggers animations inside the haunt, something a person pays to play. Or wouldn't it be cool if a vendor came up with a system that videotaped a guest’s experience thru the haunted house? Now that is something we could up sell! As for VR (virtual reality), we don't need 30-minute games; we need 5-minute intense experiences to increase revenue, small short experiences that can readily be up sold. How about cool photo booths, apps for our website that involve turning guests into zombies then wrapping the photo with our logos? It really is time for all vendors to start thinking about the future. Are you a vendor? Can you create a product to help us either sell a ticket, entertain guests, dominate social media, or make us more money? If so that is what we want and need to buy!
How does one know what haunts want to buy? How do you figure what is working or isn't working? How do you honestly get the help you need? We had that in the Hauntworld Fright Forum where people learned more than they ever did thru any other medium, but then we fell into the Facebook trap. Now our industry has hundreds of useless Facebook groups where the conversations are dominated by enthusiasts or seasonal haunt actors referring to themselves as haunters. Even if someone asked a legit question or post a great tip, most of us never see it, because other useless posts are made, washing it away the useful posts 10 miles deep. Most big industries have private message boards, where people go for information. The Hauntworld Fright Forum does still exist for your use if/when needed, but I'm not saying the Hauntworld Fright Forum is your answer. I’m simply saying haunted house owners need a forum for professional discussion. It’s really that simple because we're all scattered in our own worlds across the social media universe. Time is money, yet people can spend hours looking around social media and still learn nothing and share nothing.
In closing, Hauntworld Magazine under my direction has always focused on articles to help your business first. The seminar topics I choose to speak on at Transworld are always about business first. I am well known for having one of the most detailed haunted houses in the World. If I were to do a design & detail seminar, I’m sure it would sell out quickly. Yet, I choose to focus on helping haunt owners with the information that I know will help their business the most. I’ve learned the hard way that buying the best new walls or 3 more animations or 10 more masks, don't buy you another customer. Yes, as haunters, this is what we enjoy, but your haunt needs information and most importantly it needs to adapt for this current generation of customers. With everything being said as haunt owners we still want cool masks, costumes, animations and gadgets to make people scream, but at what point do you already have enough? Your new first focus should be on growing entertainment options for your guests, start with a zombie paintball side attraction. Big money maker and guests find it fun! Secondly stop stressing about how many guests, but rather entertain the ones who come, and give them options to spend more money with you!
|Posted by Larry 3.07 PM Read Comments (