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From the Theme Parks to the Silver Screen

Hollywood Sets its Sites on the Happy Haunts

By Wolf

Pictured: The foyer is dressed in cobwebs and tattered cloth in this photo, featuring a statue with drapery carved into the design, obscuring the facial features and setting an atmosphere of foreboding. This is a common theme in the art used throughout the Mansion. The set was also dressed in rich, opulent fabrics for other scenes in the film.

I could scarcely believe the message on my voice mail.

"I'm the publicist for Disney's "The Haunted Mansion" film. Call me and we'll arrange your studio tour while you're in LA."

DoomBuggies.com admin staffers Artdude, Nate and myself were visiting Anaheim and Los Angeles the first week in April and we were being allowed to visit the set of the upcoming film version of our favorite attraction!

On the appointed day, we piled into the "miniature fire truck," as the rental car had been nicknamed, and headed from Anaheim into Los Angeles. Aside from the expected traffic issues the trip was uneventful. We arrived at the studio, and I got out of the car and snapped a few photos of the studio exterior.

The studio appears to be just another large white warehouse situated in the heart of an industrial district; the only thing that gives its true purpose away is a sign near the guardhouse with the studio's name on it.

We stopped at the gate and the studio guard checked our credentials. After verifying that we were indeed on the guest list, the guard invited us to take advantage of the catering trucks while we waited for the film's publicist. He waved us through the gate and into the parking lot where I took a few more pictures.

Mere minutes later, we were greeted by our contact. He led us into the studio building and began our tour by directing our attention to a large model of the graveyard. We were informed that filming on that particular location was completed and the set had been razed, but he pointed out several elements in the set model that play an important role in the film including the large Gracey crypt. The mausoleum's interior, which had been located on the graveyard set, had been dismantled and moved inside the studio for further use; we would see it later.

Conceptual art illustrating the exterior of the Gracey Manor, complete with a swampy marsh outside the front doors. Note that enormous wrought iron columns were used rather than the familiar pillars of Disneyland's facade. It was believed that if pillars were used, the scale would make the building look too much like a government office. (These production drawings for the Haunted Mansion film were created by Nathan Schroeder.)

We proceeded to enter the wardrobe area, headed by costume designer Mona May (Clueless, Stuart Little 2). She explained a bit about some of her creations and treated us to a look at the infamous bride's dress as well as some of the other character costumes, some simple and some exceedingly elaborate. We noticed many familiar costumes from the Haunted Mansion attraction, and a few new "friends" as well. There were tables spread with costume sketches and photos, and dressmaker dummies modeled a few of the more detailed costumes. As we were examining the costumes, we were joined by producer Don Hahn, whose credits include "The Lion King" (producer), "Beauty and the Beast" (producer), "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" (associate producer) and "The Emperor's New Groove" (executive producer), among other Disney classics. Introductions were made, and Don took over for the remainder of the tour.

He demonstrated one of the film's visual costuming effects, explaining that it was a new special effect created for this film. Without saying exactly what it is, I will say it was quite effective, even to the naked eye. We then moved to the special effects makeup and general character makeup area, where we were treated to effects makeup artist Rick Baker's (Planet of the Apes, The Ring, The Hulk) creature and makeup designs, photographed as modeled by the actors as well as Rick himself. Viewing the designs and photos, I was reminded of just why this man has no less than six Oscars for his work. Some of the creations and creatures he has produced for this film are amazing and very clever.

Conceptual art illustrating the graveyard adjoining Gracey Manor. Aged and worn, the unkept cemetery is home to a number of the movie's most intriguing characters. Like many graveyards in Louisiana, many of the crypts and graves are elevated, to avoid rotting in the boggy ground.

The next stop on our tour was the foyer/front door set. It is, with only slight deviation, exactly as pictured in the original concept sketch that was displayed at Disneyland's Disney Gallery in late 2002. A large central hallway, flanked by staircases leading to the second level, is looked down upon by a pair of sculptures located on either side of a large clock. The foyer set appears to be dark wood and is heavy, brooding and very detailed, reminiscent of the sets featured in the film "The Haunting."

Pictured: The Mansion's grand hall features a marvelous pipe organ entwined within wrapping staircases, and a walk-in fireplace lasrge enough to heat the entire ballroom properly. According to the writers of the movie, this hall was the focal point for generations of social events at Gracey Manor, and many mysterious masquerade balls were held here.

We moved on to the under construction grand ballroom set with its twin curved staircases which surround a massive pipe organ (sound familiar?) A very large and functional fireplace was being installed during our visit, and one window had its draperies hung to give an idea of how they would all appear. This room, unlike the foyer, had a feeling of lightness even though it was by far the largest of the sets. Credit goes to art director John Myhre (X-Men, Ali), who most recently won the Academy Award in art direction for his work on the film "Chicago," for making a space at once both intimate and imposing.

Exiting the ballroom, we were led past the armory hall. At the time of our visit, the armor had not been placed along the corridor so the hall was simply an empty set with double doors at the far end.

Next stop: Master Gracey's library and conservatory. The conservatory had been used during the exterior location filming and then dismantled and moved in to the studio for further use. WDW visitors will recognize it as the large green glass room on the exterior of the mansion facade; unfortunately, the Disneyland mansion has no such conservatory.

The library set is a two-level set with wrought iron railings ringing the second level and a large portrait of Master Gracey hanging over the fireplace. In the center of the library is a Victorian sofa, which we were informed was Captain Nemo's sofa in "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." We were joined in the library by director Rob Minkoff, director of such films as "Stuart Little" and "The Lion King" and animator of "The Little Mermaid" and supervising animator of "The Great Mouse Detective," among other credits. Rob, Don, Artdude, Nate and I chatted for a short time about how we were all long time Haunted Mansion attraction fans while a studio photographer circled us, taking photos and encouraging us to "act natural." He then grouped Nate, Artdude and I on Nemo's sofa for a group photo with Rob and Don behind us...truly a Disney moment if there ever was one.

Pictured: Conceptual art illustrating the armory in Gracey Manor. This showcase features many types of armor from different eras that were gathered from all over the world. The distinctive collection help add a "haunted elegance," as director Minkoff termed it, which helped to "inform the storytelling."

Rob then excused himself to tend to other business, and we explored the conservatory and library a bit more before heading for the mausoleum set.

The mausoleum is cavernous, spectacular, and beautiful in a graveyard-beautiful kind of way. Its walls are lined with crematory urns and coffins, and elaborate metalwork completes the scene. Even under bright lights and with the knowledge that we were standing on a movie set, there was something eerie about the experience. Nate and I crawled, walked and jumped like small children in a macabre playground over the various obstacles strewn about the space while Artdude and Don discussed some of the effects filmed in this particular set. Once Nate and I had exhausted ourselves, we rejoined the group and headed for the hallway.

The hallway set appeared to be very long-not endless, but very long. Nate asked Don if they had employed forced perspective to make the hall look longer than it really is. As it turns out, there is no forced perspective. Nate and I walked the length of the hall, noticing some of the small details borrowed, in a somewhat modified form, from the actual attractions. If you pay attention during this film, you will see occasions where the filmmakers have hidden small tributes to the Disney original.

Pictured above: Producer Don Hahn and director Rob Minkoff tour the sets with DoomBuggies staffers Nate, Artdude, and Wolf.

Leaving the hallway set, we headed for our final stop: the attic. It was being prepared for filming that afternoon and we were cautioned to be careful as we made our way. The collection of clutter strewn around the set would make any mansion fan happy. Walkways through the attic seemed unusually tight and narrow, as though there was a purposeful sense of claustrophobia designed into the set. Looking straight up, we noticed we were standing directly under the mansion's empty cupola. All it needed was a hanging corpse and some lightning to make us feel right at home.

After the attic, we said our good-byes and reluctantly headed for the parking lot. Don accompanied us, answering a few questions we hadn't thought to ask while we were still inside.

Overall, our impression of this project is very favorable. It is obvious that a lot of thought and care has been put into crafting the various elements going in to this and that the director and producer are truly "Haunted Mansion fanboys" at heart—one of them recounted his childhood days spent at Disneyland wishing the mansion would "hurry up and open" so he could finally experience it. They are crafting a film that will be visually stunning while remaining true to the spirit of the attraction from which it takes its name.

Oh, one more thing. Although we couldn't take everyone with us, all of you, our fellow DoomBuggies.com community members, visitors, and friends were there, at least in spirit...

Conceptual art illustrating the Gracey family mausoleum, with massive bronze statues guarding its imposing bronze doors. According to local legend, Gracey Manor is riddled with secret passageways and tunnels, some of which extend through the graveyard. Is it possible that this crypt offers an outlet..?

Killhouettes 

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