How to technically deliver the best scare is the objective of Universal Orlando's Halloween event, the month-long scare fest, held for the first time this year at Universal's Islands of Adventure (October 4-November 2). “We want it to be creepy and scary enough to make people uneasy,” says T.J. Mannarino, the in-house director of art and design who coordinates the project. “Most people are afraid of the unknown, so we start from there and create different environments, like a morgue or a haunted house and try to put people on edge.” Once people are on edge, Mannarino moves in to deliver the scare. This year the event includes five haunted houses throughout the park, as well as other scare experiences. For Mannarino and his technical and design team, the important question is what is the scare concept? “The audio, lighting, and special effects are very important,” he says, adding that goo and other odd substances can take you by surprise, as well as water effects standing in for nuclear waste or flying blood. “There are tactile walk-through experiences. These are not things you watch but interactive moments where you might run into a chainsaw-wielding henchman or other monsters.”
The lighting has to work in coordination with each “scare” to make each space seem as creepy as possible. “In a small space we might use small pools of light to make it seem more confining, or in a funeral parlor you might hear the organ playing and see the candles flicker, you might even smell dead flowers,” explains Mannarino. “For sound, we might use a microphone with a speaker way ahead to create an eerie echo so you hear yourself ahead of where you are.”
Sometimes simple effects are used, where the lighting or sound is triggered by actors or technicians in direct response to the guests, meaning that sophisticated show control is not needed. The highest-tech environment is a haunted house in a soundstage where there is a full lighting rig in a controlled environment.
The exteriors of Islands of Adventure will be relit for Halloween to make the park holiday-specific, with much of the lighting turned off and no white light used at all to create a dark creepy feel. In the Lost Continent area, huge balls of fire will go off over the rooftops in a dozen different locations. “You can see this from across the lagoon. The fireballs pull the eye over and distract the guests,” says Mannarino. “Then we can place an actor in their face with a chainsaw and really deliver a scare.”