The Ghosts and Legends of the Queen Mary attraction in Long Beach, CA, is a haunted house with a twist — it's a ship. This detail proved to be quite a technical challenge to the attraction's creators, Renaissance Entertainment Inc., with lighting by Personal Creations, special effects by Technifex, and audio by Performance Systems.
To begin with, no one knew which code the attraction should conform to — ship or building — although it was eventually designated a Class-A public building. The ship's power supply also had to be updated from its original British system dating back to 1934, and two elevators had to be installed to move guests on the tour from deck to deck. This was no easy job in a space covering almost 25,000 sq ft, with “not a single straight edge or flat surface onboard,” according to Renaissance senior project manager Jim Jude.
Another problem for the design team was maintaining the structural integrity of the liner while adding theatrical elements and safety measures. The Queen Mary was built as a luxury liner in the early 1930s, and until the jet set actually started using jets, it was considered the only civilized way to cross the Atlantic. During World War II, the British painted the ship battleship gray and refitted her for a stint as a troop carrier under the name “The Grey Ghost.”Because of this rich history, the ship is on the National Register of Historic Places, and designers working on the attraction wanted to respect her elegant past. As president of Personal Creations and Ghosts and Legends lighting designer Marc Rosenthal notes, “the design concept was realistic theatricality rather than over-the-top, Halloween ridiculousness.”
Ghosts and Legends of the Queen Mary takes guests on a walking tour that reenacts some of the supernatural experiences and events that took place before the ship weighed anchor for the last time in 1967 and became a floating restaurant and tourist destination.
Beginning in the Briefing Room on “R” deck, guests watch a video presentation of the ship's history in a suite that retains some of the elegance and grandeur of the original Queen Mary. Rosenthal scoured the bowels of the ship to rescue some of the original, custom-made light fixtures and wall sconces that had been removed during previous renovations. “They were all two — wire assemblies, some of them with the original lamps still in them. After we cleaned them up and fabricated some parts where needed, we were able to put them back. It really gives you a sense of what the ship would have looked like 40 years ago.”
Guests exit the Briefing Room through a portal, where Rosenthal installed a fiber-optic light channel custom-built by Visual Lighting Technologies, which created a ring of light around the inside of the door-jamb. A blast of steam completes the transition from the safe to the spooky.
In the passageways leading away from the Briefing Room, and in other parts of the tour, Rosenthal used ProCan PAR-20s and Altman MR-16 Micro Ellipses small enough to hide behind I-beams. In order to maintain the sense of being on a real ship, the designer tried to hide as many of the theatrical features as possible. “I didn't want this to be a blatant light show,” he says. In areas where it wasn't possible to hide fixtures, such as the boiler room at the bottom of the ship, he used explosion-proof construction lights in cages to evoke a sense of danger. Rosenthal says one surprising complexity of the attraction was plotting the lighting. “There is no front of house or OP, and so I used nautical terms like forward and aft, port and starboard to describe positions,” he notes.
The next big effect on the tour is in the first — class swimming pool. Described by experts of the supernatural as the “vortex of paranormal activity,” spooky elements include ghostly women swimming in old-fashioned bathing costumes, screams and shouts, and wet footprints leading out of an empty pool.
To recreate these spine-chilling scenes, a fog machine fills the empty pool with a ghoulish mist and guests are treated to a spectral light gliding to the edge of the pool, while wet footprints appear to be walking through a gate to the dressing room. Tom Perkins, senior project manager with Technifex, created the glowing orb by using an aircraft light pulled across the pool on a track. Perkins used an Anitech show control system and a moving-mirror shining blacklight to reveal each footprint as the ghost “walks.”An automated gate opens and closes to signal the ghost's passage.
As the tour goes deeper into the depths of the ship, leaving behind the elegance and safety of the upper decks, the lighting becomes more intense in color. Rosenthal was inspired by an idea for the lighting on his first visit to survey the old boiler rooms. “They were lit by a sodium vapor light, which cast these incredibly eerie shadows, and I thought, ‘This is it! This is what I want this to look like.’ ” Unfortunately, sodium vapor lights proved too difficult to use in terms of show control and repeatability, but after some experimentation, Rosenthal was able to approximate the look with a specific color combination. He positioned lights at deliberately acute angles to keep the shadowy effect.
The most spectacular effect takes place at the end of the tour and replicates an actual event from the ship's service during WWII. The Grey Ghost was taking evasive maneuvers during an Atlantic crossing and rammed one of her escort ships, the British cruiser HMS Curaçao, splitting her in two and drowning hundreds of soldiers. Guests are taken down into the ship's hold, where they stand on a platform as the host describes the accident. Suddenly, alarm bells sound, the lights start to dim, and water seeps, then spurts, through a tear in the ship's hull.
Jude and his team looked at photographs of the external damage to the Queen Mary after the collision to find out what the inside might have looked like. “We determined that water pressure against the damaged steel plates would have forced cracks in the seams allowing water through, slowly at first and then more forcefully,” he explains. Rather than simply create a waterfall effect, which would have been easier to achieve, the team decided to make the effect as realistic as possible. Technifex built a scenic hull inside the original with a steel manifold made to look like a riveted belt between the steel plates. Four large water tanks were hidden behind the scenic hull about 20' above the hidden fold where the “tear” appears. Nozzles were placed behind this seam to release the water gradually at first, then increase as the tear widens. The force of gravity eventually pushes the water out at a rate of 2,000 gallons a minute, and water cannons beneath the platform spray upwards, drumming against guests' feet, adding to the noise and sense of being surrounded by water. Smoke machines and GAM Star Strobes add to the confusion. As Tom Perkins, senior project manager for Technifex, says, “Having that much water coming at you when you are 40' below the waterline can be quite impressive!”
Surviving tour guests are rushed into a waiting elevator and whisked to the safety of the gift shop for some retail therapy above deck.
For Rosenthal, Ghosts and Legends of the Queen Mary ended up being much more than a mere themed project. “One of the things that was so exciting to me about this was that it was such an intense piece of history,” he explains. “There was a real sense of majesty to the whole thing that I felt. I always had a sense of wanting to pay homage to the majesty of the ship, a sense of wanting to do right by it and not to make a joke of it.”
Lighting Equipment (partial)
(4) 2.4kW 24 — channel CD80 packs (96 channels total)
(20) MR-16 Altman210 Micro Ellipses
(44) ProCan211 PAR-20s
(1) Roblin212 DMX 150W metal halide illuminator
19' fiber-optic light channel
(7) GAM213 Star Strobes
(11) ceiling-mount explosion-proof cage lights
(7) side-mount explosion-proof cage lights
(3) pendant-mount explosion-proof cage lights
(12) 300W floodlights (contractor fixtures)
(water-resistant contractor fixtures)
(4) PAR-64 ProCan MFLs
(4) Hydrel214 MR-16 underwater units
(2) High End Systems215 Dataflash® AF1000s
(3) Roblin MR-11 fiber-optic illuminators
(2) large original ship ceiling fixtures (rebuilt)
(5) medium original ship ceiling fixtures (rebuilt)
(17) original ship wall sconces (rebuilt)
Circle Number on Reader Service Card