As you enter the Theaterworks Haunted Hotel, it seems to know you are coming: the spooky rooms respond to you, frightening you with scenes timed for your arrival. Is the building truly haunted, you wonder? Not haunted, but it is controlled by an omniscient presence: many of the amazing effects of the Haunted Hotel can be credited to Medialon Manager, the installation’s show control system.
"One of Medialon’s strengths is to present an extremely complex and unpredictable show in an elegant way," says City Tech associate professor and renowned show-control guru, John Huntington. "This isn’t one big loop running. There are triggers, sensors, motion detectors, photoelectric devices–all of which allow the visitors to interact in real time with the attraction. Our goal is to make visitors completely unaware that there is any technology behind the scenes, and most of the audience members have no idea that they are controlling the show."
Theaterworks Haunted Hotel, hosted by the Entertainment Department of the New York City College of Technology (City Tech), is an interactive theme park-like attraction in downtown Brooklyn and was inspired by the history of the borough. Visitors have no idea what they will encounter when they check into the hotel. Talking pirates? Haunted hallways? Upside-down rooms?
This year’s Haunted Hotel is the fifth for City Tech. Visited by over 1,200 students, faculty, staff and members of the surrounding community, the attraction is an opportunity to entertain and display the students’ skills in performance, lighting, sound, video, and show control of themed events.
The Haunted Hotel features include an animatronic pirate, a haunted bathroom, haunted hallway, a maze with numerous other interactions and animatronic characters, and an interactive video performance. At the end of the exhibit visitors enter a theatre where they can watch other people go though the exhibit on infra-red surveillance cameras, and even see replays of themselves getting spooked.
Behind the scenes, more than $250,000 worth of high-tech equipment and a dozen computers make the Haunted Hotel possible. A Medialon Manager show-control system controls the entire attraction, communicating with a number of sensors over brand new custom made Modbus TCP-based interface and via TCP/IP with an A/V. Stumpfl Wings Platinum system for animatronic control of the Pirate. A Richmond Sound Design Audiobox AB64 provides sound effects for the basement level, while twin Stage Research SFX systems provide the sound effects for the main theatre and the maze. A WholeHog® II controls lighting, and new interactive video equipment provides instant replay of scared patrons’ reactions.
Because of the show’s complexity and the fact it would be run and monitored by non-technical people, Huntington built the user interface before programming the show. "The process needed to be operation-friendly first so I designed it from the front-end back," he explains. Operators can monitor each exhibit on a simple screen, see what it’s doing, that it’s behaving properly and track the visitors as they move through the attraction. A single user screen monitors all the show components.
"Medialon Manager has a lot of features I need, especially in the way it can deal with many different input and output signals in a truly interactive way," comments Huntington. "In Haunted Hotel, there are 12 to 15 separate shows that run completely independently from one another, but which have to follow visitors as they move from one locale to the next. Medialon triggers all the various sub-attractions from a central, easy-to-use interface. Each time someone goes though the Hotel, that experience is a unique show, and the master Medialon system monitors and controls the whole thing."