Halloween has gone high tech in Woodland Hills, California where Emmy-winning lighting designer Matt Ford of Magic Lantern Creations, Inc. and his wife, actress Lori Merkle Ford, have evolved their home's Halloween display to attract visitors far beyond neighborhood trick-or-treaters. The Fords' "House at Haunted Hill" has grown from homemade tombstones and black lights to a Disney-inspired haunted mansion to its current incarnation as an illusion-filled holiday show driven by an Alcorn McBride V16+ show controller and A/V Binloop HD.
The 12-minute free show, mounted by an all-volunteer cast and crew at the Fords' residence, featured holograms, projections, animatronics and lighting effects, which told the Hollywood story of a 1920s starlet who marries a shady screenwriter whose wife and daughter have mysteriously disappeared. Neil Patrick Harris - who offered to be part of the show - had a cameo as a reporter, a role written especially for him. The production ran every 15 minutes from October 3 to November 3 from 7 pm to 10 pm (midnight on Friday and Saturday).
"We got between 6,000-7,000 people to see the show," Ford says. "On October 30 a big double-decker bus with flashing lights came by. It turned out to be large group of Disney imagineers and a few executives. And they all recognized the Alcorn McBride equipment."
Just as "The House at Haunted Hill" has evolved in style and complexity, it has grown in its use of Alcorn McBride equipment. "By 2006 we had quite a few effects - there was still no show, juts a bunch of random stuff but we had four or five Alcorn McBride Digital Video Machines running off an Interactivator. We'd get a couple of thousand people to see the house over a two-week period. Some people in the business thought it was great but said we needed to tell our own story."
The Fords didn't want a typical spooky house scenario. "My wife came up with a story set in Old Hollywood, and Emmy-winning TV writer Ed Valentine wrote the script," says Ford. "We wanted to use projection effects, no live actors, to tell a classy story like a high-end ride, which had strong production values."
With the story established Ford had to find equipment to handle the lighting, sound and video cues. "We needed something that could take SMPTE off the soundtrack and fire all these elements during the show," he explains. "So we upgraded to a V16+ show controller and went straight to the A/V Binloops to support all the projections and Pepper's ghost illusions - Neil Patrick Harris appears in one of those.
"The V16+ was really critical to pulling off the show. Everything is completely automated: Push one button on the V16+ and the whole show runs. It also sends MIDI show control to the lighting console and serial commands to automation equipment. The V16+'s flexibility and ability to interface with many different devices is key. There's no other way we could have done it and kept the show fresh."
Ford emphasizes that "The House at Haunted Hill" "is not about the technology but about the story. But it's the technology that allows us to tell the story the way we do."
The A/V Binloops have 14 channels of projection and three channels of HD output, while the Pepper's ghost illusions feature some video warping. "What's nice is being able to pop out the CompactFlash card, put it in the computer, adjust the video then put it back," he says.
"Alcorn McBride's support has been great," Ford adds. "As a TV lighting designer I'm used to having really good support, and theirs is second to none. I have high expectations, and Alcorn McBride is one of the most responsive vendors I've used. I totally get why they are considered an industry leader."
About Alcorn McBride:
Founded in 1986, Alcorn McBride is the leading manufacturer of show control, audio and video equipment for the themed entertainment industry, and a rapidly growing provider of audio and video systems for retail environments and transportation applications. Staffed by some of the industry's best engineers and backed by outstanding customer support, the company has demonstrated great agility in bringing new designs to market. A hallmark of Alcorn McBride products is their durable, zero maintenance design. The company's products provide consistent, reliable operation for audio and video playback applications worldwide. For more information, visit www.alcorn.com.