Tips for Making the Scene with Lighting

A Haunted House attraction measures its success by the number of loud cries and screams emitted by its visitors. To achieve their goal of terror, these attractions count on the talents of live actors, custom make up, set designs and specialized lighting.
D’Ann Dagen is president of La-De-Da Productions, Inc. and the producer of Hangman’s House of Horrors in Fort Worth, Texas. This year, the haunted attraction will be celebrating its 25th anniversary.
“We are the top charity-benefiting haunted house in the world and to date, we have donated $1.8 million to local charities,” Dagen said. “We have four haunted attractions that are staffed by more than 200 zombies, monsters, victims and ghouls. We have a reputation for disorienting and scaring our 20,000 to 30,000 guests who come each season to be frightened out of their wits.”
Hangman’s House uses a variety of lighting to create its effects including par38 can lights that can incorporate gels and gobos to vary color, texture and saturation.
“All fixtures are programmed through a computerized dimming system so the lights might be modified individually or in total,” explained Dagen.  “Specialty lights are then layered in as required for each scene. We use intense strobes, UV, lasers, LEDs, moving disco lights, flicker lights, puck lights, rope lights, par 64 cans and even incandescent and LED Christmas lights. We use whatever the scene needs.”
Setting each scene is what creates the eerie effect and Dagen said that lighting outside the attraction is essential for visitor safety. Fluorescent “house” lights are in place and come on in an emergency as do the “bug” battery backup lights that come on for an unexpected power loss.
“Each year, we incorporate new lighting and technology and new designs.  Our goal is to create an attraction that will scare our customers so much that they cannot wait to come back again.”
Rick Pollard, who co-owns Planet of Terror with his son Trevor, operates the seasonal Haunted House attraction from September through November 1 of each year.  Planet of Terror, which enjoyed a large following in the Myrtle Beach, S.C. area, is relocating to Charlotte, N.C. for next season.
“Lighting is one of the most important features in any haunted attraction,” explained Rick Pollard.  “We were a small attraction for the first four years, but then we received national coverage on TV and that was it for us. The attraction took off,” he noted. “After Hurricane Sandy, we decided to move inland more, and so we settling in the Charlotte area.  As we do each year, we are looking for new ways to scare our customers like they have never been scared before.”
According to Pollard, who has a history in entertainment with sound and lighting, lighting is crucial for creating creepy and frightening effects.
“We use only LED lighting in our attraction,” he said. “We like that they run cool at all times and still project well.”
Lighting in Planet of Terror includes everything from strobes to black lights. Installation for the lighting and creation of set designs starts in June and will continue until opening day.
“We use our own people plus local contractors for the light and set installation. It’s important for us to give back to the local communities with this attraction, so we always hire from the area, and we will do the same in our new location.”
At Planet of Terror, the lighting goes with every aspect of the attraction. In order to be a success, all the senses for each customer must be engaged and that is where lighting becomes essential.
“We have 25 to 40 staff members and 40 to 50 actors on at all times, and we have targeted lighting for each part of the attraction,”  he noted.  “Lighting changes the mood of a room and makes it more eerie or scary in a matter of a second.  Our lighting effects also allow features in the attraction to pop out. For example, without lighting, red paint on a wall is red paint; with specialized lighting, visitors see 3-D blood oozing from the wall.”
Pollard and his staff create lighting around each individual actor as well to ensure that the characters present their best scary performance for visitors.
“We prepare the lighting to go with each piece of the attraction including individual exhibits within the attraction,” Pollard noted. “For instance, we have our freak show oddities such as the mummified hand, and the lighting has to be dead on so that when people see that mummified hand, they think it’s real.”
A three-way partnership between Demerrit Hill farm, Cocheco Valley Humane Society and Haunted Overload has made Lee, N.H., the place to be scared during the Halloween season.  Consistently rated one of the top haunted attractions in the United States, Haunted Overload uses handmade sets, 40-foot monsters, sound and lighting to scare their visitors to the point of screaming.
“I started Haunted Overload as a home haunt attraction, but it just ballooned,” said Eric Lowther, owner of Haunted Overload. “Because of its popularity, we moved it to a farm site and then we moved again to the four-acre site on Demerrit Hill Farm.  Here we have a bigger attraction built in the woods plus more permanent trails, and we have the space to achieve the scary effect we want, and lighting is a big part of that effect.”
Lowther incorporates everything from flood lights to high-powered LED black lights.
“We still use some low-tech LED lights which are waterproof and inexpensive.   We also have some $15, 500-watt Halogens which, when we add color gel covers, light up the woods in a very creepy way.  This year we are going to experiment with 12 volt LED lights and save on electricity too.”
The attraction, which is open only three weekends during Halloween season and now welcomes between 6,000 and 10,000 visitors, gives a portion of its proceeds to the Cocheco Valley Humane Society.
“Each year something new comes out and we want to install it in our attraction,” Lowther noted. “The best lighting advance for us has been the digital boxes that hook into speakers and synchronize sound to the strobe lights and the flickering lights.  This truly brings the effects together.”
Haunted Overload has for the season a staff that numbers between 60 and 80 and the attraction draws from all over country.
“We cannot say we are a local attraction anymore because we sell timed tickets online and that has made people from as far away as Alaska come check us out.”
Aberdeen Fear Factory is located in a manufacturing facility in Aberdeen, N.C., that produces many products including casino furnishings. The 28,000-square-foot haunted attraction is open from the end of September through Halloween and again during Christmas for a Haunted Christmas attraction. As owner of Aberdeen Fear Factory and Pinnacle Furnishings, the manufacturing and fabrications company that spawned the Fear Factory, Jack Berggren enjoys his dual role as businessman and scare master.
“I am one of the designers of the Aberdeen Fear Factory, and it is a lot of fun to do,” he noted. We are the largest indoor haunted attraction in North Carolina and we are in the top one-third in the country.”
Guests line up for as long as four hours to take the one-hour tour which includes a combination of rooms, hallways and a Big Top Tent exhibit. Aberdeen Fear Factory also operates Hearse Ride Shuttles which take visitors from their cars in the parking lot to the haunted attraction.
“We entertain and scare them every second that they are here, especially while they are waiting. We have actors, activities and games going on so their visit with us never gets boring.”
Ninety percent of all lighting at Aberdeen Fear Factory is LED including the strobes and multi-colored lights, and Berggren notes that his choice for LED is safety driven.
“The lighting is suitable for all our purposes and it always runs cool which makes me happy,” he explained. “We buy our lights from multiple sources and we use a lot of strips with remote control devices.  The remote control feature allows us to change the mood of a room instantly with color or brightness. Lighting keeps the visitors off guard and brings the characters and the sets to life. We take it very seriously.”
As owner of Screamworld in Houston, Texas, Jim Fetterly wants to hear his visitors screech loudly and with help from Chris White, a special effects expert on his staff, Fetterly achieves his goal.
“I have been in the scare business for 25 to 30 years, and so I look around to see what we can do each year to make this attraction so scary people run away in terror. We pride ourselves on our actor training and we rehearse all year. There is a definite difference between characters jumping out at people and actors providing our guests with an overall experience.”
Screamworld , which includes three indoor attractions plus an outdoor haunted maze and a zombie graveyard, welcomes about 30,000 visitors each Halloween season.
“We get many visitors and we are known for our effects, so we cannot get lazy with our attractions each year. We have to create something new and scary all the time.
According to Fetterly, lighting is one of the most important aspects of a haunted attraction. “When visitors walk through a haunted attraction, there should be something for them to see no matter where their eyes fall.  That is where lighting comes in,” he explained.  “We use colored bulbs, spotlights, pin spot lights, strobe lights, black lights and LED lights.”
A regular on the America’s Best Haunted Attractions List, Screamworld has added DMX Lighting to help maximize the special effects.
“With the DMX lighting, there are five or six base colors that combine together and we can get any shade of color we want. We can enhance the brightness or dim it or accentuate a special effect like fog,” he explained.
Fetterly said that the DMX lighting is necessary investment.
“We have 40 to 50 of the DMX and they run about $100 each, but they are essential in my view as we use the lights to confuse guests in the attraction, to bring out certain colors or to add shadows so actors can hide more easily from the guests. We can also time the lights or put them on motion sensors so that they highlight the props and actors when we want them to, and everything is easily controlled from the computer. It makes our job so much easier and spontaneous. We can change the lighting and therefore the mood of a room or area with a push of a button. ”
Down the road, Fetterly is planning to have his staff control the lighting via smartphones and tablets.
“We like to be able to control lighting and sound effects with the touch of a finger from anywhere.  Technology each year gets better and better. We go to the TransWorld’s Halloween and Attractions Show and we see all the development and, for people in the scare business, it is a lot of fun.”
Joshua Miller, Josh Ratay and Shaun Rosen are owners of Nightmare on Q Street in Omaha, Neb. Located on the grounds of the Fun-Plex Amusement Park, the attraction consists of two indoor exhibits and one outdoor exhibit which welcomes about 15,000 visitors each year.
“We are growing each season.  This year, the word truly got out and we saw our visitor numbers skyrocket,” observed Joshua Miller. “We are now doing more promotion and we know that the next season will be even better for us, so we want to be prepared with new scare entertainment and lighting is a big part of that. “I taught myself how to do the lighting but I also have professionals who I have met at TransWorld’s show that have taught me as well.”
Lighting at Nightmare on Q Street includes floodlights, LEDs, spotlights and DMX control lighting that synchronizes with music and animation.
“The DMX adds not only light mood but sound and visual effects too. If you can immerse your visitor into the entire experience, you have given them the scare they paid for, and there is nothing more fun than that.” –

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