'; Special Effects Used Within the Haunted Mansion
Tuesday 25 June 2024
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Special Effects used within the Haunted Mansion

How do they DO that?!  Often, I’m awe struck at the attention to detail and special effects that Disney puts into their attractions.  The Haunted Mansion, being created in the 1960’s, uses some of the most simple techniques for special effects, but being “hidden” so well, it’s still hard to figure out how the Disney Imagineers made it work.  Here are just a few of the special effects within the Haunted Mansion explained.

Spoiler alert!  If you feel that knowing how an attraction works takes away from the fun… you may want to skip down to the fun fact portion of this post.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Briehl
Eyes in the Wallpaper & Busts in the Hallway – are they following ME?  This is a great optical illusion that is quite simple to create.  The eyes and busts appear convex (rounded outward like the exterior of a ball), but are actually concave (rounded inward like the inside of a bowl).  These busts aren’t actual busts, but rather concave sculptures – you might think of them as “molds” that a bust might be cast in.  Although the object is actually facing away from you, with proper lighting, the busts (and eyes) appear to be continually watching you.  
Ballroom Dancers – One of the most magnificent scenes in the Haunted Mansion is the Ballroom dancing!  How is it done?  By using one of the oldest magician’s tricks in the book – a technique called “Pepper’s Ghost.”  There is a large pane of glass between you and the ballroom below.  The dancing ghosts are actually located above and below the track that your doom buggy rides on.  The audio-animatronics are lit up with light bulbs that fade on and off above them; it is their reflections that you see in the glass.HINT: Look closely at the dancers.  The Imagineers “built” the audio-animatronics as proper dancers (men leading ladies), but forgot to take into account the mirror-imaging that the reflecting would cause.  So, in the ballroom scene, the ladies are actually leading the men in the dance!  
Singing Busts in the Graveyard – The busts are simply head sculptures with actors faces that are projected onto them.  A short color movie is projected onto these sculptures (or white mannequin heads) from below the front of the head. This allows the heads to look “alive.”  Madame Leota and little Leota (the Ghost Hostess) are also created using the same projection technique.  (The projector is hidden inside Madame Leota’s crystal ball.)  
Hitchhiking Ghosts [old version] – You likely already figured this one out – two way mirrors.  The side with the ghosts is brightly lit, the other side (where you’re riding) is dark.  When one side of a two way mirror is lit and the other side is dark, you can see through to the other side (where the ghosts are).  They are behind the mirror, moving at the same speed as your doom buggy.  
Hitchhiking Ghosts [NEW version] – Have you experienced this new effect?  Through a new motion-capturing technology, Imagineers and Animators have created a variety of options for personalizing the ride for each guest.  Behind the new Hitchhiking ghosts is a motion tracker that allows a computer to track and identify elements of a guest – such as their eyes, ears, mouth, height, etc.  It can also detect the number of riders in a doom buggy.   These details are then used to determine which ‘ghostly gag’ will be played on you!    These ghostly gags, or ‘mirrors’ sequence, at the end of the ride goes by far too quickly, leaving guests wanting more.  Well, more is what they’re going to get – as new technologies similar to this are being added into some of the newest Fantasyland attractions – but we’ll leave that for another article.  
Is all that dust real?  To keep the 200+ props within the Haunted Mansion looking untouched and dusty, Disney purchases bags “Fuller’s Earth” (theatrical dust).  It’s been said that enough dust has been used since the attraction’s opening in 1971 to bury The Haunted Mansion completely.  
A few extra Fun Facts:
  • There may be 999 happy haunts within the Mansion, but only 109 of them are Disney-created audio-animatronics!
  • There are 160 doom buggies in the Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World; there are 131 in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion.  
  • The doom buggies travel at a bout 1.4 mph, and can accommodate up to 3,200 guests per hour at Walt Disney World, but only 2,618 guests at Disneyland because the track is shorter.
  • The song “Grim Grinning Ghosts” played in the graveyard was written by Xavier Atencio.  Xavier also wrote “Yo Ho (A Pirates Life for Me)” – the song played on the attraction “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
  • The five singing busts have character names.  From left to right they are: Rollo Rumkin, Uncle Theodore, Cousin Algernon, Ned Nub, and Phineas P. Pock
  • The three hitchhiking ghost also have names, “Gus” (the Prisoner), “Ezra” (the Skeleton), and “Phineas” (the Traveler).  These names first appeared in fanfiction created by the Cast Members that worked at the WDW Haunted Mansion.  Later on, these names became so well-known that they began appearing on actual merchandise.

Don’t you love Disney’s attention to detail?!  Next time you tour the Haunted Mansion you can be a fountain of knowledge sharing lots of secrets and fun facts with your friends & family!


  • The Walt Disney World Trivia Book: Secrets, History & Fun Facts Behind the Magic, Louis A. Mongello. 2004.
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Haunted_Mansion_characters
  • Keys to the Kingdom Tour. Tour Guide: Corey. 2005.


Want more Haunted Mansion fun? We’ve teamed up with Jonathan Briehl and My Dreams of Disney to bring you this themed week! Check out the entire week’s worth of articles:


Terri is owner, creator and an author for WDW Hints. She enjoys taking less-traveled paths of WDW and sharing her lesser-known discoveries with you!