One of the best panels featured at Midsummer Scream this weekend was Frightful Attraction Design for Theme Park Audiences, featuring Former Disney Imagineer Tony Baxter, Gary Goddard, Susan Bonds, and Phil Hettema. They all gathered together to chat with Rick West about their most famous, and infamous, “scary” attractions.
Before they jumped into the discussion, West asked each panelist what their favorite “scary” attraction that influenced them in their careers. While the Haunted Mansion was a popular answer, there also was mention of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Walt Disney World and the Trip to Hell in Pikes’ Park.
Baxter also shared a story about when he snuck into the Haunted Mansion as a kid, and managed to make it all the way to the Ballroom scene before he was caught by Disney security, and escorted to Disney Jail.
“I thought I would never get back behind the scenes again!” Baxter said, to which West replied “You sure showed them then!”
Goddard was candid about his work on the Ghostbuster’s attraction at Universal Florida, explaining how they had to get special permission to use UV lasers, which until that time was only used in the medical field. They used a combination of animatronics, projections, and lasers, along with live actors, to create the amazing stage show, bringing the Ghostbusters to life. He also talked about the creation of Monster Plantation, which featured 127 animatronics, and was their attempt at making a Disney ride.
Phil Hettema spoke at length about the Men in Black attraction at Universal Florida, how the use of the property worked to their advantage to push for their innovative ride system. It was ground breaking for the time, and it pushed the envelope for what Universal was doing at the time.
Susan Bonds shared a great story about she was the only person to create an attraction that kids screamed and cried so much about that they closed it. The Alien Encounter, at Walt Disney World, was a departure to Disney’s usual attractions, showcasing a humorous pre-show that went straight into a hardcore horror film. It was a binaural experience that relied heavily on the audience’s imagination rather that showing them what was so scary about the alien. Though it was a great attraction, it was too much for kids, and so they closed it, and revamped it as Stitch’s Great Escape.
Overall, it was a great, and informative panel, that showed some great behind the scenes stories about some of these well-loved, and oft-forgotten, scary attractions.