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Home > Haunter's Lbrary > Haunt Scares, Designs & Effects > Frame Design

Frame Design
By Richard Martin-Leep


The most interesting technical feature of the many Disney attractions is the ride's ability to physically direct an audience's attention in a desired direction. Using some type of vehicle to move the audience through the attraction allows the attraction designers to make use of sight lines and scene placement in relation to the physical viewing point of the audience.

The 'Doom Buggies' in the
Haunted Mansion are by no means subtle in the technique of physically directing audience attention. The design of the vehicles, vaguely resembling a wingback chair one might find in a private library, prohibits the field of vision of the riders and blocks their peripherals so only that that is in front of the buggy can be seen. As the ride progresses the buggy rotates or turns on its track to physically point the riders at each scene in the angle at which the designers want the scene to be viewed. Just as important, the buggy turns the riders away from what the designers do not want the riders to view.

Thus, the Doom Buggies create the same effect as the panning camera, filming a motion picture. Each scene is presented only from select angles and forced sight lines as if viewed through the camera lens. Also like movies, nothing outside of the frame of the camera is seen. In the buggy nothing except what is (framed) directly in front of the audience is seen.

The principles used are those an artist uses in a painting or a cinematographer uses to frame a scene. Magicians are also notorious for controlling the angles from which their illusions are viewed. To the same extent as the aforementioned artists, a magician makes use of a framed design but allows for broader angles than a cinematographer. The magician counts on the audience being confined to their seats.

Other dark rides are subtler in the techniques of physically directing attention. The vehicles, in which the audience sits, are open meaning the rides have a 360° view. Although the audience can see all around, most will follow specific behaviors, of which the designers are aware: Most riders will focus forward in the direction the vehicle is moving. Riders seldom turn and look directly behind them (especially if someone is sitting behind them) also, most will not turn their heads to the extreme left or right. Looking straight up is also rare unless given a reason or cue to do so.

Some vehicles and attractions like the Pirates Of The Caribbean and the Indian Jones ride (See issue # 13, Haunted Attraction Magazine), are designed to direct the riders attention to the sides, however, they also follow the rules mentioned. Occasionally vehicles are designed to physically seat the riders facing out the sides of the vehicle, again directing their attention in front of them. The Nautilus submarine ride at Disneyland not only seats the riders facing out the sides but also makes use of individual portholes to frame (like a camera) what the viewer sees.

At this point you are probably wondering what vehicles have to do with your walk-through attraction. There are two separate concepts, albeit working hand in hand, that are described here. One is the physical placement of the viewers (participants) in relation to the sets and action, involving traffic flow. The second concept is the physical placement of the sets and action in relation to the viewing angle of the participants. This is called a framed design. Thinking of your participants as a sort of vehicle, a walk-through is not much different in the use of design principles and techniques than a ride-through.

Much too often the track participants walk within each room is a direct path from one door to the next. In many designs that I have experienced, the shape of the room and the placement of the doors seem to make little difference. The path from entering the room to the exit remains a semi-straight path. This is a poor use of the space, in that the audience frames the exit, rather than the sets. One way to avoid this is to use the set pieces in the direct path, to force traffic flow to route around them. This is much the same as creating traffic patterns in ones home by placing furniture.

The diagrams a1, and a2, show an overly simplified example of rerouting traffic flow by placement of set pieces. In this case the placement of a long dining table, changes the flow. Diagram a2 is more desirable for many reasons. Two of the most obvious are; the participants must actively navigate around the room rather than walk through passively. Secondly, viewing the room from a variety of angles is more interesting than a relatively straight to the left view, as in a1. Dramatic changes in the relationship between the participants and the scene (and even the environment) can be significantly affected by the simple placement of set pieces altering the traffic flow of the participants.

A good example of the second technique, a framed design, is the Peppers Ghost illusion. This illusion requires strict viewing angles not only for the illusion to be seen but to hide the side stage being reflected. To do this effectively the viewer needs to be physically placed at the proper vantage point and the set must be designed to conceal the side stage from where the viewer stands.

At Castle Of Fear in Denver, Colorado one of the Peppers Ghosts under went a face-lift for the 1999 season. The illusion was viewed as the spectators walked past, looking down a secondary hall (fig. b.1). The set up provided no reason for the participants to stop their progressive flow forward and unless they did so precisely at the vantage point the effect was lost.

To give the illusion more impact, the traffic flow was rerouted to physically place the viewers in front of the illusion. The scene was then designed to conceal the reflection stage when viewed from that angle. The ghost now appeared to be blocking the hall until the participants reached the corridor leading off to the side and out of danger.

Designing the scene from the viewing point when coming down the hall is a framed design. From that specific angle the elements of the design focus the viewers' attention to the reflected ghost and away from any hint of the concealed reflection stage or seams from the glass pane. In a framed design the lights, power cords, sound speakers, even access doors can be concealed in the same fashion.

After experiencing several rooms with actors jumping out from nowhere, participants start to enter each room on guard for the next "Boo." As they submerge deeper into the environment with their eyes checking every way they can, it becomes increasingly harder to catch the group off guard. To overcome this desensitization a designer needs a few tricks to misdirect the participants' attention.

Misdirection is one of the oldest gags used to distract the participant from what is actually going on. Magicians and Fakirs have been using it since the beginning of recorded history. By using something like an animatronic figure, a Jacob's ladder or perhaps a bubbling tank holding a brain, it becomes easier to surprise or frighten a patron from behind or above, because they are misdirected from the scare.

This technique of focusing the participant's attention on something other than what is about to scare them, or away from where the scare will come, is a valuable tool. Unlike traffic flow or a framed design, misdirection does not necessitate the physical placement of sets or the participants. Magicians rely heavily on misdirection and have developed it into an art form. Borrowing from them, here are the five basic principles of misdirection, (also known as audience cues), slightly altered in their wording for consideration in haunt situations:

1.  The participants will look where the guide or other actors tell them to look.

2.  The participants will look where the guide or other actors look.

3.  The participants will look toward a noise or disruption etc. (audio cue).

4.  The participants will look toward a sudden movement, flash of light etc. (visual cue).
5.  The participants will look toward something in motion, or set in motion, and continue to track it until given a reason (another cue) to stop.

The Haunt designer can use these cues to direct the attention of the audience as in framing, without the physical requirements. Use them in your next design and watch as they look at exactly what you want, when you want them to. It is extremely effective!

The principles discussed here are used by a variety of artists in a variety of fields. The attraction designer can think of the attraction as a three dimensional painting or motion picture, in which the view is always controlled or framed. The designer physically designates composition, focus point, sight line, and other elements of the design, so that the audience views the set from a vantage point designated by the careful plotting of the traffic flow through the attraction. This concept can also be used to direct the attention of the audience away from the scare for greater effect. The understanding of how the techniques of frame design, misdirection and traffic flow are valuable weapons for the Haunt designer's arsenal.

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