I want to start with a quick apology, the seminar was supposed to be live streamed but Transworld did not inform us of the recording policies within their event and thus we ended up with a bit of a glitch this morning. However, I did sit in on the seminar and while the teams seemed a bit frazzled from their busy schedules, they all spoke in length about each of their parks and how they take on the legend that is Halloween Horror Nights.
I think I’ll start with the park we cover most heavily and that, of course, is good old Universal Orlando. As we all know Orlando has made horror nights into what it has become today and when each event showed a short teaser clip of their event I personally think that Orlando will always reign supreme for HHN. But Orlando chose to talk about their use of characters and creation of new worlds and stories. For those of you that might not know Orlando created Jack the Clown, the Caretaker, the Story Teller, and the Director along with countless other mascots for the event. These characters have since gone on to be featured at HHN events in almost every park and have grown to have enormous fan followings. When asked why they created such detailed and powerful characters while most haunts might just do a passing mascot they responded with “We wanted to make these characters able to live within the Universal Monster Universe” (we’d said at HHNU for years that Jack NEEDS a movie!) I could hear the passion when this was said and I think that while we all know the event incredibly well we tend to not realize the passion the artists and designers have for the things that they create. While no announcement or teasers were made by the team they did speak to how they have refined their craft over the years and how only a couple years ago all of the designing and team coordination fell on TJ Mannarino’s shoulders and now there is teams of people who will pour over a house and its many many design stages.
For Hollywood very little detail on the creative process was given but they did speak to their love of IP use and their teaming up with artists from many fields to create houses. They love teaming up with directors, TV producers, and even musicians to make their works come to life. They did say that while many would believe that Universal has little contact to the actual stars themselves they would be wrong. Both John Murdy and Mike Aiello have been both on the backlot and sometimes in the homes of these stars to get the true vision of the house right. The Hollywood park is significantly smaller than the Orlando park and their design team spoke to these difficulties when they talked about their design process. Having to match their scarezones to the street sets which already exist year after year without becoming repetitive or boring for their guests is certainly not easy but we always see the creative visions come through in fun and new ways.
Japan bases their HHN experience on more interactive and individual experience based scares. With horror themed events being a relatively new experience to Japan the park has to work to draw the interests of the surrounding area. The park houses have a through put of approximately 600 guests per hour which pales in comparison to the 2,000 that Universal Orlando and Hollywood have been able to achieve on a normal operational night. In the Japan park HHN is not a hard ticketed event and daily entrance to the park is honored during their event however there is no official start to the event nightly and houses can open as early as noon and run until park close. With the limited space the park might only be able to hold about 5 houses but Japan paces their houses so that every group can experience an interactive horror experience.
When speaking, the design team wanted to highlight two of their interactive experiences in particular. Biohazard is a house which takes the guests into an interactive world as a citizen trying to survive in Raccoon City, which is based in the video games Resident Evil. Last year saw this houses third incarnation but this year, event the guests were given augmented reality goggles which brought the video game style effects to life before their eyes. Blood splatter, health bars, and even bullet count were all displayed before the player’s eyes. Yes, I did say bullet count, in this house guests are given laser tag style weapons to shoot the attacking scareactors.
Trauma 2 is a VR based haunted house which was sold as an up charge to the event. Guests in this house are strapped to a gurney and placed in a VR headset and earphones and brought through a torturous treatment from a mad doctor. Guests were given a panic button but according to designer Daniel Perez only about 10% of guests couldn’t handle the experience. As we can see, Japan’s smaller crowds and larger time schedule for the event allows for more one on one horror experiences which I think at this point Orlando and Hollywood have far surpassed the ability to do in their parks.
One of Singapore’s lead designers has a background in circus and acrobatic type shows and this theme seems to reign over their entire HHN experience. Universal Singapore is the smallest park out of the four but what they cannot do in number of houses they absolutely make up for in level of street performances. The entire park is essentially turned into a performance with live stunts and action packed shows. The design team joked that they have always attempted to have the most cutting edge stunts and that if the operations team allows them to do it then they will always push as far as possible. Singapore has a through put of roughly 800 guests per hour which while slightly higher then Japan is still not as crowded as the American parks. This is due to the lack of Halloween in the culture of the area. Singapore did make an interesting announcement which I’m sure a lot of you would be happy about in our parks, they do not and will not have any IP houses nor scarezones. They believe in taking real life haunted places or stories and make them into houses and scarezones rather then using movie based properties. Even featuring a street experience based on the Suicide forest in Japan following the wide popularity from the movie “The Forest”. The Singapore park seems to have a drive to bring real life horrors to life from the culture which it is based around. Their houses have brought zombies into the nation’s subway system even taking a food court and unleashing a deadly virus amongst the clients. Singapore also borrowed our favorite clown for one of their park shows last year as well. The story of the show puts Jack as a world traveler looking for new circus acts for his show, but not wanting to be upstaged he murders the acts one by one. I think Singapore has carried his personality well.
With horror being so new to both the Japan and Singapore markets I think that these two parks will be seeing some massive growth over the next couple of years. Already they have seen huge scores of returning fans who always look to see what the park can do with their favorite houses and legends. With Icons like Jack being shared amongst the parks and even houses like The Exorcist last year being shared as well I think all of the design teams not only work incredibly well together but also are always trying to one up one another.
I’m sorry that I cannot cover all of the information and fun stories that were said in the seminar. It truly was amazing to be able to listen to all of these magnificent designers all speak on one stage and being able to meet them afterwards really made the whole experience truly amazing. I covered all that feel was important to take away from the experience and while I’m sad that we didn’t see any announcements or teasers for this years events I think we can be confident that every park is going to deliver an absolutely amazing product as they always do.
As always keep an eye on the HHN Unofficial Facebook page for the latest updates and announcements, be sure to listen to the Scarezone Podcast to hear exclusive interviews from past characters and other important figures in the HHN world, and try to hold on! Haunt season is not far away!