When I was four-years-old I remember my first venture into the Haunted Mansion, and I imagine everyone else in the ride at the time remembers it as well. I was on my dad’s shoulders so I could see better and we entered the “stretching room” with me a good head taller than the crowd. I was so terrified I began screaming and grabbing the tops of random heads around me and they had to stop the elevator to let me off.
I’ve been embarrassed of that moment until I saw actor Jason Segel, who now makes up one-third of the Hitchhiking Ghost trio in Annie Leibovitz’s Dream Portrait series, talk about having the same thing happen to him (well, maybe not the hair-grabbing) causing him to be allowed to escape mid-elevator drop.
Moving on… the year after my original visit I mustered up the bravery to make it through and I was hooked, especially since the New Orleans plantation-style home was so pristine on the outside and so wonderfully eerie on the inside. I knew I wanted to own that house one day.
A few years ago I ran across Ray Keim’s Haunted Dimensions site after visiting the park with my own daughter, and soon became the owner of my own Haunted Mansion…and then some.
Keim, an artist who specializes in CGI, works as a seasonal member of the Entertainment Art and Design Department at Universal Studios Orlando producing graphics, animations and props for shows and events at the parks. He also serves as a graphic designer for Universal Orlando Halloween Horror Nights events, including art for the Halloween Horror Nights web site.
His Haunted Dimensions site is an outlet for his appreciation of Disney’s Haunted Mansion attractions (and other famed haunted sites), as well as paper modeling, digital design and even gingerbread house building.
With Haunted Dimensions recently celebrating more than 2 million hits, Keim said he has been stunned by the site’s popularity since it first hit the cyber-screen in September 2004.
“It went live on the 27th and by the 30th I was amazed that 57 people had already visited it,” he said. “Nine months later I released my first paper model kit. That month I received 21,603 visits! My desire to have my own haunted mansion model was clearly also the desire of a lot of other people; and still is.”
He said the site still continues to draw new surfers all the time, a success he attributes to three things: the sheer size of the Internet, how universally loved Disney’s Haunted Mansion attractions are by people and the fact that people enjoy the satisfaction of making things with their hands.
“It also helps a little that I occasionally release new models, art and blog posts, but I don’t do it nearly as much as I would like,” he said.
For Keim, Haunted Dimensions is a true labor of love as he created it and maintains it spare time offering his model downloads for free. Despite Keim making no money from the site, it comes across with a professional polish that takes it beyond the appeal of a typical “weekend blogger” or fan site.
The graphics are clean and the paper model downloads are meticulously designed.
In addition to models available for all three Haunted Mansion designs (Disneyland and Magic Kingdom’s designs and Disneyland Paris’s ‘Phantom Manor”), modelers can builds models of popular scare houses from Universal Orlando’s annual “Halloween Horror Nights” and famous “haunted sites” including the Norman Bates House and the Amityville Horror home. Look closely in the windows of all these models for a little extra spine shiver.
Of his designs, his Phantom Manor remains the most popular model, in terms of numbers of downloads, followed by Norman Bates’ “Old House on the Hill” of Psycho fame. He said his best guess as to why these are top hits is the Psycho house’s style may be the most “typical” popular culture’s idea of a haunted house.
“In the Phantom Manor’s case, I suspect it has to do with paper and card modeling being a very popular hobby in Europe,” he said. “My favorite model is Liberty Square (at Magic Kingdom Park). It was the mansion that first inspired me to create Haunted Dimensions.”
In addition to Haunted Dimensions, there are other sites offering Haunted Mansion (or haunted mansion-style builds) including the premier Haunted Mansion tribute site Doombuggies.com, where visitors can download their own “Death Certificate.” Fellow modeler Trader Sam’s disneyexperience.com has models inspired by “Nightmare Before Christmas” (including Oogie Boogie’s dice and Jack’s coffin sleigh) and the mansion’s “Demon Clock” as well as build of another macabre Disney favorite, the Tower of Terror Hotel. Disney’s own “Spoonful” site at Disney Family has stylized models of Hitchhiking Ghosts, Hatbox Ghost, Stretching portrait bookmarks and new builds inspired by “Frankenweenie.”
A non-Disney site for haunted structures is “RavensBlight” with a “Toy Shop” of free downloadable, mansions, monsters, masks, games, weapons, coffins and other darkly imaginative items.
Keim is currently taking the site beyond the theme park with his upcoming original design and interactive “progressive model” and story “The Knoll—A Tresspasser at Reeves Hall.”
“As much as I love the Disney haunted mansions and the mansion themes, there is not much left to create that would interest me,” Keim said. “Haunted Dimensions is first and foremost a personal passion of mine and now that I’ve run out of Disney mansions to transform into paper, the logical thing to do is to begin creating my own haunted mansions and themes.”
He said with his extensive experience as a visual online storyteller with Universal, especially in the haunt genre coupled with his propensity to design popular paper model kits, is looking to see this model bring new life into his site. He said The Knoll would be my first attempt at creating an “illustrated environment and back-story” his own haunted house paper model kit.
“My goal is to design several related model kits, which will be released over a period of time via a simple, but spooky illustrated ‘exploration’ of the Reeves estate and house, culminating with
the release of the haunted house model,” he said.
Keim isn’t sure yet how this idea will be received by Haunted Dimension fans, who hail from all over the globe, but he hopes his combination of original design, online storytelling and the thrill of the hunt will be a draw.
“There is no doubt that my own projects will not have the same mass appeal as the Disney mansions and Universal models but there is a worldwide fan base of paper model builders, model train hobbyists, and people who just like new spooky things,” he said. “All I can do is hope that the Haunted-dimensioneers continue to support my endeavors.”
As far as his work with Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights is concerned (an event that has been voted again and again on many sites as the nation’s most popular Halloween park seasonal attraction), he is always impressed at the new ways the event has created to give guests a terrifyingly fun time with “lots of passion and craftsmanship.”
This year’s event will even include atmospheres based on AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and the video game-turned-motion-picture “Silent Hill.”
“For the last six years I have been extremely fortunate to work with the passionate, talented Art & Design team that creates Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights. The special effects and the use of new technologies are always an exciting part of the attractions but for me the most amazing aspect of the attractions are the spectacular, movie quality environments that are created for guests,” he said. “They start with imagination and a pencil, and end with set builders, scenic painters and décor specialists creating these environments by hand.”
Even in this ever-evolving world of haunted attractions, Keim said the love for Disney’s Haunted Mansions will remain strong for generations due to their universal appeal for guests of all ages and backgrounds.
“The Disney haunted mansions are non-threatening, macabre parties,” he said. “All of the 999 spirits ‘pretend to terrorize.’ None of them are truly scary — OK, the bride is scary — Oh, so is the guy trying to get out of the coffin — And when the Ghost Host screams, but that’s all,” he said. “The effects are brilliantly executed and the mixture of creepy settings and fun-loving ghosts is the perfect mix for a great 5 minute adventure.”
All of Keim’s models, as well as links to his blog and Facebook page, can be found at haunteddimensions.raykeim.com.
Also check out Halloween Horror Night’s online/in-park game “Horror Unearthed” at halloweenhorrornights.com/Orlando.