Take a look behind-the-scenes of a four-decade favorite that is no longer what it used to be.... Magic Kingdom's Haunted Mansion Hitchhiking Ghosts.
How it worked
It is no secret that holograms were never used in The Haunted Mansion. Old stage techniques including Pepper's Ghost effects and the use of two-way mirrors are about as low-tech as you can get while still accomplishing jaw-dropping "how'd they do that" illusions.
You'll notice in the above diagram that the "ghosts" were on a revolving track lined up with the Doombuggies on the opposite side of what look like normal mirrors. Light reflecting off human guests would reflect off the surface of the mirrors. At the same time light shining on the hitchhikers behind the mirrors would be visible through the mirrors, allowing both ghosts and humans to be seen together. Get it? It's like walking by a highly reflective office building and seeing yourself in the windows and seeing electric lights inside the building all at the same time.
The right lighting conditions were needed to pull off the illusion. If the house lights in the room behind the mirrors were to turn on, the mirrors from the other side would look more or less like clear glass.
Disneyland or Magic Kingdom?
Seen here are two fantastic pics from Long-Forgotten where we learn that Disneyland's Hitchhiking ghosts on the "ghosty-go-round" have no hands. Hands were included in the Magic Kingdom and Tokyo Disneyland versions.
You'll notice the handless Disneyland figures happen to have white hair. And these Magic Kingdom figures have dark hair. They both are supposed to have white hair as to better reflect light through the mirrors. As was mentioned in a previous post, oil, grease, and dust cake the artificial hair of the Haunted Mansion ghosts and the hair becomes far less visible especially in the Ballroom and with the Hitchhiking Ghosts. Occasionally fresh hair could be spotted along side old dingy hair, illustrating the importance of clean, white hair.
So long, fun illusion that entertained us so well for all those years.
For the time being, we still have Disneyland's low-tech, high-entertaining, original effect:
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