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In the Parks

Behind the Scenes at Universal Studios, Disneyland and Knott's Halloween, Fireworks

Rating: 3 votes, 3.67 average.
by , 09-08-2011 at 10:40 PM

Get your Universal, Disney and theme park news and information right here, fresh, just the way you like it. This week we were very lucky to preview of some of the amazing artistry behind Universal's Halloween Horror Nights. We also sat down for a chat with a man some consider to be a modern day Walt Disney, John Lasseter. Next, we take you for a stroll through Disneyland and check out all the Halloween Time fun hitting the resort. We'll spin around Six Flags Magic Mountain to see their Fright Fest preparations and to look at the site of their newest thrill ride, Lex Luthor​: Drop of Doom. Knott's Berry Farm is in a mad dash to get ready for their Halloween events in just a couple short weeks, let's see if we think they'll be done in time. We also have some tips for you, one about taking beautiful fireworks photos and the other about Bat's Day at Disneyland. There's lots to see in this update, let's get to it!

MiceChat was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to speak with John Lasseter during the D23 convention last month. What started out as a quick 5 minute encounter became a nearly 45 minute conversation. Below is an excerpt from the full interview published yesterday in our News section ...

Among the many hats Lasseter wears at Disney, one of the most exciting ones for him is being principal creative advisor at Walt Disney Imagineering. "Imagineering is just so much fun for me," he says. "I call it dessert."

When he took on his role at Imagineering in 2006, it didn't take him long to set his sights on Disneyland's ugly sister across the Esplanade, which lacked the appeal and theming of the Magic Kingdom. "There's a magic to Disneyland, the original park. And, when California Adventure opened up (in 2001), it was not a Disney Park. It was a Disney park on a budget.

"When you go to Disneyland, you go to a certain place and certain time and you're transported. When you went to California Adventure, there was none of that. I said, 'We've got to fix this.' I was a dog with a bone. I was not going to let that go."

Lasseter's tenacity led to a huge face lift and expansion of Disney California Adventure that, when construction finishes in 2012, will cost in excess of $1 billion. "I think we came up with an incredible five-year plan that we're actually coming towards the end of. Cars Land and the whole Buena Vista Street, Carthay Circle Theater, and the Red Car and all that stuff is nearing completion. But, the whole goal was to just take parts of California Adventure and make it a Disney Park, take you to a different place and time to get that unique thing only Disney parks have."
Read the full John Lasseter Interview HERE


Tickets have gone on sale for MiceChat's Sat. September 24th Knott's Scary Farm and Fri. September 30th Universal Hollywood Halloween Horror nights events. We're even planning a spooky night at the Queen Mary (one of the real haunted spots in LA). Our events include AMAZING behind the scenes access, dinner, and front of the line access to the scary fun. Meet the creative folks who make haunt happen and experience the scary season with hundreds of your new best friends. . . All at a price that won't scare you to death!

Universal Studios Hollywood
Halloween Horror Nights

Friday September 30th

Discusion and updated info on MiceChat HERE.
•3 Course Dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe at CityWalk
•Meet and Greet with John Murdy
•Front of the line access to and Terror Tram (One time use per maze)
•VIP seating to the Bill and Ted Show

A $150 dollar value for just $95.00!

Discusion and updated info on MiceChat HERE.
•Front of the line access

an AMAZING value at just $55.00

Discusion and updated info on MiceChat HERE.

•Admission & Early Entry
•Backstage tour (Maze/costuming/make-up)
•Pre-Scare Dinner
•Meet and Greet with Haunt makers and legends
•Raffle with your chance to be a •monster in a haunt maze that night
•Front of the line access to mazes
•VIP seating to all shows
A $150 dollar value
for just $85.00

We are starting with Universal Studios because we had such a fantastic time there this week finding out how their Horror Nights are put together. Along the way, Fishbulb turns into a zombie. Ooooooo . . . . spooky!!!

Universal's Halloween Horror Nights event is coming and will open September 23rd. We were invited to take a preview of the brilliant artistry and that goes into the make-up and costuming for the event. Here's what we learned along the way.

If this poster is any clue, this is a true 'Horror' event

The Wolfman, The Thing, La Llarona, Scream 4, House of 1,000 corpses, Hostel, and Alice Cooper's: Welcome to my Nightmare will all be brought to terrifying life this fall by make-up artist, Larry Bones and Creative Director, John Murdy at Halloween Horror Nights. The scope of the project, preparing thousands of actors with costumes and make up each night, is a staggering achievement. But, somehow, the two professional madmen pull it off with the maniacal glee of twisted children.

Make up artist Larry Bones (Front left), and Creative Director, John Murdy stand with their amazing creations.

Each night, an army of performers must be prepared for performance in the park. It all starts with the right outfits and the costuming department expertly crafts highly detailed garb for the scare actors.

A sampling of the costumes.

Once a costume is constructed masks and make-up must be designed for each role. A mask can be prepared far ahead of time and put on in a relatively short amount of time. Like the one below from the Wolfman maze.

Watch out for those sharp teeth!

Other, more intricate appliances, can be affixed to the performers face, saving a bit of prep-time before the performance.

However, there are some things that just can't be rushed. Full make-up applications take a great deal of time in many cases. And the mazes and sets the actors will populate take over a year of design, planning and construction. Let's take a maze-by-maze look at the make up and construction of some of this years haunted attractions.

Alice Cooper: Welcome to my Nightmare
Below, an actor is used to demonstrate the process that goes into preparing for the Alice Cooper: Welcome to my Nightmare maze. On average the facial make-up and costuming takes anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour.

Blueprints for the maze are drawn up months in advance, sometimes more than a year before the event.

The Billion Dollar Baby mask.

The exterior of Welcome to my nightmare is halfway done and is looking pretty amazing.

La Llarona:
A 500 year old legend comes to life right before our eyes as an actress gets transformed into the murderous La Llarona.

Concept art for the maze (Last year, this was a scare zone on the Terror Tram, now a maze all its own)

Costume for the moaning woman.

The Thing:
The thing is a new maze set in the Norwegian tundra. The maze will include climate control effects and inventive creatures. This maze is not quite as far along in construction as the others and only costumes were available for viewing.

Hostel: Hunting Season
Hostel, Based on the hit horror film of the same name, will be the most gruesome maze of the bunch. We have the pics of those make up jobs for you HERE (we are trying to spare the squeamish). Below are some of the costumes and make-up appliances used in this maze.

Rob Zombie's House of 1,000 Corpses:

The Rob Zombie maze returns this year to the delight of haunt fans. This 3D maze was the big hit of last year's event.

It's pretty much ready to go.

Make-up Demo:
After seeing all of the gory fun, yours truly decided to see what a make-up artist could do to me in just a few minutes.

He first applied an alcohol-based silicone product that form fit to my face.

You can barely see it, it looked like dried Elmer's Glue

After tearing it up a bit and throwing some jellied blood, it looks like I have a gash from a zombie bite.

My make-up artist and I, just before I ate his brains.

Even John Murdy liked it. Doesn't his smile look sinister like he might kill us all at any minute? We just love this man. Join us at MiceChat's Universal Halloween Horror event to meet him for yourself, if you dare!

Elsewhere in the park, we find the Whoville set is almost done getting refurbished on the backlot.

And Wisteria Lane is celebrating Halloween.

Finally a doll on the War of the Worlds set caught our eye. CREEPY.

The new 5 Towers stage area is getting some additional work done now that the Summer season has wrapped up. The tiles inside of the venue area are being replaced, creating a border between 5 Towers and Cinema Plaza.

Karl Strauss:
The Karl Strauss Brewery gets a new, neon sign. Looks snazzy!

September rolls along and more and more signs of Halloween are popping up all over the park. Meanwhile, Disney takes advantage of the lull in crowds to do some refurbishment on Pirates and prepare Haunted Mansion for its holiday overlay. It's the perfect time to stop by the park for a quick ride on the Matterhorn or Indy, while the kids are in school.


It's almost here! Halloween starts at the Disneyland resort on September 16th and we could not be more excited. Signage has already popped up around the park indicating the event's arrival.

Signage at the tram loading station.

OH! Don't forget Halloween Time!

Halloween Time Merchandise:
The stores are all being stocked, well-ahead of time, in anticipation of the festivities.

Pumpkin mickey and franken-mickey.

Perhaps folks will start buying Duffy now that he is dressed as a pumpkin.

Now that one side of the porch planks have been replaced at the Golden Horseshoe, they have moved to the other side. The show still goes on inside and the restaurant is open.

Some plumbing work is being done over in New Orleans Square at the planter with the drinking fountains in front of it.

In an odd move, Disney decided to close Pirates of the Caribbean before the overlay for Haunted Mansion Holiday could be fully installed. This leaves two major people-eating attractions closed in this little corner of the park and an entire land without attractions. Thankfully Mansion will re-open on September 16th.

The Mansion overlay seems to go up quicker and quicker every year!


MiceChat contributor, Tom Bricker, is out with a new book all his own. You've no doubt noticed his amazing photography on the site in our Orlando Parkhopper column. Now he wants to help you achieve the same great results.

Andy Castro of Dateline Disneyland wrote this review of the new book. We hope you find it useful.

Every now and then we like to feature products on Dateline Disneyland that I think are great additions to any Disney fan's collection. In the past, we have featured new theme park-related books and DVD sets Disney has released that we think our readers would enjoy. Today, we're taking a look at a new book that is brought to you buy some great Disney theme park photographers and that we think is a fantastic read for just about anybody who visits Disney parks. Do note that for the purposes of this review, Dateline Disneyland received a complimentary copy.

I'm terrible at fireworks photography, which is why you really don't see too many fireworks photos here in Dateline Disneyland. Despite owning a DSLR and feeling pretty confident about my photography in other areas, I've never been able to get fireworks right. It's a shame considering how often I'm at Disneyland with my camera. So, I actually got pretty excited when friend, fellow Disney photographer and owner of Tom Bricker contacted me about a new eBook he co-authored with Cory Disbrow and Adam Hansen, the team behind the fantastic I've been following Tom, Cory and Adam's incredible Walt Disney World and Disneyland photography on Flickr for years now and have always marveled at their fireworks shots. My admiration for their work resulted in me silently letting my disappointing attempts at fireworks photos sink into the abyss of my photo archive. Luckily, I now have their secrets thanks to their new eBook, which despite its pretty utilitarian title — Fireworks Photography: Helping You Capture Better Fireworks Photos — is full of excellent information that won't confuse or bore you to tears. And despite the lack of Disney in the title, this book is written with you—the Disney vacationer—in mind.

I was worried when I first picked up my iPad to read this text that it would be another typical photography book: dry, more confusing than it should be, and dense like a text book or manual. Luckily, this book isn't written by the folks who write the Canon manuals, nor is it a college photography text book. It's written for just about anybody who can pick up a camera, and that's a very good thing. Photography can be pretty intimidating, and it can be tough to find tutorials or tips that really put the technical aspects of photography in terms that are easy to understand. Fireworks Photography does this, and it does this exceptionally well. The book is littered with witty, playful banter from our authors and it summarizes the tedious technical information into simple terms that everybody can understand. Most pages include quick tips that will help you along, and the book is filled with gorgeous photos that serve as inspiration for your future fireworks photography endeavors.

I think one of the book's major strengths is that it understands that all photographers have to start somewhere and creative, masterful photography won't happen overnight. I could see that this was kept under heavy consideration throughout the writing and the authors do a great job of encouraging repeat attempts and even offer some sample camera settings for beginners. And for those of us who lack DSLR cameras and other professional equipment, Tom, Cory and Adam include full sections and chapters on shooting with point-and-shoot cameras (as opposed to DSLR models) and without a professional tripod.

The book is just over 50 pages, which is very manageable, but could seem like a lot considering the book only focuses on one type of photography. However, the wonderfully approachable writing style and the number of photos in the book make it a breeze to read. The book zips by and after finishing it I felt empowered to try my hand again at fireworks photos.

The best part of this book, however, may just be the price. It's currently available at 50% off for only $7. It's an eBook, so you can instantly download it as a .PDF and start reading, which is great for those of us who enjoy instant gratification or who are preparing for a visit to Disneyland or Walt Disney World this weekend. It may be the team's first book, but it's a pretty remarkable first effort. And, after looking over their Flickr portfolios and browsing their blogs, picking up this book is a no-brainer. Why wouldn't you want to return from your Disney vacation with photos like theirs?

Snag a copy of Fireworks Photography for yourself, visit!

We covered the new entrance configuration to Disney California Adventure last week. So this time we look at the construction of the new Buena Vista Street, Cars Land and more

With un-fettered access to the area, construction crews are going full steam ahead in reshaping the first act of the park into 1920's Los Angeles by next June.

Scraping away the old DCA.


The loop on California Screamin' is being completely replaced during the current refurb. Once complete, this should give the welders a break for a while.

Here is our weekly look at Cars Land progress. Vehicle testing will probably begin next week on the highly anticipated Radiator Springs Racers attraction. Testing could also begin this month on Mater's Junkard Jamboree and Luigi's Flying Tires.

Mater's Junkyard Jamboree

Radiator Springs Racers

The scaffolding continues to subside, revealing better views of the mountain.

The courthouse is now being finished.

Exterior work on the cones has begun.


Doesn't it look like aliens have landed?!

We get a look at the backside of the rock work thanks to Sir Clinksalot (and last weekend's marathon route)

Spare parts for Mermaid?

The Paradise Garden Grill got a new dessert item a few weeks ago and we thought we would try it.

The Chocolate Brownie and Strawberry Skewer: While not as interesting as baklava, it is the tastier of the two treats.


Bats Day Holiday Black Market

The folks who bring us Bat's Day have planned a special "Holiday Black Market" sale for Sunday November 6, 2011

No Wake. No Disneyland. Just Holiday Shopping with over 50 vendors. Bat's day in the park will return next year - May 18th through 20th.

If you are a Disneyana type vendor and would like to be included in the show this November, there are a few spots left.

The Bats Day Holiday Black Market is Sunday November 6th, 2011; 1pm – 9pm and is located about 1 mile from Disneyland.

And even in you aren't a vendor, you'll want to set this date on your calendar for some very . . . 'unique' . . . holiday shopping.

Here's a link to the Vendor Application and Floor Plan:
Vendor Application -
Floor Plan -

More information about Bat's Day can be found HERE

The folks at Knott's couldn't be busier right now. Their whole year hangs on the success of Halloween Haunt and they are pulling out all the stops to make this their best year ever. Let's see what progress they have made.

The Hanging:
The Calico stage, which was an extreme stunt show all summer, has transformed back into a form many of you will recognize. The Hanging is the heart and soul of Halloween Haunt. The show with its stunts, bad puns, and laser focused cultural commentary is often the stand out of the season. Last year, Justin Bieber was hung for his crimes against humanity and Disney's World of Color was parodied in such a brilliant way that we've been singing "It's just water" all year long.

So, who would you like to see them hang this year?

Fallout Shelter:
The entry facade for Fallout Shelter is up! Do you think we'll be safe if we hide out in there?

Endgames: Warriors of the Apocalypse
The new Endgames maze in Camp Snoopy has literally sprung up. This sprawling haunted attraction will take visitors into a world where the game is to stay alive.

Shades of Necropolis are thrown around in the maze.

Invasion Beneath:
The beginnings of the new Invasion Beneath overlay to the Calico Mine Train are starting to pop up. numerous scare platforms can now be found peppered throughout the ride.

A laser mounted on top of the mountain

Sleepy Hollow Mountain:
The props for Sleepy Hollow Mountain are being installed now. This was one of our favorite parts of last year's haunt.

In the saw mill at the beginning of the ride.

Flats of town scenery are waiting to be installed.

The headless Horseman is ready to go.

Trees, gnarly trees.

The finale just before the final lift hill. Love the pumpkin arch.

Halloween Decoration:
Seasonal decor is filling up the rest of the park.

Black and purple bunting in Ghost Town.

White Water Wilderness has spooky lamp post decor.

One thing that isn't Haunt related but worth noting is the return of the cargo carts to the train in Ghost town. The carts served as beautiful planters for a number of years but fell into disrepair. It's good to see them returning this nice piece of scenery.

Signs of Fright Fest are continuing to show up, slowly but surely.

As we reported last week, Six Flags made their big announcement for coming attractions for 2012. The park will be adding a 415 foot drop tower to both sides of Superman. Since the area directly under the Superman tower is currently off-limits to park guests, it will be interesting to see where they put the entrance to the new ride. There are quite a few options where they could place it. Of course, we will keep you updated.

Could the entrance go directly under Superman? (Would be kind of loud though)

The Guest Necessity Center could easily become a Lex Luthor/Superman merchandise store.

Even more likely, the Arcade/Paintball building could be used for an entrance and queue line, thus extending the DC Universe further out into the midway. Paint Ball Alley was closed ... coincidence?

This gate is near the Colossus bathrooms and heads directly towards Goliath and the Superman Tower

Where do you think it will go?

Although nothing has been announced to replace Deja Vu, there were some survey markings under the ride. (Sorry for the Bluriness). There were also some on the back-side of the lift that I couldn't get a picture of, but saw while riding.

Yes, we are geeks.

The Jack-O-Lantern light posts are starting to show up around the park. Now that the park will be closed during the week, Fright Fest preparations will move quickly.

Did you know you could save 5% around the park with your Discover Card?

They are getting ready for Warehouse 13 in the Log Jammer Queue

No physical outside work is evident on Bite II

The entrance to Willoughby's is blocked off, but the actual entrance to the maze hasn't shown up yet.

And of course, with all the good going on, unfortunately we still have some bad news to report. The tree in Bugs Bunny world is still in some desperate need of TLC (painting and repair). Hopefully they can get to this during the off-season.

Today's update was brought to you by the following members of our fantastic and talented crew of photographers and news contributors: Capt Phoebus, Daniel Lew, F!an, Sir Clinksalot, Ericbramey, Fishbulb, and Dustysage. (If you've got breaking news or photos to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact Dusty today.)

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Updated 09-09-2011 at 02:42 PM by Dustysage



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  1. bamato's Avatar
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    Thanks for the awesome update
  2. Dustysage's Avatar
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    I just can't believe how much we were able to pack into one update. Behind the scenes with the folks at Universal, an interview with John Lasseter, photos and updates from 5 parks. I might just make it through another Friday at work after all.

    Really glad to hear that the Bat's Day folks are putting on a Holiday Black Market sale. Sounds like a great expansion for them.

    I'm absolutely going to get that Disney Fireworks book from Tom Bricker. He is one of my all time favorite photographers and I LOVE it that he is sharing his tips in this book.

    Great stuff everyone, thank you for a really wonderful update,

  3. WheresMickey's Avatar
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    Great update! Can't wait for Halloween!
  4. MrTour's Avatar
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    Aren't there supposed to be more than 3 Cozy Cones???
  5. Fishbulb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MrTour
    Aren't there supposed to be more than 3 Cozy Cones???
    That's what I thought too.
  6. LishaBear's Avatar
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    What a joy to start my day with this update! So many great pictures. Your update got me excited about visiting the parks during Halloween season. I just don't understand how POTC can be closed for the duration of the season. Does this happen every year at this time, for this long?
  7. cris77's Avatar
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    Seriously amazing update. Great job! That amazing Lasseter interview, Zombie-Fishbulb, ghost Mickey bucket being sold in stores this year... This week's In the Parks is a MUST READ.

    And on behalf of scaredy-cats everywhere, THANK YOU for providing the link to the Hostel maze photos for those who want to see the pics. Much appreciated, as I would have had to close my eyes and scroll down a bit...
  8. F!an's Avatar
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    For more (gory) photos from the Universal Halloween Horror Nights media preview event, visit the USH forum.
  9. fravitmonk's Avatar
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    I seriously LOVE the Lex Luthor ride idea. It's like "hey, we got that ride ... let's put another ride on it." Roller Coaster Tycoon logic. But yeah that area is pretty loud.
  10. Barbossa's Avatar
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    Great update!
  11. WDWFigment's Avatar
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    Thanks for the kind words about the book, Dusty!
  12. Dustysage's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by WDWFigment
    Thanks for the kind words about the book, Dusty!
    Easy to do since it is such a fantastic book to begin with. I highly recommend it.
  13. Dadoo's Avatar
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    I really like their pumpkin arch!

    Do they do that EVERY year, or is this the first time? If it is the first time, do you think they MIGHThave got the idea from MY pumpkin arch at my house that I did last year?



    BTW, my arch is synchronized to music as well!
  14. sir clinksalot's Avatar
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    ^ The arch was previously in Camp Snoopy, but was in Sleepy Hollow Mountain last year.
  15. dizneedoll's Avatar
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    In answer to the question who would I want to see hanged at Knotts this year...Kim Kardashian. I can't think of anyone more annoying at the moment.
  16. dizneedoll's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dadoo
    I really like their pumpkin arch!

    Do they do that EVERY year, or is this the first time? If it is the first time, do you think they MIGHThave got the idea from MY pumpkin arch at my house that I did last year?

    BTW, my arch is synchronized to music as well!'re arch is awesome! Looks better than Knotts' arch.
  17. Gullywhumper's Avatar
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    Great update Fishbulb, you guys consistantly do an amazing job. I can't wait for Knotts Scary Farm Halloween Haunt! I can't believe I'm actually going this year! It will be my first! See all you Micechatters on September 24th at Knotts! I already got my ticket!!!
  18. Sleepy505's Avatar
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    Does Haunted Mansion holidays stay up for Christmas, I assume because of the word Holidays, My family and I will be there December 23 it will be our first time during Christmas season and looking so forward to it. Great Update as always.
  19. AliKzam's Avatar
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    Not to freak anyone out, but I read on Disney's site that HM, PotC and Indy would be closed this weekend. Kind of a bummer.
  20. disneydyl's Avatar
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    Awesome update! I just got back from DCA, and saw that the top of the bell tower is now peeking out over the green tarps at the Carthay Circle Theatre. Can't wait to see it closer to completion.
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