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The Secrets of Creativity: Play (and the Haunted Mansion)

Disneyland's Haunted Mansion

When Walt Disney assigned Yale Gracey and Rolly Crump to the Haunted Mansion, he gave them time and space to play. Gracey and Crump were assigned to come up with ideas and effects for the Disneyland attraction. They would come into the studio and work on whatever they felt like. As Marty Sklar put it in the forward to Jason Surrell’s “The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic,” “Yale and Rolly Crump, especially, were free to experiment, to try out their wildest haunting ideas… to ‘play ghost’ if you will.”

They came up with so many different, convincing effects that they received a call from Personnel asking them to leave the lights on for the janitor when they left for the night. Gracey and Crump complied, but rigged an infrared sensor in the middle of the room. When triggered, the lights turned off, the black light came on, and the effects activated. They arrived the next morning into find a broom in the middle of the room. Later that day, they were told they would have to clean the room themselves; the janitor would not go back in the room.

Gracey and Crump kept a playful attitude, worked with humor and were open to new ideas while they designed, researched and tested the effects for the Haunted Mansion. Their play made the Haunted Mansion the classic attraction it is today.

Playing can help you become more creative. When you play, mistakes become a part of the story and you can’t fail. You free your mind to explore possibilities and new ideas while limiting your inhibitions. R2-D2 builder Tony Dyson believed that play was an important part of the creative mode.

For more on creativity, preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.” Get “Disneyland Is Creativity.” Order “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories.” For more on the Disney Company, order “Penguinate! The Disney Company.”

Join us at Lilac City Comicon 2019 and Ogden UnCon 2019 to experience our panel “The Haunted Mansion: 50 Years of Creativity.” Make sure you tell them penguinate.com sent you!

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Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion Exterior and trouble accepting new ideas

Disneyland's Haunted Mansion

In a story about Ignaz Semmelweis, the survival rate of children and their mothers, and handwashing included in his book “How to Fly a Horse,” Kevin Ashton points out that even in a “field as empirical and scientific as medicine… Creation is seldom welcome” (74 – 76). People need creativity and change, and they resist it at the same time. It’s part of the dichotomy of being human.

When Walt Disney wanted his imagineers to envision and create a haunted house for his theme park, they all came up with the same idea: a decrepit, run-down building that had ghosts. Walt didn’t like it. He didn’t want a run-down building ruining his pristine park.

According to Sam Gennawey’s “The Disneyland Story,” Ken Anderson, the original lead on the Haunted Mansion as we now know it, wanted to hide the run-down mansion behind trees native to Louisiana. Walt didn’t go for it.

Harriet Burns built three models for Walt to choose from. The imagineers put the pristine building behind the other two decrepit versions. Walt chose the beautiful building every time. He wanted guests to feel welcome in his park; that meant everything had to be clean and in good repair, even the haunted mansion.

Walt was working with some of the most creative people in the planet. Imagineers knew Walt, had experienced his success and demeanor first hand. Even when he told them, “We’ll take care of the outside and let the ghosts take care of the inside” (Surrell, Jason, “The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic,” p. 13), they insisted on trying to convince him that a haunted house needed to look a certain way.

“Everyone expects a residence for ghosts to be run-down. But Walt was always looking for the unexpected,” (Genneway, p. 180) said Claude Coats.

When those who consider themselves creative and create for a living have trouble accepting new ideas and ways of doing things, everyone else has even greater problems to accept the changes that come with innovations. It’s okay. We just need to realize that creativity is just as necessary for the advancement of humanity as being wary of the change that it brings is. As soon as we can embrace our seemingly opposed sides, we can see they are working together to make us more successful, as long as we don’t let one win over the other all the time.

For more on creativity, get “Disneyland Is Creativity: 25 Tips for Becoming More Creative.” Order “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories.” Preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.” For more on the Disney Company, preorder “Penguinate! The Disney Company” officially releasing on April 14, 2019.