Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Phantom Pianist...

Ah, there you are...

Today, we will be covering the phantom piano player; both the 1970's one from Walt Disney World's music room, and the 1990's one from Disneyland's attic. Let's start from the beginning...

When the Walt Disney World Mansion opened with the rest of the resort, it included several new scenes exclusive to the Orlando version due in part to the modified layout. One of those scenes was the music room, a dark parlor with a huge window overlooking a nightmarish moonlit landscape. Various instruments lay about the room, covered in dust and cobwebs. A huge grand piano sitting in the middle of the room plays on it's own, or so it seems at a glance. The moonlight from the window casts the shadow of an unseen anomaly pounding out a Rachmaninoff style composition of "Grim,Grinning Ghosts" across the floor of the room, which is covered in piles of sheet music.

Shhh! Listen...
Listen to the Orlando & Tokyo Music Room Piano:

The effect is accomplished via a GOBO, a type of theatrical "Shadow Puppet" of sorts. The shadow is projected via lighting onto the floor in synchronization with the music and the keys of the piano, which move on cue.

The effect is convincing to the eye, yet it's obvious that the stiff-elbowed shadow is not a real ghost. The effect is used in the Walt Disney World and Tokyo Mansions, as well as Phantom Manor in Disneyland Paris. The picture seen to the side shows the effect under proper lighting (If anyone knows whose photo this is, please let me know so I can credit them. I found it on my hard drive, but can't recall the origins of it.) The image under it is a press image from Walt Disney World, most likely taken before opening.

The effect improved like any effect could with thirty years time, and when it was brought to the Attic in Disneyland, it was much more impressive then ever before. I must say that the Attic Phantom is my favorite effect in all of the mansions. The photos to the side show the ghost under proper lighting, as well as the set (via flash) that the shadowy spirit is projected on. The effect is a projection obviously, but how the projection of the shadow is achieved is even more interesting. A person dressed in all black was filmed against a white backdrop, and that is how you get the unusual black projection.

Shhh! Listen...
Listen to the Bridal Chorus from the Attic Scene:

With much more fluid movement and the amazing appearance of being projected onto the uneven scenery surrounding it, the attic phantom is far superior to his older kin. However, the attic pianist is clearly playing his tune on a harpsichord, not a piano. The sound, however, is that of a piano...though to those who don't know what the difference is, (that is the majority of riders) this mistake goes unnoticed.

Bellow is a video comparison of the two. The footage of the Walt Disney World version comes from Martin Smith's amazing 2009 HD Hour-long tribute. The Disneyland attic footage is from YouTube user Pantheragem, who has the clearest HD videos of the attraction, as well as other Disneyland Rides on the Internet. Check them out:

I'll see you all a little later...



  1. The WDW piano is a square grand piano, and the DL piano appears to be a petite grand piano. The shape doesn't match most harpsichords. What makes you think it's a harpsichord?

  2. Because of the Surell book and Tony Baxter's own word. You mentioned the petite grand piano, but I have seen harpsichords with that particular shape. The fact that it is smaller then the typical piano also was what I was going off of, but you may be right.

  3. Hard to tell for certain with all the junk in the way. However, I would think that pianos are rather plentiful in comparison to harpsichords, so it would be much easier to find a junked piano to use as a prop than a harpsichord. Either way, that bugger is NOISY! The noise of the pneumatics is louder than the piano loop when you get near it.

  4. I love the Disneyland version, very realistic. I have never been to DL, only to WDW and they need to update their piano player, too stiff and fake looking.

  5. I too, am all for that. I just got a green screen, and I'm planing on testing it out by trying to create a demo "projection" that would simulate the effect if they updated it to the Disneyland style "Human Preformed" projection.