The secret history of the Haunted Mansion's hall of changing paintings

Disneyland's Haunted Mansion sports a hall of changing paintings in which people and scenes are transformed into sinister versions of themselves. Though these have gained in technical sophistication over the years, transitioning from rear-projection slide-fades to crisp electroluminescent effects synched with the lightning in the opposite windows, the core graphic concepts have been largely invariant since the Mansion first opened its doors.

The catalog for an upcoming auction of Disney rarities has brought to light several unknown images from the development of this part of the Haunted Mansion, which came early on in the cycle. The always-brilliant Long Forgotten blog has run with these images, piecing together the secret history of the Haunted Mansion's changing painting hallway, which included several fascinating rejected designs (including a dustbowl scene I absolutely adore) as well as the surprising news that each of these effects were originally planned to run for six cells, even where that required padding out, and were trimmed back to two images well into the ride's development.

As you must know by now, I really dote on the Haunted Mansion for a multitude of reasons, but chief among them is the skillfull way in which it — more than any other Disney ride ever made — turns the queue into part of the ride. The ride runs about eight minutes, and roughly half of that (the stretch-gallery, the changing paintings — everything up to the Doombuggy loader) is just queue. But of course, it's not "just" queue — it is so integral to the attraction that if Disney offered a Fastpass that got you straight into the Doom Buggy, guests would rightly complain that they were being deprived of the meat of the ride. It takes real cunning to get people to demand the right to wait in the queue.

Well, we've always known that one of the first things Marc Davis worked on after Walt assigned him to the Haunted Mansion project in 1964 was concept art for the changing portraits. Some of them consisted of only two pictures (back and forth), but others had three, four, and even six panels. We have all been under the impression that the longer series were either scrapped entirely or abbreviated to two when the Imagineers recognized that there would not be enough time for guests to watch a sequence of changes longer than a back-and-forth between two images. We all assumed this decision came early in the game rather than late. Boy, were we wrong.

In a number of cases, it was the opposite of what we thought. Rather than condensing the longer concepts to two images, the two-image concepts were expanded to six. It was only at a later point that some of these were shrunk back down again to two panels and used in the ride. Three- and four-image sets that made the final cut were also padded out to six before slimming down to two for the finished attraction.

We know that Ed Kohn (and possibly other artists?) were tasked with translating Davis's concept art to finished paintings, and these in turn were transferred to slides for the projectors, but no one had any idea that Kohn produced six-panel sets, let alone that actual slides of these were made. We don't know whether Davis produced additional concept art for this development or if the expansion was done entirely at the Kohn stage (perhaps under Marc's supervision).

The complex projectors needed for these morphing portraits were built and ready to go. Glass slides were produced featuring a large number of six-panel changing portraits, far more than were needed. It's possible that the Imagineers had plans to switch them out, keeping the hallway fresh by changing the changing portraits every so often. Whatever the case may be, it seems that the Imagineers came very close to actually using the six-panel concept and did not drop the idea until possibly as late as 1969.

The Changing Portrait Hall that Never Was (or, "Rewriting History Part Two") [Long Forgotten]