The new effect is a much better system, but enjoy the old tutorial, if you like.
Conjuring Madame Leota
Conjuring Madame Leota
I've had a few requests to explain how I accomplished the Madame Leota effect in my yard haunt, so here you go-- I'm assembling a little look into the making of the most popular prop of my display this year.
First, here's what we're making:
Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with this illusion, I think Doombuggies.com explains it best. "Leota's head is a static form made out of a neutral colored substrate, encased in a glass ball sitting on an ornate bronze base. With the lights dimmed, a speaking face (performed with ghoulish delight by Leota (Toombs) Thomas) was projected onto the neutral face via a 16 mm film loop..., making it appear to speak... The talking head is actually a neutral static form upon which the animation is projected. There is no mechanical facial animation involved at all."
This, not so incidentally, is the same technique used for the singing busts in the Haunted Mansion's graveyard scene.
Considering the setup of my haunt, I was a bit stumped as to where I could hide a projector so that no one would see it. My solution came from the ride: "In the late 1980's... Madame Leota was projected in reverse from inside of the actual head prop via fiber optics from the laser disc."
Ah Ha! So, If I make a vaccum-formed head "shell" out of semi-opaque white plastic, I can hide the projector within the body of my latest witch, who will be looking over the crystal ball. This is my original sketch (sorry if it's a little hard to see):
The idea is that the witch's body is actually a shelf with a head, arms, and legs, which houses the projector in the chest area.
But guess what? When I got to mid October and still didn't have my vaccum former built, I had to change my plans.
So, I decided to go with the original method used in Disneyland, which probably turned out to be a good thing, since Disney's "internal projection, when viewed through the semi-opaque head, was not as bright as traditional projection from outside, and the facial features seemed to distort somewhat, as the natural shadows from the contours of the head form were eliminated via the technology. Therefore, the external video projection was restored to Leota in October 2001."
Fine with me, it turned out to be much easier this way, and the hiding the projector problem could be solved by building a shelf on the inside of my fence, covered in ivy.
You can kind of get an idea of where it went here, that big box in the foreground, directly in front of the crystal ball (picture).
So then I needed the projection "screen," for the Madame, a crystal ball with a blank head inside. Conveniently, I had purchased a Gemmy Spirit Ball at the clearance last year, and was able to remove the head from within it to have a big, empty sphere with a nice little base.
Start with this:
pop off a leg, and unscrew the...screw to release the globe, which twists off
Then unscrew everything else. This is tricky, if you want to save the head for later projects
Now, for the head form itself, I tested the projection (which I found somewhere online (it's been a few years)) on a standard wighead, and found it to be distorted in the lower half of the face; Ms. Thomas's jaw is wider than the wighead's. So, I coated the entire wighead in a thin coat of plaster, and made the lower face bigger. Then, I sanded it a smooth as I could (this is a little tricky, as the plaster tends to flake off if it's to thin).
I think the trick with the head is to not make it too rounded-- the flatter it is, the less the image will distort. Also note that there are no lips-- I sanded these off of the wighead before plastering to ensure that Leota could speak without mouth distortion.
I projected the image onto the form, and made a few pencil marks of the hairline. I didn't find any wig I liked, so I made her hair out of spider webbing hot glued to the head.
The head was attached to the globe base using hot glued stacks of foam core scraps. You can see that the head isn't very pretty up close, but it didn't make much difference in the final product.
Then, it was just a matter of putting a scrap of black fabric down to cover up the inside of the base, and popping the globe back on.
As for the projection itself, I mentioned I found a digitized version on the web somewhere, but my projector simply couldn't play it small enough as is to fit on the head form in the ball from six feet away.
My solution? Bring it in to After Effects (Adobe's special effects/ compositing program). This was helpful anyway, as the original was not digitized very well, since the head had a tendancy to jump up and down between frames. So, I stabilized the head movement, scaled down the image to fit (this took a little math and some playing around), and was even able to rotate the face to make it more straight (not sure if that is how it is in the ride or not, but the video copy was a little skewed). Finally, I added that swirly green glow that fills her hair and acts a a spot light for the witch, whom I named Eleanor (five points to the first one who can tell me why).
So yeah, that's what I did. If I didn't explain anything clearly enough, I'm happy to explanify.
Madame Leota Q&A:
Q: Did you have any problems with refection off the crystal ball? I tried my projector on the same ball that you used and got a image on the ball and the wig head.
A: ShellHawk and I did a live broadcast of this version of the project. Some recorded clips can be found in the links on this post: http://chickenhaunt.blogspot.com/2011/08/post-leota-build.html