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Learn the spooky secrets behind Muppets Haunted Mansion's 'Muppified' design
The Muppets Haunted Mansion special dropped on Disney+ on Oct. 8, and fans of The Muppets and/or Disney's Haunted Mansion attraction loved how the show blended elements from both. From the building's front gates to the paintings inside, everything was created from scratch by the art department, led by production designer Darcy Prevost.
SYFY WIRE had the chance to talk with Prevost — a huge Muppets and Haunted Mansion fan herself — about working on the project, including where she found inspiration for various sets and set pieces, and what it was like creating in a digital environment similar to the one used on The Mandalorian.
The production of Muppets Haunted Mansion took place during the peak of the pandemic, which prevented Prevost and her crew from going into any Disney theme parks and looking at the Haunted Mansion rides directly. "We had to figure it out mostly from research images as they didn't have any pre-existing drawings or models [of the rides]," she shared.
Prevost did her research and decided to focus on the first Haunted Mansion drawing ever, which was created by Harper Goff in 1951. "That exterior has never been done, it's never been developed," she said. "The two gate pillars were from that sketch as well as the overall shape of the house."
Once Prevost and her team had the general look and feel they were going with, they then went in and "Muppified" it. Everyone pitched in to add as many Muppet touches as they could. Darcy's set designer, Michael C. Biddle, for example, added the Kermit eyes to the gate after Prevost sent him her drawing of it.
Prevost herself added touches like making the sconces look like the Mahna Mahna Muppets and putting Gonzo into the Mansion's iconic purple wallpaper. "We wanted to try to feature some of the Muppets that aren't always front and center," she said. "That way it made it a little made it a little more subtle too."
The Haunted Mansion also has its own Easter eggs in the special. Prevost, for example, placed a tiny bat stanchion at the tip of the automobile driven by Yvette Nicole Brown. "I also put him flanking the fireplace in the changing portrait corridor," she added.
Muppets Haunted Mansion, like other Disney productions including The Mandalorian, worked almost entirely on digital sets and used Unreal Engine technology to render impressively realistic environments.
The Grand Ballroom, for example, is all digital (except for the Muppets, of course). "We thought we'd get to build the table," Prevost said. "But no way — I think the only physical sets in that space were an actual buffet table, but everything else is digital."
To create the space, Prevost 3-D modeled the ballroom based on "reference images and my memory of riding on Haunted Mansion 1,000 times." There were tweaks to the room, of course, most noticeably the stage where Fozzy kills it as a Hatbox Ghost comedian.
Once she was done, she passed off her designs to the team that used Unreal Engine technology to make the designs more lifelike. "It's the same as when we build physical sets," she explained. "You start with the designs, the drawings, and then somebody either has to swing a hammer to create them physically or computer models have modelers have to work to create them digitally."
And while Haunted Mansion elements were everywhere, astute Haunted Mansion fans may have noticed that only three of the four portraits in the stretching room made it onto the special. That's because the fourth one features Constance Hatchaway, The Black Widow Bride. Constance is played by Taraji P. Henson in the special, but her casting happened later on in the production process after artist Kay Uy had finished the other three. "We actually did half of it," Prevost said of the fourth portrait. "We made all of it except for Constance — I'll have to try to rectify that in the future if I can."
Muppets Haunted Mansion is currently streaming on Disney+.