The Haunted Lightning Illusion

One illusion that was featured prominently at DLR's Haunted Mansion and then in WDW's Haunted Mansion was the scrim lightning effect. This effect was a special lighting technique that involved a special transparent fabric known as scrim. The effect was achieved by placing a design on the scrim which is the effect and the regular image printed behind it on another type of media that can be illuminated from the back. With the light emitting from behind the two images, the image on the scrim disappears while the image behind the scrim will appear perfectly behind the scrim fabric. If the backlight is turned off and the images are lit from the front, the image on the scrim is fully apparent in front of the image behind it. The video on the top right shows the effect when lit from the front via a simulated lightning effect.

So, what will you need for this effect? Honestly, all I can tell you is what I use to create the effect. That doesn't necessarily imply that this is what the Imagineers used to create the effect, but, it's what I used to replicate the effect. To start with, you'll need some scrim grill fabric. I get mine from Studio Productions, Inc. ( Go to their web site and check it out! You may order online but I'd recommend calling their number and speaking to their sales representative to discuss what you're trying to accomplish. You'll get a lot of information on what will work best for you as well as many ideas of what else you can do with the material.

The material I get can be printed on a large-format printer (24" [60.96 cm] or wider). I recommend taping the edges firmly to a regular roll of paper and on the sides every couple of feet (or one meter). Please do this at your own risk because each large format printer has its own temperament. I use an HP T120 so it should work with that or possibly a T520, but again, do this at your own risk. Print your front (effect) image on this material.

For the back image, I recommend printing at the exact same size as the effect image on transparency film. This helps the front image stick out more when lit from the front as it as the light will pass through the transparency film as well and prevent a double image when lit from the front.

As for lighting, the back image will need light passing through it from behind. This can get tricky because for the effect image to display, light will need to hit it from the front and for maximum effect, the back light will need to be reduced or turned off completely. My method isn't perfect (or even near that). What I did for this (and this is not my best recommendation), is use a 12-volt light connected to a light sensor which is also connected to a AA battery pack, all mounted on the image frame. The sensor is clearly visible on the side of the frame but is necessary because placing it behind the image won't get it enough light from the front to trigger off the back light. Please note that the light bulb will be clearly visible from behind the back image as well since it's on transparency film. I don't have a permanent solution for this so improvise with what you think is best to flood that back light out a bit better.

Hope you find this information helpful in creating your own unique illusions. Have fun and be creative out there. Feedback and suggestions are welcome by leaving a comment below. You may also check out the instructional demo video on the left.

#28 - 6/14/2019 9:26:25 AM
Author: Anonymous
Hi this is pretty cool, thank you for posting. I wonder for the lighting effect if you could not pass the power for both lights through a relay. One light could be connected to the NC (normally closed) contacts and the other light to the NO (normally open) contacts. Then you could have an Arduino or some sort of logic device pick up the relay when it plays the lightning sound effect. Then the light would swap at the same time. That way you would not need a visible sensor. Just a thought. Otherwise I really like this. Please keep up the great work!
Reply from James O. - 6/14/2019 10:22:12 AM
Hi! Thanks for your compliments and suggestion! That's a very good idea. I may experiment with that next time I put one together, though it's been a few years since the last one. My latest one was the Flying Dutchman ship. For now, I use a "Perfect Storm 2.0" Lightning Generator that sets off an incandescent light when it picks up strong sounds like lightning. Incandescent lights work best since it triggers the light sensor on the portrait better than LEDs.

Thanks again for the feedback! -James

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