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Scary Stories: The Fear Futurist

Craig Caldwell, along with his colleagues at Advanced Fear Mechanics are a league of uniquely talented professionals who design “dark” user experiences and engineer thrilling scares, both in and outside of the Entertainment industry.  They focus on applying the powerful effects of psychology, physics, and bleeding edge technologies, to augment existing methods of interaction and devise novel ways for stimulating new encounters.

Blog-BugDark (“Haunted”) Attractions have a unique place in the Entertainment industry.  Unlike movies, video games, or amusement rides, they offer a complete, 4 Dimensional User Experience, with full control over sensory and psychological impact.

And as we found out- there’s a wealth of psychological knowledge that goes into designing a haunt experience. Read on…

How did you get started in the industry ?

It’s really been an avocation since I was a small child. My mother loved Halloween, and when I was real small, like 4 or 5. She had trick-or-treaters coming to our house in Indianapolis. I would see these strange costumes and all, and I remember her hanging the decorations, which are all now vintage collectibles. They’re like the old witch with the cauldron, and various things and she just strung them across the foyer.  Later on I got more complicated with it, and we hung black crates and we hung a giant spider web one year. Just you know…the preliminary home haunting that everyone gets into. Then over the years I guess I became something of a connoisseur, and by going through different haunts. I would see what I like, and see what I didn’t, and there were so many different, and interesting things that I felt could be done, but the logical side of it was being neglected.

One of the things I had done in one of my prior lives was to run a science fiction and fantasy art gallery. I am a science fiction panelist at some of the local conventions. So I think in those dimensions, and I like that sort of thing. I suppose another aspect of this is that I discovered HP Lovecraft my first year of college. I think it gave me a C+ instead of an A in my Biology because I read more Lovecraft. It was different factors like this that influenced it.

Over the years I eventually became a developer, and interior re-modeling and things. I decided you could do this type of construction and that type of construction, and last year after Halloween, I said “Enough is enough! At least I can put the ideas out there.” A theme that was listed on the website, which was about applying design thinking to the annual creation cycle, prompted me to go to HauntCon this last January and present. Where you close at the end of October and it’s a gearing up to the following September and the next season, and all the different ways you can broaden that experience beyond just going to the haunt in the fall.

Do you believe that putting ideas out there and having them freely shared and exchanged improve the Haunt industry or hurt it ?

I do believe that is one way. I would say if people are in the same city, and they have multiple haunts, there are certain things they can do if they are willing.  That could actually increase the value of the haunting.

Suppose you have half a dozen haunts in the Texas area, and they decide to cooperate. They can pool their resources for their advertisements, and then they can also create different styles and themes. So if you are going to one haunted house, or maybe there is more than one venue at that location, you have different aspects of a larger theme, and then it continues at a different haunt in a different location. So you get a map and over a series of nights you are traveling to different locations to really get the full aspect of whatever theme is being created. There are many things like this that people could share and they could expand the entire experience.

So when you refer to “Design Thinking” approach to haunting you are saying look at the problems and develop creative solutions for them ? Is that correct?

I wish you would’ve been able to the presentation (at HauntCon). It was kinda all over the place. Because I took the different events throughout the year from exit polling to having groups come to like an early spring party where you invite the people in costume like you know Valentine Vampires: a whole variety of things where they can gather and be interviewed. You are actually offering a free opportunity for them to come and enjoy themselves with the understanding, as you have advertised, that they will undergo an ethnographic interview, and you are eliciting all of these ideas. Some of them are garbage, and some of them are wonderful, you know? And maybe you’ll get some gems from these people.

If you are an owner or an operator,  it’s a collaborative thing where you get the other people who work with you and for you involved in this creation process. It’s not a focus group, and you get more in depth interviews. You can have people during the summer come, and I like to see a little clinic where people sign up, maybe they’re out of school, and might want to participate. You could even take it to the point where they have a residence hall and people actually sleep in the Haunt (as long as it’s fire safe and code approved). Have some sort of lodging setup, but they have studies and you can course credit, but they learn about electrical, or maybe they learn about stage design, theatre, and make-up: all of these different classes.

I had a drama class in college. I learned different things. I learned make-up. I learned stage design. I learned all sorts of different things, which are part of what goes into this. The whole idea is that if you have a haunt you draw people to it in a variety of ways. There are a number of things you can purpose it to do. That’s part of the extrapolation of the design thinking.

According to Tim Brown, CEO and president of IDEO, the goal of Design Thinking is “matching people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and viable as a business strategy”

There are many things, many factors, you have your sound, you have your touch. People hang little cloth strips, or they hang their fishing line, and that’s fun, but it’s the way they sequence it that people don’t give much thought to. There’s a tempo, the timing, and yes you’re getting pushed through with everybody else, but is it a fast beat ? Is it a slow beat ? How is it that people are experiencing your Haunt? What are you doing with the time, the tempo?

People normally can’t just be startled.startled.startled. There’s more than just the startle.


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