This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at artists inspired by Halloween Horror Nights! The theme parks we all love can be many things to many people. For some they are just plain fun, as they enjoy the latest thrill rides. For others they can be relaxing, as few things can be more serene than enjoying a drink while enjoying the atmosphere walking around World Showcase in EPCOT or Islands of Adventure’s Port of Entry. It’s almost impossible to not feel patriotic while sitting in a theater watching The Hall of Presidents or The American Adventure. Who doesn’t feel the sense of awe and mystery of “how did they do that” when walking into Diagon Alley or Pandora: The World of Avatar?
This past week I was reminded of something else that theme parks do almost better than anything else: inspire. While I was scrolling through social media posts I came across the following piece of artwork:
The drawing itself was wonderful, and I feel the piece works on several different levels with the tagline of “film…is a weapon.” However after being transfixed by this particular piece, I realized that I have been seeing a lot of art lately featuring Halloween Horror Nights. Universal’s annual event has a hold on many people so strong that it compels them to create their own pieces of art. Today we are going to spotlight some of these artists and their work. We’ve also asked each artist to share – in their own words – what HHN means to them. Let’s kick it off with…
# 6 – Savannah Dawson-Hamilton
“HHN is such a huge inspiration to me from all the amazing icons, characters, and houses Universal Creative comes up with every year! I really love character design, so I find it to be a super fun challenge to interpret all these interesting characters in various styles.”
DEREK NOTE: All of Savannah’s pieces are wonderful, but the Bride of Frankenstein drawing is – to me – extraordinary. It is so powerful and striking. Just as HHN is an inspiration to her, Savannah’s artwork is an inspiration to me, and makes me want to put pen to paper and immediately start drawing.
# 5 – Jack
“When it comes to HHN, I’ve always adored the amount of devotion put into the art and the lore of the event. I’ve grown so artistically inspired by it to where it has shifted my overall style, where I can find a more realistic yet fun set. All the characters are so extremely fun to draw out, even minor characters from houses and scarezones. There is just an energy to the event that matches with my personality to where I want to bring myself professionally in the works, even taking the time to learn special effects and prop work. I’ve grown so strongly with it and I don’t believe I could be anywhere else now, especially with the friends I’ve made and how the community supports me.”
DEREK NOTE: Jack the Clown gets a lot of attention in the HHN community, but what I love about @popcxrnfuneral’s art is the sheer breadth of characters they draw. Seeing The Caretaker, Samuel Meetz, and Eddie shows the amount of great characters that HHN has given us over the years. I adore the Caretaker and Cindy drawing with the skulls lining up the sides, framing the two villains.
# 4 – Tasman Wihongi
“Back in 2018, Universal partnered with Netflix to bring Stranger Things to the event. This was the IP that drew me in, as I was living in Utah at the time, and never knew the event existed in the first place. Of course, that means I’m one of the newer fans, but that doesn’t mean my love for the event and the creativity behind it is any less than anyone else’s! That’s what I truly love about the event; the creativity. In the character designs, the set designs, the performances, the storylines… everything, really! Character designing is one of my greatest passions, especially in horror and the possibilities the genre brings. Some of my favorite original HHN character designs of all time include the Sorority Sacrifice sisters from HHN28’s Slaughter Sinema, Madam Murie from HHN30’s Case Files Unearthed: Legendary Truth, and HHN XI’s scrapped Icon, Eddie Schmidt. Halloween Horror Nights and its creative team have brought a whole new world of inspiration to my life as an artist, and I’ll be eternally grateful to have known and been influenced by the event.”
DEREK NOTE: Like Tasman, I also didn’t discover the beauty of HHN until a specific IP came into the event. In fact, I avoided HHN like the plague until the debut of The Walking Dead franchise at HHN 22. I don’t consider myself a fan of horror by any means, but I loved The Walking Dead comic book and was a huge fan of television show, so I finally bit the bullet. Going to the event opened my eyes to how special it really is. Taking the Unmasking the Horror tours gave me an even deeper appreciation for the work which goes into the haunted houses. I was just blown away. I started going every single year after I took that first dip into the water. I also fully understand and respect why Universal targets franchises like The Purge, Stranger Things, and American Horror Story. These brands get people into the door who might not otherwise even consider going to HHN. Once you finally try the event, it’s hard not to keep coming back for more because it’s that good.
# 3 – Michael Carelli
“I was an arts kid as early as I could hold a pencil. My parents encouraged me through elementary all the way through high-school practicing art. I was enthralled by any and every form of art I came across. Drawing, painting, and molding clay, along with acting and set design for my school’s theater program. Over the years I have blessed enough to have my work compete in Disney’s Festival Of The Masters, and have even had a painting of mine displayed in Congress for several years. In my senior year I transferred schools and the one I transferred to didn’t have any art classes or programs. Yearbook was the closest thing to the arts they offered, but that was a blessing in disguise as it opened the door to exploring theme park photography as well. I could blend an art medium I loved with a hobby that I loved. Back in June, the VelociCoaster reinvigorated my passion for painting and Halloween Horror Nights has pushed it further. I’m a visual storyteller and I will explore any medium.”
“There’s just something about performance photography. Those split second emotions: the rush of the shutter and then checking your display to see if you’ve captured it. As a visual storyteller, HHN allowed me to practice my medium; on the sidelines, with a lens, clicking away. With my 300mm I could weave in and out through the crowds immortalizing a terrified guest or a satisfied smirk from a scare actor. In 2017, I made friends with some make up artists and performers at universal who appreciated my craft and urged me to make myself available as a cosplay photographer at conventions. I did just that and it led me to eventually cosplay and practice further.”
“When the pandemic shut everything down, I obviously had no clients to photograph, so being the collector I am I took some toys into my backyard and snapped away. I blended to scale props, faux foliage with the real environment and practiced set building. October rolled around and I took a break from my focus on Jurassic World toy photography to get into the Halloween spirit.”
“In 2017 I fell in love with the Trick ‘R Treat scarezone. The characters, the sets, the overall atmosphere was perfect. It inspired me to get crafty —I’ve never had prior experience with resin, sewing or any fabric related projects, so this was a learning process. I built a skeleton out of PVC pipe. The head a styrofoam ball with burlap wrapped around it. The back I sewed. The patches and footie details were scraps of felt I cut up. The lollipop I poured and mixed resin into a hummus dish (I couldn’t find any silicone plates that would do at the craft stores.) I painted a wooden dowel, and inserted it into a hole I made in the tray so the resin would harden around it.”
DEREK NOTE: It’s hard to put into words how much I admire and respect the creativity and the sheer talent of Michael Carelli. Regular readers of this fine blog series have seen his world class photo skills displayed in many articles over the years, and one of my favorite series we do is Michael’s brainchild: Plastic in the Parks. Some people are just too talented and it’s not fair to the rest of us. 🙂
# 2 – Skipper Hoss
DEREK NOTE: I reached out to @Skipper_Hoss because my admiration for a style of artwork he creates that just blows me away. One of the things I buy every year is the oversized calendar from Disney featuring attraction posters. Many of Disney’s older attraction posters have just become iconic pieces of artwork in the theme park community. Jungle Cruise, the Haunted Mansion, and Space Mountain are just three examples of incredible design that have lasted the test of time. @Skipper_Hoss has created a mash-up line of attraction posters that meld the old timey Disney ones we love with Halloween Horror Nights and the results are spectacular.
“My inspiration for the mashups came from wanting some new attraction posters and it just so happened to be October! HHN has been such a solid staple of my fall plans every year I felt it was only fair to make a tribute to it with a few of my favorites from the event. There are plans to continue the series and maybe do a Matterhorn/Yeti: Terror in the Yukon or even a Seeds of Extinction / Adventureland one. On top of the mashups, I also teamed up with Hauntvault and put together the Carey Ohio travel poster in a few different versions. Coming soon, I have the long loved Palace Theater poster for all my Julian Browning fans 😉 ”
@Skipper_Hoss is currently working on his latest creation featuring an ad for The Palace Theater. We will update the article with the finished product as soon as it is done. A tribute to The Usher, this a print all HHN super fans will want hanging on their walls.
# 1 – STERLING DENHAM
“Everything started when I started lovingly drawing vampires from Vamp 55. I would take my little sketchbook and draw in the dim lights of the scarezone. From there it all took off. Five years later who knew in a million years that I would be where I am now? My art in the park since 2018, and now the game? It’s all a lot to process, and I’m truly humbled. Back when I was drawing vampires, no one else was drawing HHN fanart. I am so happy that I have inspired so many people to draw things from the event, especially the people on this list. I just have some words of advice for those of you wanting to get to where I am or further. Don’t try to be me. Try to be you. Be your best YOU. Draw what you want. Don’t draw what everyone else wants. Don’t draw what you think other people want. Draw what YOU want. If you draw what you want and you’re passionate about it, people will notice. They’ll notice the passion and love you have for whatever you are drawing and they do something about it. So don’t try to be me. Be you.”
DEREK NOTE: As everyone reading this knows, theme park fans love all the details “hidden in plain sight” throughout the parks. Over in the New York Section of Universal Studios Florida, there is a window advertising Boris Shuster’s Private Investigations. This was originally created as part of the backstory for Bloody Mary, the icon of HHN Reflections of Fear in 2008. After that year’s HHN ended, this particular window dressing stayed, and has become a fan favorite ever since. The character of Boris Shuster has been displayed in many pieces of Shelby’s art over the years, to the point where the two just go together like chocolate and peanut butter. EPCOT has Dreamfinder & Figment. USF has Sterling & Boris.
The Boris Shuster drawing below may be my favorite because not only is it drawn by Sterling, but it was drawn onto the body of another artist that we featured above, @popcrxnfuneral!
DEREK NOTE: For HHN 30, one of the things that Universal has available for park guests is the opportunity to play a mobile game during event nights. Sterling has art featured in this game and you just might recognize a certain window…
HONORABLE MENTION: Brian Cooper
As the official artist of the David & Derek series and more, Brian Cooper is a staple of the SATURDAY SIX. Here we have his take on some of the HHN fan’s most beloved characters.
DOUBLE SECRET HONORABLE MENTION: @SonderQuest
Speaking of artists who have been featured in these very pages, by now many of you know how much we love the charming “Scott C-style” from artist @SonderQuest. In fact, the “SonderQuest Spotlight” is featured every month in our sister series, the Theme Park Enjoyment Index. To honor HHN 30, @SonderQuest has done a series of drawings featuring the icons of HHN. We’ve posted some of our favorites below, but you can see the whole series of drawings by CLICKING HERE.
So there you have it: The SATURDAY SIX Looks at Artists Inspired by Halloween Horror Nights! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).
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Special Thanks to The Elite Brandon Glover, the bio-est of all reconstructs @bioreconstruct, Captain Cruiseline Scott Sanders of the world famous Disney Cruise Line Blog, my personal protege Hunter “Elvey” Underwood, artist @SonderQuest, the SAT SIX Fun Squad of Parkscope Joe and “the Dadalorian” Nick, hot shot Michael Carelli, charter member of the Universal Four @Nitro230, and Hermione Granger’s tutor Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Absolutely no help was added by SeaWorld Influencer @SuperWeenieHtJr. The SAT SIX is inspired each week by goofballs Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde and you Potterheads will enjoy Meg’s other blog work over at the Central Florida Slug Club.