SATURDAY SIX Artists Inspired by Halloween Horror Nights Series: Dead Skull
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at the art of Dead Skull! Last year during Halloween season we did an SAT 6 titled Artists Inspired by Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights. We were definitely truly blessed to feature so many amazing artists in the article, including Michael Carelli, Skipper Hoss and Sterling Denham, but we also realized we couldn’t fit everyone into the article that we wanted to. Like my lifelong fandom to the Los Angeles Chargers NFL team “wait until next year…” would have to suffice.
Well, lo and behold it now IS next year, and we’re back with an artist we wanted to spotlight in 2021 but ran out of time: Dead Skull.
Question: Who is Dead Skull?
Answer: Who Am I? Hey, My name is Declan O’mara, also known as Dead Skull. I’m a Multimedia Director, Artist, Fake Neon Sign Maker, 3D Projection Mapper, DJ and Dark Ride Creator from the UK now living in the Great White North of Canada working in the Themed Entertainment Industry!
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been in love with theme parks and Halloween Horror Nights. I spent many of my summers inside playing Rollercoaster Tycoon, watching VHS tape POV’s from coasters around the world and being lucky enough to experience some of the best theme parks in Europe and North America. I have very distinct memories of waiting for my parents at the exit of attractions such as The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, Countdown To Extinction, Tower Of Terror and Twister: Ride It Out, to name a few. That’s right, as a kid I was terrified of rides.
As scared as I was, there was something about the theming and the sounds I could hear coming from the attractions that really piqued my interest. I can’t really explain it but I knew from a young age that this is something I wanted to do. However, I didn’t really think that anyone actually could do this for a career. Being raised in the UK, I was just under the impression that these attractions popped up out of the ground and no one actually spent several years designing them. It wasn’t really a career path that seemed achievable or one that I even knew existed.
So instead of pursuing themed entertainment, I spent the majority of my career up until this point developing my skills as a multimedia artist within the music industry. I started out by sneaking into nightclubs filming DJs, then going on tour creating short films, transitioning into creating my own 3D Projection Mapping show “Invasion:Live”, traveling around the world playing shows, making music videos, artwork, and basically anything that I could create to push my knowledge within multimedia. I enjoy every aspect of the creative process, from the original idea that’s floating around in my head to whatever the final medium may be!
It wasn’t until many years into my career within the music industry that I realized I could pursue a path within themed entertainment. Once that clicked, I was committed to the idea but again, had no idea that this was even possible. Luckily enough I came across the Blooloop website and their vast directory of vendors. From this I must have cold emailed hundreds of companies looking for my first start in the industry, showing my past work and passion for anything theme park related!
Now just a few years later, I’m lucky enough to be a part of the process, bringing world class shows and attractions to life, hoping that the same feeling will be passed onto the next generation of theme park creatives, experiencing exactly the same inspiration and love for theme parks I had waiting while outside holding the coats and bags at the exit.
# 6 – “Neon”
I’ve always been fascinated with neon signs, the style of old time American roadside attractions, walking down Disney’s MGM Studios, there’s something about neon that seemed so interesting and artistic. As much as I loved neon signs and the whole creation process, I never thought that I could make them in a physical sense. Similar to my lack of faith in believing I could create theme park attractions. So instead of pursuing a life of neon, I decided to make them into 3D photorealistic neons in virtual space!
The creation of my neon is always different each time I make them. Working in real world units of measurements, each neon tube is modelled in the same way it would be done in real life. Changing each millimeter of the model, every turn, supports placement and even warping sections as the glass would tend to bend when creating these signs. I find inspiration in creating the neon signs that I’d like to see in person, transferring the fictional lands and characters we may see in our favorite TV shows and movies into bright neon signs that could be displayed in a corner store or suspended on the side of a highway.
For me, the photo-realistic micro details is what really brings my work to life. The tiniest of scratches, subtle imperfections, and slight differentials in textures – even though these details might not be seen by everyone each time they look at my artwork – I’ll know where they are, with every view you might notice a new detail!
Here is a neon created for one of my all time favorite Universal Classic Monsters: The Creature From the Black Lagoon.
# 5 – 3D Projection Mapping
3D projection mapping to me happened by complete accident, as it was something I had never heard of or even knew existed at the time. Back in 2012, whilst I was on tour filming, I went to Skrillex’s show at Brixton Academy in London. It was there where I had my first encounter of 3D Projection Mapping with his “Cell” show. Once the gig started, this huge white structure booted up with visuals, sounds and the whole thing blew my mind. With every song, the visuals started to bend, warp and transform the stage, all with projection mapping.
Little did I know, at the same time 3D projection mapping had already started to become popular on buildings and especially within theme parks. From small theatre shows, installations, all the way up to the world famous castle shows at Disney and Universal, 3D projection mapping was slowly taking over and is still in use today. It’s everywhere, even if you don’t think it’s mapped media.
My favorite personal use of 3D projection mapping within the world of attractions is when the whole world around you is transformed. A great use of this media is Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Immersing guests in a world that could only previously be perceived on a screen, going into the cartoon and transforming the world around you is one of the most immersive uses of 3D projection mapping (and certainly audience pleasing.)
# 4 – Music Industry
Music is something I’ve always been very interested in. This includes genres such as drum and bass, dubstep, all the way to the likes of John Carpenter and Jerry Goldsmith within original soundtracks. I see music as a creative tool when I’m writing or coming up with ideas for my next projects. I find that when I’m listening to music, I can be transported into the world in which the track has created or create worlds based on where I think that track would exist.
When I was filming within the music industry, I never wanted to create a simple recap video of the night. I would always film to the track I was going to edit to, playing it in my headphones as I was filming so I could come up with different shots and edits whilst I was there in the venue. Spending many years filming DJ’s, I also learned how to DJ just by watching and filming. Seeing some of the world’s best performers from a perspective that not many would experience, I started to understand what tracks worked, what key to mix in and the rhythm of how DJ sets were built. It wasn’t until I transferred the knowledge I had from filming the DJ’s to actually being behind the decks and writing my own DJ sets. However something was missing, visuals.
Going back to my multimedia disciplines I had been developing, I started to combine my love for music with my love for artwork and visuals, slowly modelling them together with the use of 3D projection mapping as the canvas, creating a mixed multimedia live show which would then become Invasion: Live.
# 3 – Invasion:Live
Invasion: Live was my graduating university project that slowly evolved from small cardboard boxes in my parents living room to a large scale touring show. From not knowing what 3D projection mapping was in 2012 to creating a live show in front of thousands of people in 2013, then going on a world tour in 2014 to cities in North America, Europe and Russia. My rise in the world of 3D projection mapping happened very quickly.
For me the whole experience with this project has been a whirlwind. Performing in that element and atmosphere is something I can’t really explain, I almost go into this tunnel vision type focus and nothing matters apart from me and the performance. It’s honestly like an out of body experience.
With Invasion:Live, I wanted to create a show that was created and controlled by one person. From the lighting, the visuals to the mixing, anytime someone would come to my show they would see what I could see when I was listening to that specific type of music and writing the show. In a way I see it as a visual presentation of what’s going on inside my mind, transferring those thoughts and ideas into a large structure that slowly warps and transitions throughout an experience.
# 2 – Halloween Horror Nights 2019
Halloween Horror Nights has always been a huge part of my life. The first time I attended the event was in 2007 for Jack’s Carnival Of Carnage featuring Freddy, Jason and Leatherface. I remember telling my parents that I really wanted to go to HHN, but when the park changed over, I was once again scared out of my mind (some things never change.) I think I only did a few houses and would come up with excuses to not go into any more, trying to take advantage of the low wait times for all of the rides when in fact I was just too scared of the houses. Now I can’t get enough of them and the event has inspired me in many ways to create artwork specifically based on Halloween Horror Nights.
Some of the projects that I have created have consisted of real world realistic replicas such as the Tribute Store or Carnival Of Carnage props to more fictionalized versions of what we know and love in the event. For example, I fell in love with the Anarch-cade scarezone for HHN 29 and wanted to create my own tribute to that area. Getting the neon to look right was a chore, but I was happy with the results and I loved putting Easter Eggs in for fellow HHN fans to discover.
Below is a video I made for the HHN Tribute Store along with a behind-the-scenes look at how it was created.
My biggest HHN project, also known as my white whale project, is the Jack neon sign. This is something I’ve been working on for many years with breaks in-between because I’ve always wanted to give this icon justice. What started as a neon sign slowly turned into something more, with more details being added and the scene becoming bigger and bigger. When this project is finished, my plan is to create a photorealistic short film. Seeing HHN through my eyes.
# 1- Boris Shuster, Private Investigation
As everyone reading this knows, theme park fans love all the details “hidden in plain sight” throughout the parks. 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 the icon of HHN 18, Bloody Mary. After HHN ended, this particular window dressing stayed, and has become a fan favorite ever since. I’ve seen other artists create brilliant pieces of art based on this character and I wanted to take a crack at it myself, so I created a piece of noir artwork focusing on Boris Schuster’s office door.
So there you have it: SATURDAY SIX Artist Spotlight: Dead Skull! 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. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out the THEME PARK ENJOYMENT INDEX, giving a monthly recap of all the theme park news you need to know (and a lot more you don’t need to know, but we’re gonna tell you anyway). You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).
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Special Thanks to The Elite Brandon Glover, Digital Maestro Scott Walker, 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 mighty maven of merchandise Hedgehog’s Corner, the SAT SIX Fun Squad of Parkscope Joe and “the Dadalorian” Nick, hot shot Michael Carelli, charter member of the Universal Four @Nitro230, the permit princess Alicia Stella, master cartographer Tommy Hawkins, 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.