The Talking Statue effect is a projection technique. It consists of a motion picture of a person's face projected on a surface that is shaped much like that face. When properly staged and illuminated, the result is a convincing illusion of a statue that is speaking.
The most famous of this type effect is the original 'Madame Leota' in the seance room in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland.
Due to the very significant influence of the Disneyland Haunted Mansion on the origins of this show, some form of this illusion has appeared in every manifestation. In the first years it even used the Madame Leota speech, in an unmistakable homage.
Eventually the show was reworked, taking it away from the literal recreation of the Haunted Mansion effects and establishing an orginal theme. It was determined that a new statue speech was needed, and this drove the creation of an entirely new prop. By 1988 the seance room was revamped with the new talking statue as the literal centerpiece.
Our final statue was made from a life mask of the actor. We do not have any information available here on making life masks, but it is a standard and well documented theatrical makeup technique. There are kits and instructions available from several sources. For this effect, is is not desirable to have a perfect mask. The mouth needs to be smoothed out so that there are no lip references that will not stay aligned with speaking lips. The eyes can be smoothed out a bit for similar reasons. The nose should be well defined and always aligned with the projected image. If misaligned, the appearance can start to resemble the broken face of a poor boxer. Eventually misalignment will cause the illusion to fail. As with any illusion, the fewer visible anomalies the easier it is for the audience to suspend their disbelief and enjoy the show.
Margy, pictured here posing for a screen test, was a very patient supporter of the show. Not only was she the face of the statue, but she was also plastered to create graveyard figures.
The actual film was shot in front of a black backdrop with lighting to match the final candle position. The process was made more difficult because Margy was asked to "lip-sync" to a recording of the speech. The actual voice is that of the original Nursery Girl, Mary Beth.
Originally produced and presented using Super-8 sound film, difficulties in maintaining that format eventually required the transfer to a video projection system. Long-running video tapes with many repetitions of the sequence were used for many seasons before DVD format became economical.
This photo was taken from the rear without the backdrop or candelabra and with the viewing window closed. Note the black speakers on the window sill to allow the audience outside to hear the voice clearly.
The video projector is a single-chip DLP-type that uses a color wheel to create sequential colors. That type of projector caused some problems with color fringing when the effect was viewed on ones peripheral vision. The prefered system would use a strictly black-and-white imaging scheme; even a single-lens CRT system would be good.
A mirror was used to adjust the throw distance and angle to match the projection to the face of the statue. Color correction filters were used to more closely match the color to the candle color. The cowl on the statue served to help block the actual light from the candles from falling on the face and washing out the projected image. Reduced contrast in the image reduces the realism of the effect, particularly the flattened mouth.
To create a black void appearance in the window while keeping the room usable for other purposes, a black duvytene backdrop and ceiling was rigged on a wooden frame. The system was dubbed "the Encasement."
The black-and-white picture is the same scene from the front, although from the following year. The candelabra is in place but the black backdrop is removed, revealing the control-room equipment behind.