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You've seen their work in haunted attractions across the nation, you've seen their products at the trade shows. Now, finally, you get a glimpse of Distortions' "Head Ghoul", Ed Edmunds. We asked him a variety of questions, ranging from his beginnings, to the much talked about inflatable structure that debuted at IAAPA in November 2002, "The Beast"(TM) and much more! Leave the real world're about to be taken to a "distorted" reality.

HauntSearch: At what age did haunted houses and props interest you and how did you go about getting into the business?

Ed Edmunds: I think I became interested in haunted houses real close to when Distortions was started, 25 years ago, previous to that I had never seen a haunted house or been in a haunted

house. There just were none in the area in Illinois I was living in or at least that I knew of. I think our interest accelerated dramatically when we started doing our own dark attractions and subsequently manufacturing animatronics for dark attractions.

HS: What year was Distortions Unlimited born?

EE: I am going to guess at that because I don’t know for sure but my guess would be 1972 or 1973 as far as the name and the concept of make-up and masks and so forth. It didn’t really start as serious commercial enterprise even though I did do some work, until 1978.

HS: What inspired you to start Distortions and would you care to share the reasoning behind the name?

EE: First of all, the name was a name I came up with in high school and quite honestly, I didn’t think that it was that great a name and since I had the name, renting masks and doing make-up and so forth in high school, when I started the mask company it was just easy to use that name. As time went on I wanted to change that name and we strongly considered that for awhile but dropped it because by the time we got around to wanting to change the name to something else, Distortions had become such a highly recognized name that we felt like it would hurt us to change it and actually it has really become not Distortions Unlimited Corporation but just Distortions. That is not a bad name but it is just one of those things kind of like Pink Floyd, I guess I wouldn’t say that Pink Floyd was a great name but it

becomes such a part of a culture that somehow it becomes a good name. As far as how Distortions itself came about, again it had no glorious beginnings. I basically was painting masks for a local novelty store. These were real low quality import masks. Back when imported masks were just awful, I would do a paint job on them with an actual paintbrush and then charge the novelty company for them. I had created my own mask for a Halloween contest for an elaborate alien costume and the retailer I had been painting the masks for and he wanted to know if I could make more of those masks for his store. So I started making them and they started selling and I realized that I could make a living making Halloween masks, which was quite thrilling to me because at the time I was wondering if I was going to end up doing something for a living that I hated. So, it worked out quite well.

HS: If I am not mistaken, wasn't Distortions started in a single bedroom in a two-bedroom apartment and now you have a warehouse where you fabricate your creations. How big is the warehouse and approximately how many employees do you have that work for you company?

EE: Actually, our second location was a two-bedroom apartment. The first location was a one-bedroom apartment. We were not there long but it was difficult to do much. The warehouse we have now is in an industrial zoned area and we have about 24,000 square feet. Our employees are kind of an interesting thing because in the past we would go through hundreds of employees in the heat of the season which is in the summer months, preparing for October. But we have really changed our philosophy and we realize that it was hurting our ability to maintain quality at the level we wanted it and with these big crews inevitably you are bringing in people that don’t know what they are doing and have to be trained. So we are actually staying with a core group that we will expand slightly in the heat of the season but we are keeping our numbers down to just the artist that really know how to produce the product. We experimented with this for the first time in 2002 and it was very effective and we were actually able to get out everything that we needed to. Production went much smoother.

HS: Where do you come up with your ideas for the props seeing as how you have created some of the most original props in the industry?

EE: The ideas for our products are mostly generated by Marsha or me. We also have some creative input from the people here that are on the Distortions’ team and artists that we hire to do drawings and sculpting. So there is a lot of input but I think something changed when we got into the dark industry. It really had hit the ceiling, we did the 16-foot queen alien and I thought. “Boy, we are doing everything from a cut-off finger to the giant queen alien. Where do you go from here?” It was actually a negative time because I thought, “Well, we’ve done it all. How many different vampire masks can you do?” You know, I was really struggling creatively. When we got into the dark attractions stuff, that really changed us. We went from struggling to come up with new ideas to having huge lists of things we wanted to do and trying to decide which ones we had time to do. Certainly, our God-given gifts of creativity and so forth, and also just being immersed in a single line of

thinking for 25 years, everything you do, everything you see gives you ideas. That immersion is something that if you shift from just being a fan to actually creating these things, you find that you can go to something normal like a play and you walk out of the play and you have two or three creative ideas and everybody else just saw a play. The play could be the Song of Norway, it doesn’t have to be industry-related but you end up seeing things a little differently than the average person.

HS: Your props are among the most widely used in haunts today. What, in you opinion, makes your product so appealing to so many haunts?

EE: Partially because we love what we do, I think that comes out and shows in the products. The other reason people buy a lot of our product is that we have been around for many years and are well known, we started dark animatronics with the electric chair. Most products prior to that were tongue-in-cheek. There wasn’t any really (at least that I know of) any serious savage violent animatronics prior to the electric chair.

HS: What materials are generally used in creating a prop and in what quantities, on average?

EE: We make such a large variety of things that that is a difficult question to answer. If you were to take something that is an average product for us, like a full-sized display, a six-foot character, or

something, there is probably over 20 feet of metal that goes into it for an armature, also cylinders, valves, electrical components, etc., and a couple of gallons of expanding foam, plus a couple of gallons of latex get sprayed into the mold, and small amounts of paint and hair are used. Materials are a big cost in what we do and we use the best materials we can get. We have just found that like most professionals, the difference between an amateur and professional is the equipment they work with and the materials.

HS: Typically how long does it take to create a new prop from conception to finished product?

EE: Well, that depends on if the new product is a mask or it is a hot seat extreme. The hot seat extreme took months of work and notes and time in the sound studio and it was a very involved thing and "The Beast"(TM) was the same way, it took many months and plane trips and so forth to pull these things off. This is true of the elaborate stuff. Of the simpler things like a mask, we could actually have a finished prototype inside a week. It can go that fast. Generally, it doesn’t. It might take a couple of weeks. It really varies depending on how multimedia the product is and how much new ground we are covering to have to reinvent the wheel, so to speak.

HS: I have seen the darkatecture props on your website. How do they differ from the other props material wise?

EE: Darkatecture was a concept that we came up with. There are some companies that are doing some very nice pieces and we felt like there were some advantages to foam and we got into that and worked at it for a couple of years, but as I had mentioned earlier, about being all things to all people, we really felt that what we did best was not in the foam realm. We had a lot of complaints from our costumers wanting those props in latex and foam for various reasons. One is durability is greatly

improved. There are some cosmetic reasons too. We felt that we should produce those things in soft foam and latex. So all of those have reverted back to foam and latex except for I believe the Gothic Gargoyle and the Angel. Those presented some problems to do them in soft foam and latex, but we are even addressing that to see if we can do those in latex.

HS: Do you have any of your props set up inside of your home?

EE: No, we have absolutely nothing at the house. I know that there are people out there who have their whole place decked out. I think that for us, we live and breathe it so much at work and we are at work so much - many times seven days a week, that there is no desire to see it at home. I think really when we do get home it is an escape from work. Even though I’m sure it is hard to imagine for somebody who enjoys it from an entertainment standpoint. It is good for us to get away so we can think about something else.

"The Beast"(TM)
Imagine being able to step into the throat of an enormous creature and experience this strange dark world. A close-up view of everything you never wanted to see within; the heart, the lungs, and digestive system of this foul beast become your reality. The smells and sights are overwhelming and exciting, as you hope that you are not the next course of this beast’s meal.

This new interactive monster challenges the boundaries between fantasy and reality, while pushing the boundaries of inflatable technology and EFX. Plus, The Beast sets up in hours, not weeks, designed to for quick setup and mobility. And the durable “spongy” walls prevent scrapes and bumps, while also adding to the organic feel of the environment within the belly of the Beast.

HS: With the hot seat electric chair simulation, how does it work and has it created as much controversy as your animated electric chair props have over the years?

EE: I would say it hasn’t been as controversial because people have become a little bit numb to the whole electric chair concept as a entertainment devise. Basically, a series of things happen in stages and a smart relay turns on the lights, starts the digital sound, when the electrocution begins it kicks on a valve with a lower air supply and it starts a vibrator in the seat and vibrators on the hands. The seat vibrator is a big industrial vibrator. Then it goes to another stage and it goes to another valve that has got more air to it so everything speeds up and

vibrates more and then it kicks on the video monitor showing electricity and so forth and kicks on the fog. Then it goes to the third stage and it increases the vibration even more and it kicks on cylinders that throw the chair around and it is just a fun ride. We talked about putting a nine volt electric shock with it and we are still considering that but we are a little concerned because if you add the feeling of a shock like you would get off of a joke cigarette lighter, to everything else they are experiencing, we are afraid that people would think that they are really getting a wallop and so we decided to just keep it more fun.

HS: You had mentioned "The Beast"(TM) earlier. Would you care to explain the concept and design of this structure?

EE: "The Beast"(TM) is actually a concept we had two or three years ago and it finally became a reality this fall. "The Beast"(TM) uses inflatable state of the art technology with numerous special effects such as sound, lighting, fog, etc. It is comprised of six very large inflatables which are connected together with quick connectors and the straps that appear to be holding it to the ground are actually hiding the seam lines and those are Velcroed down one to the other creating the visual illusion of a single gigantic beast. The dimensions of "The Beast"(TM) are 25 feet high, 40 feet wide, and 150 feet long. The premise of the product is that you are able to actually walk into the mouth of this enormous creature and tour the internal organs with a variety of special effects and exit the rectum with a blast of air and a Bronx cheer. What generated the idea was recognizing that as the industry grew, products needed to be developed that could be used as attractions but that would set up very quickly and would use very little storage space. The BeastTM answers many of the modern problems plaguing the haunted attraction industry, in that:

a) It is it’s own marketing. If "The Beast"(TM) is placed in a parking lot near a busy street it will actually stop and pull in traffic. We experienced this at our industrial facility where it’s not a high traffic road and yet people were just stopping, taking pictures, wanting to know what it was, wanting to go through it so is a very visually intriguing product from the outside which pulls them inside.

b) It is very quick to set up. If you have done it a time or two, you could probably completely set "The Beast"(TM) up with light and sound in a day with four people. This is a tremendous advantage especially for attractions that have multiple events. To spend weeks on each event is very difficult.

c) The storage space required. It can literally fit in a very small room. Each of the six duffle bags that "The Beast"(TM) fits into are approximately four to five feet long, maybe three or four feet wide, and three or four feet tall. This really helps when you think of what it normally takes to store a good size attraction and the work and loss of materials every year. This is a tremendous advantage.

d) Finally, I think that a real advantage that "The Beast"(TM) has is it something that has never been done, or certainly not to this degree. When we premièred it at the International Amusement Park show in Florida, which is the biggest in the world for the Amusement industry, it was a big hit. All the people we talked to said it was one of the hits of the show. We were glad to hear that because that is a very jaded group of people that have seen it all and so it’s always great to have a product that you can roll out and it steals the show. At least for a time it will have a tremendous marketing and publicity potential.

HS: Are you currently selling "The Beast"(TM) inflatable attractions and are there plans for other large scale products such as this one?

EE: We created "The Beast"(TM)to sell and in fact the first one is now operating in Hong Kong and doing well. We are working on other attractions using this new technology. I say “new” in that inflatables have been around for many many years but

I think what has really changed inflatables is that there is a new artistic direction that is happening with a couple of the inflatable companies. In the past inflatable companies did not have art departments and now a few of them do. I think that the other big thing in inflatables is the use of computers to cut and label the vinyl so that they can do some very intricate designs. We did a one-sixteenth scale of "The Beast"(TM) that was about nine foot long and they were able to use that to create these patterns that are put into the computer and the computer makes these, actually cuts and labels these pieces of vinyl. That has really changed the inflatable technology. Now instead of stupid looking gorillas, they can really do some amazing things. We want to take advantage of that and create a variety of very unique concepts that just couldn’t have been done before. You couldn’t do a 50-foot monster that looked good before or an enormous attraction that blows up in minutes. "The Beast"(TM) is the flagship because it is so incredible looking visually, but we have other concepts that are very different from "The Beast"(TM), buildings, and so forth that will work very nicely with inflatable technology.

HS: I have noticed what seems to be a collaboration between Distortions Unlimited and Brainstorm Studios. Would you like to elaborate on this topic?

EE: We had a very tight relationship with Brainstorm over the years and they do beautiful work. I think both companies helped each other out tremendously over many years that we worked together. However, Brainstorm now is getting very big and have a lot of customers and so that interdependence has diminished considerably. They are kind of doing their thing and we are doing ours. We also have some other graphics companies we work with. So that link that was much stronger in the past I think has kind of evolved to where both companies are a little more independent. We can’t say enough good things about them and their quality.

HS: What makes your company different from all the rest of them in this industry?

EE: I think that it comes down to the personality of Marsha and me, and the rest of our team and to what inspires us. Just like one artist paints and their paintings look this way and other artists’ paintings look that way, it’s pretty much the creative variance and also one thing that we’ve done is we’ve become like a mini-Hollywood special effects company in that we can do so many different mediums of materials and whether it is electronics or pneumatics or metal or rubber or foam or whatever we can pretty much do anything we can dream up and that’s a really fun position to be in.

HS: What are some of your interests outside of your company?

EE: I’m glad you asked that question. We’ve started a new company called Brainchild Design Lab. Brainchild is something that we’ve been wanting to do for many years. We have so many ideas for industries that are different than the Halloween industry. We’ve got restaurant concepts, a documentary film, children’s game, just a large variety of projects that we desperately want to work on. "The Beast"(TM) was actually a Brainchild project. It does have applications in the haunt industry, however, it is much more usable year round with carnivals and various attractions that it is not so Halloween-specific, even though inside there are some classic fog and lighting effects and things like a haunted house would have. I really don’t know that I would not call "The Beast"(TM) a haunted house and it certainly isn’t limited to the month of October. So we are anxious to do more projects. I will admit that our ideas are a bit twisted and have Distortions’ influence in them. However, it is a unique twist that hopefully will open doors in these other industries because it is something that has not been seen in those industries, like "The Beast"(TM) with the inflatable industry.

HS: Is Distortions strictly committed to the Halloween industry or might we see your company expand to Hollywood?

EE: We don’t currently have any Hollywood aspirations because there are people that do make-up, props and so forth so well and they charge so much for them that they’re really in a totally different league. For instance our ultimate gorilla is very nice for the money, about $4,000 wholesale. We use the same hair they use and we actually consulted with and had some Hollywood guys help us develop the head movement and sculpture. However, when Rick Baker does a gorilla and charges $250,000 it is dramatically better and that ground is so well covered by people like Rick there is just no reason for us to contend in that arena. I would rather produce things for the end-user that hold up better. It is just a whole different realm. We have so many other things that we want to do.

HS: I had a question sent to me from one of my readers who wanted to know: size and costs are often related, and do you predict any major changes in new design or size as a result of the nationwide slow 2002 season?

EE: I think we will pretty much continue to do what we’ve done size wise and things because that’s what interests us and I do understand that budgets are tight if the sales tend to go down, people don’t have as much spendable

income for the following year, so we may try to keep some of our prices tight as far as options and things in the products, making smaller characters or something, I don’t know that that’s necessarily what the professional haunters are going to want. I think they would just buy fewer really cool things than buy a lot of compromised smaller props. I will say however that we are very interested in this trend in the home haunters end. We are trying to figure out how we can make some really cool stuff for those guys and there will be a consideration of size vs. cost. We want to try and make them as big and cool as possible and keep the cost down. But it is a totally different branch of the industry as far as we are concerned.

HS: As it relates to 2002, did your company do below average, about average, or above average? Would you care to explain?

EE: Distortions did about average. We were really expecting a hit and were surprised at how busy we stayed. And not only did we stay busy throughout the year but we worked late. We were doing animatronics the week before October, is unusual. It is usually done by the first week of October. I’m not sure how that relates to the industry wide situation of business being down. It’s really not industry wide, it’s nationwide I’m sure. Our business went along very well. We were expecting to have sales be down, but for whatever reason it was a good year for us.

HS: Is Distortions strictly committed to the Halloween industry or might we see your company expand to Hollywood?

EE: We don’t currently have any Hollywood aspirations because there are people that do make-up, props and so forth so well and they charge so much for them that they’re really in a totally different league. For instance our ultimate gorilla is very nice for the money, about $4,000 wholesale. We use the same hair they use and we actually consulted with and had some Hollywood guys help us develop the head movement and sculpture. However, when Rick Baker does a gorilla and charges $250,000 it is dramatically better and that ground is so well covered by people like Rick there is just no reason for us to contend in that arena. I would rather produce things for the end-user that hold up better. It is just a whole different realm. We have so many other things that we want to do.

HS: Finally, there are a lot of people looking to break into this business who see prop building and manufacturing as a good way to do this. What piece of advice would you give to somebody trying to start up through this avenue?

EE: Probably the best advice I can give is to not try to be all things to all people. This has been Distortions philosophy somewhat since we started with small props and masks and then evolved into animatronics, we felt like we could be all things to the industry, in other words. However, what we found is that there are certain things that we do better and others that we don’t so we are going to job out our masks and props to overseas manufacturing and focus on what I think we do best and that is the large animatronics. One note of caution, if you want to enter the arena with animated products, you will need to look at them from a safety standpoint and durability standpoint and entering the market with something different. The large animatronics are a difficult undertaking and as many companies can attest to, if you pursue those and don’t get it right, it can be very costly. Finally I would recommend that they focus on a niche of the industry and see what is out there, see what might be lacking or lacking in uniqueness, as far as a niche of the industry in masks or certain kinds of rubber or wood or metal props and find an area that is not real well covered and go after that rather than trying to shotgun the industry and do a large variety of competitive products.

You can find more information on Distortions and view their online catalog at Also be sure to check out Brain Child Design Lab at

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