The Herman Brothers Haunted Mine has reopened for tours, but if you descend into the mine, will you make it back out? Wicker Manor is a 300 square foot experience built within a two car garage in Denver, CO. Now in its 6th year, the last two years...
The Herman Brothers Haunted Mine has reopened for tours, but if you descend into the mine, will you make it back out? Wicker Manor is a 300 square foot experience built within a two car garage in Denver, CO. Now in its 6th year, the last two years have explored a haunted gold mine. Despite the size, this home haunt is broken into 5 scenes, each brimming with effects. Guests descend into the mine via a fake elevator and then must make it out. Today, we’ll hear from owner Sean Herman about designing and building wicker manor.
Sean Herman: My name is Sean Herman. I'm the main builder and owner of the small home haunt in Denver, Colorado called the Wicker Manor. The general gist of the story is there were these two brothers called the Herman Brothers, they struck gold in Colorado, and then they ultimately were getting so rich and so rich that they kept digging deeper and deeper, so deep that they needed to build an elevator to take them down every day to go down and dig deeper and deeper. At some point in the history, they stopped finding gold, the gold mine dried up, and there's a back story about how the elevator shaft dropped to the bottom and left some bodies down there.
Sean Herman: They've opened up the gold mine again for tours, so it's not necessarily like you're going into a desolate gold mine. It's more of a "hey, come on in let's go down and explore," and then as soon as you get in the elevator, that's when you obviously can sense that something's gone wrong.
Sean Herman: When you walk up, you're greeted by a tour guide you're brought right into the entrance of the gold mine. This is where you'll see a whole bunch of miner tools, pickaxes, and stuff like that. Then once you're in that intro scene, you get the story, and then that actor will bring you into the elevator. We have an entire elevator simulation that takes them down into the mineshaft. That whole experience is on a pneumatic airbag system, and we've built out a 3D animation that's synced with the lights and the movement of the platform, and all that sort of stuff.
Sean Herman: My background is in the design and development world. We try to make everything ourselves, all the animations, and even inside the elevator, we had a professional foley artist from Play Station Studios do the actual foley for the elevator. So, even all the way down that experience is audio, scents, and all that sort of good stuff. So, the first scene is just the entrance, a storyline plot. The second scene is the elevator scene.
Sean Herman: The third scene is like a hallway with a big 14-foot-tall cave wall at the end of it. So, it's this ominous tunnel that you have to look down as soon as you get out of the elevator. At that stage, we have a couple of different ways that we could scare somebody. There's an active hideout as well, which can do more of a Halloween Horror Nights sort of scare. But also, there's various triggers that are connected to different miner's helmets. So, as soon as you step forward the miner helmet light might turn on, which is always very interesting for people, they don't really expect that. So, that's the third scene.
Sean Herman: So, entrance, elevator, vertical cave wall, and then we have the dynamite scene. So, the dynamite scene is where the skeleton kind of blows up the entire room, and we have quick blast fog effects and all that sort of stuff with the full animation in that room. Then it's at that point, once you pass through the fog of the dynamite, that you exit out of the cave, but really, you're still in the garage and you have to pass through the cemetery where all of the miners are buried to get out of the garage.
Sean Herman: In a 300-square-foot garage we have five different scenes total, which is crazy to think about. The elevator is definitely one of the big ones, the other big one is the dynamite scene. Throughout the whole experience, we use a lot of like real antiques and like really authentic types of materials. So, like all our dynamite crates are actual real dynamite crates from gold mines and coal mines and stuff like that.
Sean Herman: Definitely one thing that we try to focus on is the guest experience. So, what people see when they walk up, what they see when they're in line, and how they can interact and explore while they're in line. What they're doing to get ready for it, as they're going through it, and then try to usher them out of that experience.
Sean Herman: Because we have, really, only 300 square feet, part of that whole experience is also what they're doing while they're waiting. One big thing that we're doing this year is we built our own shooting gallery. So, it goes right with the Western kind of goldmine theme where we've 3D printed all of the sensors, we've taken a BB gun apart and put in all the controllers and stuff ourselves to shoot out a laser instead of a BB, all that sort of fun stuff to make it actually trigger an animation, or a prop to get moving. So, that's one piece that's outside of the actual hunt this year that I think will be really, really interesting.
Philip Hernandez: Tell us a little bit about when you are open throughout the month, and you have private events as well?
Sean Herman: Yeah, so last year we were open October 1st, and we went every single weekend of October. Then the last week of October before Halloween, it was every single night. Last year it was completely crazy. This year that was just too much, because it being in your house, we still have to put our kids to bed at 8:00 PM, we have to do all these things that adults need to do. It just was like, OK every weekend, it was just too much. So, this year we decided that we're going to open up on October 14th and only do half the month. Then every year we have a big Halloween party for a bunch of our friends and business partners and stuff like that. So, on one of those nights we're closed for a private event.
Philip Hernandez: What kind of controllers are you using for everything?
Sean Herman: I think every single controller is a BooBox, a PicoBoo. All the animations and stuff, so like the skeleton dynamite room, uses like a FlexMax so we can control the DMX lights and all that stuff in there. The elevator runs off of a, I believe it's also a FlexMax because it's just cylinders. I can't remember exactly which PicoBoo controller it is, but yeah, it runs off that, and hen the DVD is like a 4K DVD trigger thing. Then all the lights are either DMX, all our fog machines, with the exception of one, are DMX based and triggered. Then the lighting, we either will use just standard DMX lights. A lot of lighting that we use is actually the Gantom lights. I think the majority of the Gantom lighting that we use is the Color Piano.
Sean Herman: I would say one thing actually to talk about lighting because I do think it's one of the more important pieces. One thing that I do strive to do a lot is use zero color. I only like to use ambers and whites and natural colors, especially in the gold mine. All we use is lantern flames and headlamps and stuff like that.
Philip Hernandez: Because everything looks naturally good, because you've painted and designed it, and you have antiques. That drives me insane when people will put a red light on top of something that is painted red. It's like that doesn't make any sense.
Sean Herman: Yeah, or if you're in a gold mine and there's like a green light, right?
Philip Hernandez: Yeah, it's not making sense. Where's that green light coming from?
Sean Herman: Is there an alien abduction is this cowboys versus aliens? So, that's one big thing. When I do use color in the lighting it will be for things like in the cemetery where it's I might do a shade of green on the ground just to get across subconsciously that it's mossy. It's a stark difference from when you're in the gold mine, and that's on purpose because you've exited and now, you're in a different field. So, I try to be super intentional with our lighting, and then this year really focusing in on scents as well, so that'll be new this year.
Philip Hernandez: What else are you improving this year?
Sean Herman: You know we have a lot of great props, but I feel like we need to be more intentional with which ones go where. So, we have a few different vendors that we've gotten like skeleton corpse bodies from and stuff like that, and then maybe there's like one that's still cool and it's great, but it doesn't look like the other ones that you just saw in the haunted house, right? So, I think one big thing that I would like to do personally this year is, try to make everything seem more consistent throughout. So, instead of having two of those bodies in the actual mine, I might just have the one, and then swap out the one that's in the graveyard for one of those so that they're the same, the same style, and the same texture and all that sort of stuff.
Philip Hernandez: So just kind of continuity, basically.
Sean Herman: Yeah, the continuation of like visuals I think is really going to be key this year. Also, the addition of adding scents is going to be huge this year, even all the way down with the littlest details, like scent and stuff like that. Lighting we're not doing too many differences. One big difference that we will be doing aside from the shooting gallery, which is all new. But one big thing is, I feel like every year I get new fog machines just because they're all trash, and this year I tried to actually get a little bit better ones that hopefully will last, maybe, a couple of years rather than just one year. I feel like I clean those things every single year perfectly, and then like the next year they're just trash. So, I don't know.
Sean Herman: One big thing that we're doing is, instead of using foggers everywhere we're using haze machines so that it's not just fog flooding, but it's actually just like a consistent haze in the cemetery. We have a great low-lying fog machine that we use in the cemetery. But really, focusing in on those kinds of effects, I think, is going to be key this year because it's hard to control some of those like bigger output foggers when you don't really want fog, you want haze. So, that's one big thing that we're changing this year.
Philip Hernandez: Why is this important for you?
Sean Herman: Why do this?
Philip Hernandez: I ask myself that every year. I don't know.
Sean Herman: Yeah, I wake up every morning asking myself. I think why we do this is, my job is sitting at my computer and making things, so I'm a creative at heart. But the hard part for me is the sitting piece. I'm sitting here and I'm building websites, and I'm designing brands, and all that sort of stuff. So, I actually really enjoy my job, but the component that I feel is genuinely missing from that is physical hard work. So, I think one big piece to why we do this is really just to not only be creative but also to like to get out and move and build something unique that can maybe inspire somebody who's maybe interested in the same things.