Robert DeLapp was the special effects supervisor on Laboratory.  He was part of the creative team that came up with the ideas, designs, and working model.  "Many of the effects I worked out in the model shop, especially sight-lines," Robert recalls.

He was also responsible for contracting and supervising the vendors who built the effects.

"When I put the packages together for bid I called upon a group of companies to respond to our designs," he remembers.

Illusion designer and magic historian, John Gaughan
Illusion designer and magic historian, John Gaughan

"I reached out to the infamous John Gaughan, famous effects designer for David Copperfield," Robert continues.  "I met John for the first time on the Universal Studios Hollywood Castle Dracula project. Years later, Landmark [Entertainment Group] would be asked to change the attraction to The Adventures of Conan: A Sword & Sorcery Spectacular. Conan was where I got my opportunity to 'learn' from John how magic illusions were done professionally.

"On The Enchanted Lab, John met with me a couple of times to brainstorm the possibilities for the show. After awhile, John was too busy to actually work on the project or respond to the bids, so he dropped out early."

Illusion builder David Mendoza
Illusion builder David Mendoza

DeLapp also requested bids from Magicraft, owned by John Gaughan's former colleague David Mendoza, as well as Art and Technology, owned by two former special effects directors at Walt Disney Imagineering, Joe Garlington and Bill Novey.

Bill Novey, Art and Technology
Bill Novey, Art and Technology
Joe Garlington, Art and Technology
Joe Garlington, Art and Technology

"I met Bill when I was 15 years old at a special effects seminar at Paramount Studios," Robert DeLapp explains. "So when I heard he had left Disney I looked Bill up and met with him and his partner Joe. I believe The Enchanted Lab was one of their first projects for Art and Technology."

The fourth company DeLapp reached out to was Technifex, an ex-subsidiary of Landmark Entertainment Group.

Rock Hall, Technifex
Rock Hall, Technifex
Monty Lunde, Technifex
Monty Lunde, Technifex

"Technifex was created by Rock Hall and Monty Lunde while they were working for Landmark on Six Flags Power Plant," Robert continues.  "Both Rocky and Monty came out of the special effects group at Disney, and both had worked for Bill Novey and Joe Garlington while at Disney."

"A couple of the companies wanted to do all the effects and they weren't interested in doing one-offs, or single units. I offered them to bid either way," DeLapp remembers.  "When the bids were turned in there were huge discrepancies in prices and methods (equipment), though the overall bids were very close in numbers. I decided to break up the effects and award the effects to each company according to their expertise and prices."

However, Robert's decision to have multiple effects vendors involved was an unconventional approach.

"I was advised by literally everybody at Landmark and those that had worked with some of them at Disney that I was out of my mind, that none of them would go for it, let alone work together on installation."

Flying (courtesy of David John Madore, pictured)
Flying (courtesy of David John Madore, pictured)

But in the end, DeLapp was vindicated.  "One day during installation I looked up at the stage and saw everyone working harmoniously together to make The Enchanted Laboratory the special show that it turned out to be. I think old bygones were buried on that project due to the show's incredible creative team and their desire to create a 'greeting card' for their young companies."

Robert's "divide and conquer" approach also paid off financially.  After some tough initial negotiations, "all the companies eventually accepted the work given to them, and the show came in on time and budget," he reports. "In the end, I was promoted to Director of Special Effects for Landmark, I owe a lot to all of them."

WARNING! The information below reveals the magic and special effects used in "The Enchanted Laboratory."  Going further on this page may spoil the magic for some visitors.

The following is a chronological list of segments, special effects, and theatrical tricks utilized in the show.  Educated guesses are noted, and if you have information to the contrary, please email the site curator.

Opening scene (photo courtesy of David John Madore)
Opening scene (photo courtesy of David John Madore)

Preparing Each Show

"There were never any tech people during our day," actor Tony Pinizzotto explains. "In the mornings, we would have the Tech Services come in and do a check before the day started.  This was an overall quality control (sound, hydraulics, etc.)  If there was a major issue they’d come out during the day, but if it was small, they’d just read the log the following morning and try to resolve the issue."

"We’d have to set up all of our props for the show before it started," David John Madore remembers. "Finishing a show involved restoring the props (feather duster, etc.) to their rightful homes, as well as putting a fresh apple in the basket [for the guillotine]."

"The wardrobe was surprisingly comfortable," David Coronado recalls. "Each Northrup had about 3-5 costumes that were delivered by the wardrobe department before every shift. They custom-made every costume to fit each Northrup."

"Before the show starts, the Lab assistant would find two children to participate in the audience participation portion of the show," Madore recalls. "The assistants would let us know the names of the kids selected in advance, and would bring them into the theater, and place them in selected seats - where they would have a spotlight - so when 'volunteering' for the magic tricks mid-show, they would be easy to locate. We had a marker board downstairs, where we would keep track of the most unique names we’d heard."

"It was a challenge if there were no kids available to pre-select for a show’s audience participation section," David John Madore continues, "so we’d then have to choose one live. Sometimes they didn’t speak English. More than a few times, I did the guillotine section in French, which added a fun little extra level of humor to the moment. It happened a time or two where names like Gonzi or Ninofka came up, and we couldn’t quite understand them, and one time, there was a boy actually named Talon!" [also the name of the show's resident dragon-dog]

Enchanted Laboratory assistant certificate, circa 1995
Enchanted Laboratory assistant certificate, circa 1995

"My family was hanging around outside the theater, waiting for a show to begin," remembers park visitor Peter Wood.  "A Busch Gardens employee approached us, and asked if my brother and I would be interested in being a part of the magic show.  We said yes, and she asked for our names.  We had seen the show before, but she gave us a bit of light coaching about what was going to happen.  When it was showtime, she escorted us to the front row."

Gathering a crowd (Steven Woolworth as Northrup)
Gathering a crowd (Steven Woolworth as Northrup)


"We would have to go out and do the pre-show to gather the audience," Madore explains. "This is the scariest moment, because you have to sell the show, while joyfully acting like a total idiot. 90% of the time your mic would fail ... there was only one mic active at a time, because of the programming of the tech, even when there were two different mics assigned. So essentially, it was a lot of shouting silliness, often improvised and devised over time with experience, to build the biggest audience. I loved doing that part, and I loathed doing it, because it was so hard on the voice."

"My happiest memories of the pre-show were from emerging to find no one waiting," John Grant says, "and getting to run all over Hastings, yelling and ringing that obnoxious bell, to try to scrape up an audience."

Emile Trimble, theatre director for Busch Entertainment during the entire operation of Laboratory, was very influential in this interactive outdoor portion of the show. "Her specialty was that personal crowd connection and helping each actor develop their own version of a character," strolling performer Krista Hansen remembers. "Northrups were tricky because they all had to be similar in a lot of ways given the circumstances of the rotating performances and technical requirements."

"However," Krista continues, "outside the theater and in the pre-show before the actual start button was pushed, the individual actors really shined and made that personal connection that was so important for the Theatre Area. It was that personal experience with a guest that made their trip to the park really memorable. We prided ourselves on providing those kinds of memories, and Emile lead that mission."

Candles detail


All of the set's candles were incredibly realistic, made of translucent pipe with faux wax dripped liberally on the exterior.

No bulbs were visible, and they were programmed to have a natural, "pulsing" glow, rather than the erratic flickering on/off sometimes seen in cheaper candles.

Animatronic Animals

Pellinore wakes upThe figures were built in Los Angeles by AVG, and programmed by associate producer, Ted King.

“One of my mentors was the Disney Legend Bill Justice," King remembers, "who programmed the animatronic characters on iconic Disney attractions such as Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. He would have been proud to see me, some 20 years later, sitting in Williamsburg, programming Pellinore and Elixir. It was an amazing experience.”

It's worth noting how impressive Pellinore, Elixir, and Talon were for their time.  Pellinore, the most complex of the trio, featuring animated beak, neck, eyebrows, wings, base, and eyes that both blinked and moved side-to-side.

Northrup (Dan Walsh) and Pellinore
Northrup (Dan Walsh) and Pellinore
Talon and Northrup (Jeremy Parks)
Talon and Northrup (Jeremy Parks)

"We have an animated format that we copyrighted," AVG's Alvaro Villa told Funworld magazine in September, 1986.  "In our system, we make animated characters that are pneumatically (compressed air) driven but hydraulically (fluid/water pressure) controlled.  Our format is a unique innovation in animation.  We used it in 'The Enchanted Laboratory' and discovered it worked well on the wings of the owl and raven characters.  Their pneumatically controlled wings are very realistic."

"One memory that really sticks out is when the show went down due to a fried electronics board," Ryan Kershner remembers. "Everything froze and Pellinore went into this demon like state rapidly flapping his wings and turning his head." The show was down for several days as a replacement part - and accompanying technician - had to be flown in.

Remembering Pellinore, David John Madore confesses "I really loved that bird. It seems silly, but he was like a friend, after almost 250 performances in one summer. I kinda grieved them after the summer was over."

Fellow Northrup David Solove had similar feelings.  "Even though I was the only live actor in the show," David says, "I really started to feel like the others - Pelinore, Elixir, and Talon - were fellow cast members, and I really felt a lot of affection for them.  My last day doing the show and working with them was actually heartbreaking.

"I had said goodbye to Pelly, Elixir, It, and Talon over three hundred times in the preceding three months or so," actor John Grant explains, "and each time I feigned strong emotion and tears."  But recalling his final performance of the season ... "this time, however, no acting was necessary. I felt like I was leaving my family and the tears flowed with abandon."

Theater technician with Elixir (Technician unknown - Photo courtesy of CastleOSullivan / Tyler Whitby)
John B. DeHaas, Busch Gardens Vocal Supervisor, with Elixir
(Photo courtesy of CastleOSullivan / Tyler Whitby)
Pellinore and Northrup (played by Jeremy Parks)
Pellinore and Northrup (played by Jeremy Parks)
Talon concept art - Photo courtesy of CastleOSullivan / Tyler Whitby
Talon concept art
(Photo courtesy of CastleOSullivan / Tyler Whitby)

The show technically doesn't start until Northrup is ready.  Prior to that, the show system is in its preshow loop: lighting, music, and animation which will go on indefinitely.

Elixir and Talon, before the show (photo courtesy of David John Madore)
Elixir and Talon, before the show (photo courtesy of David John Madore)

"Northrup starts the show in the hallway from the ops panel before he enters the theater," special effects supervisor Robert DeLapp recalls.  There was also "a button in the floor that we stepped on to set the show in motion," recalls actor David Solove, which was pressed "after we had entered onstage and saw that the audience had settled into place."

"We left plenty of time for him to enter, interact with some of the audience and make his way to the stage where he deposits his belongings" DeLapp continues. "When the show soundtrack goes into loop-mode during the guillotine routine, Northrup restarts the show by a foot switch located next to the magic rug stage right, right next to where Northrup stands when he lowers the guillotine blade. After that, the show runs til the end. Northrup could run the show without a show operator."

“The really interesting thing about the show was that it was all on the track," remembers director Rich Hoag.  "All they [the Northrup actors] had to do was push a button, and the show would play, whether he was there or not.”

"For years after doing the show I still had nightmares (literally) about missing a line and having the show just keep going," recalls Ryan Kershner. "It became one of my recurring dreams, along with not finishing my thesis and showing up in public without any clothes. That same level of anxiety."

"The beginning of the show, before Pellinore woke up, was freeform," recalls Northrup actor David John Madore.  "We were cleaning the theater, and 'readying it' for Nostramos. We were encouraged to interact with audience members to warm them up, and I’d often dust bald heads and ask people where they were from, complimenting the British people on what a good job they did with their accents. Sarcasm was allowed, enjoyed, and maybe encouraged, as long as it didn’t offend … too much.  Then, when Pellinore snored - usually while we were dusting him, as the assistant would press play - the show would begin."

Given the number of shows performed, technical hiccups were bound to happen occasionally. "I remember at least one time when I stepped on the button to start the show," remembers David Solove, "Elixir and Pelinore sort of freaked out, flapping wildly, like they were having some sort of seizure, and the show just got stuck and wouldn't proceed. I had to leave the stage when that happened and the operations staff would make an announcement that the show was cancelled."

"There were a couple times no one showed up, which usually resulted in the show going down" remembers actor Jamey Schrick.  "But I recall one time when the usher accidentally hit the go button, setting the show track in motion. I went with it, and had myself a very fun, totally blue show. I finally was able to get back at Elixir for mocking me constantly. I really loved interacting with those little critters, it was easy to think of them as real."

Rimshot (photo courtesy of David John Madore)
Rimshot (photo courtesy of David John Madore)


Arguably a character in and of itself, "Rimshot" is a whimsical music machine which sits in an alcove on the far left side of the theater.  Introducing this element was a clever way to bring music and other sound effects into the story; whenever a song is being sung, it appears that Rimshot is creating the melody.

Rimshot, the music machine
Rimshot, the music machine

Senior art director Joe DeMeis remembers being concerned about the effect Rimshot had on Laboratory's budget.  "When I priced it out, it cost a lot and I didn't think it was worth it," DeMeis confesses. "But Rich wanted it and it was really his baby."

"Besides bringing music and fanfare to the show," director Rich Hoag explains, "Rimshot was initially designed to 'comment' on a bad joke (hence its name). Theme park shows and attractions are a haven for puns and adolescent humor. A rimshot following a pun somehow makes it funnier."

It's animations include a revolving music box drum, rotating horns, and a pair of alternating drum mallets.

Northrup, portrayed by David John Madore, steps on It's grating (photo courtesy of the actor)
Northrup, portrayed by David John Madore, steps on It's grating (photo courtesy of the actor)

Fog Effects

The first obvious burst of theatrical fog appears when Northrup accidentally steps on It's grating.  Later uses include Nostramos' (faux) appearance, Northrup's becoming miniature, and the cauldron during the show's climax.

The fog vapor itself begins in liquid form (a blend of water and glycerin), which is pumped through a heater block, turning it into vapor.  This creates a steam-like effect, but special effects supervisor Robert DeLapp wanted thicker, heavier clouds of fog.

"Refrigerated smoke was just a prototype idea to keep fog low lying," DeLapp explains, "so Art and Technology created a custom smoke machine we called the 'Blue Whale' which lived in the basement and had a history of leaking and shocking the installation crew until we solved its problems in the field.

"From the basement the Blue Whale was rather close to all the smoke effects.  If I remember right, it was practically under the cauldron. We really didn't want a hazer because it shows up the theatrical lights as beams, whereas we wanted more character in the smoke, billows, break-ups, spaces between plumes, etc."

Opening Nostramos' book of spells (Dan Walsh as Northrup - Photo courtesy of CastleOSullivan / Tyler Whitby)
Opening Nostramos' book of spells
(Dan Walsh as Northrup - Photo courtesy of CastleOSullivan / Tyler Whitby)

Book of Spells

Perhaps the first really magical moment of the show is when Northrup gestures over the Nostramos' book of magic spells, it opens on it's own, and light/wind comes streaming out.

Glowing book of spellsThe book itself was constructed to be as light as possible, with blocks of faux pages hollowed out in the center.  Plastic was used for the individual pages that turn, proving more durable in the long run than paper.

"The book animation was purely mechanical," special effects designer Robert DeLapp explains, "meaning the opening/closing and turning of pages.  That's why we had to go to plastic for the pages: the mechanism would tear up paper or thick card stock.  The mechanism is built into the book and pedestal that it rests on."

The effects event felt magical for the actors.  "When I gestured for the book to open and the pages to turn and it actually happened at my command, it felt truly magical," remembers David Solove.  "Or when I finally was able to turn the suit of armor into gold, it truly felt like I had done it. All of the effects in the show were wonderful and a delight to be part of."

(Of note: the book actually closes itself as Nostramos shouts "It down!" to calm the show's climax.  This not only ties in thematically, but also resets the book for the following show.)

Golden tube lighting and several small fans are hidden at the base of the book stand, nearest the actor, allowing for the wind and uplighting effect.

Original handheld fire effect, circa 1986
Original handheld fire effect, circa 1986

Color Changing Scarves

During the opening song, Northrup performs a quick magic trick as he sings "prestidigitation!"  Originally, this was a handheld pyrotechnic effect (see animation at left).

Double color changing scarves trick
Double color changing scarves trick

But eventually, this was replaced with a color changing scarf trick (see animation at right).  The cost, safety, and reliability of the handheld fire likely became an issue.

Two colored scarves, green and yellow, were seen tied together.  As Northrup passes his hand over them, they turn into red and blue!

(While the secret won't be tipped here, the "double color changing" scarves is a favorite among modern magicians, and may be purchased online for apprentices wishing to be the next Northrup!)

Magic broom (photo courtesy of Northrup actor shown, David John Madore)
Magic broom (photo courtesy of Northrup actor shown, David John Madore)

Broom & Rug

As Northrup sweeps toward the carpet, the corner opens up (via mechanics under the stage) to receive the dust.  He then lets go of the broom, which glides on it's own across the stage to lean against the table.

To achieve the latter effect, a small groove was cut in the stage floor (as seen in the bottom of the photo).  At the appropriate time, a small metal spike would emerge from the stage floor.  The middle of the broom's head was a hollow cylinder, a bit larger than the spike.

Broom track detail
Broom track detail is visible at bottom of photo (Tony Pinizzotto as Northrup)

Northrup would plant the broom on the correct spot, and the peg would engage with the broom's cylinder.  Next, the peg moved it's way across the track, eventually allowing the broom to lean against the table that Talon sleeps under.

The rug opening again, along with a burst of fog and sneeze sound effect, completes the sequence.

However, "the broom would sometimes not link on the track if we did it badly," remembers David John Madore, "and then it would either fall over, or wobble drunkenly as we pretended to 'guide' it by magic. Of course, we had jokes to make if it failed."

"If the broom wasn’t placed at the correct angle, or if our timing was off even by a second or two, getting the broom onto the mechanism was gone," David Cole Snook says. "We had to devise a Plan B in the event this happened, because if the broom didn’t make it onto the mechanism, the mechanism itself was visible to the audience! Our Plan B included keeping the broom in our hands and sweeping the edge of the stage in front of the mechanism as it moved across the stage floor."

"Every successful attempt felt like a victory," David Solove agrees.

"I don’t think it worked more than 25% of the time," recalls David Coronado, "so we had to manually sweep so the 'achoo' of the carpet made sense."

T-Shirt Front
T-Shirt Front

Nostramos Banner

A large banner, bearing a strong resemblance to the t-shirt artwork (at right), rises up from the center of the stage.

Curator's note: This is a really nice "gotcha" moment in the show, because if the cast were to sneak a wizard on stage, this large sign allows plenty of cover to make that happen.  Up until this moment, the audience truly does feel like they're about to see the great wizard perform his miracles.

Nostramos speaks from his magical dragon frame
Nostramos speaks

Dragon Frame "Magic Mirror"

More than a mere video screen, the rippling background in the dragon frame is a "practical effect."  A piece of cloth, fan, and lighting are all built into the back of the frame.  The video screen is mounted at the bottom, and a piece of glass at a 45 degree angle reflects the video, allowing the audience to see a ghostly Nostramos superimposed onto the cloth.  (For more on this modern take on the classic Pepper's Ghost effect, see "Miniature Northrup" further on this page).

Dragon mirror frame armature and sketch (Photo courtesy of Terri Cardinali)
Dragon mirror frame armature and sketch (Photo courtesy of Terri Cardinali)

Director Rich Hoag remembers that the video wasn’t always reliable in the early days, and sometimes only Nostramos' audio would be heard with no video.  This led to Northrups jokingly calling the great wizard “Nostramos the Occasional.”

Rich also recalls: “The proscenium dragons that hold the magic mirror were nearly twice as large as the space would allow when it arrived."

Senior art director Joe DeMeis remembers telling the builders " 'It's too big, it'll pull the building down.' We argued and argued and they put it up and it started to pull the center beam over the stage down.  The frame had to be taken down and considerably modified to fit the stage.”

Dragon "Magic Mirror" Frame (Photo courtesy of Technifex)
Dragon "Magic Mirror" Frame (Photo courtesy of Technifex)

The magic wand is broken (Dan Walsh as Northrup - Photo courtesy of CastleOSullivan / Tyler Whitby)

Breakaway Wand

Another classic of magic, repurposed here for use in medieval England.

Like the color changing scarves, would-be Northrups are now able to purchase their own breakaway wand thanks to the magic of the internet.


Also known as a "head chopper" among magicians, this time-tested magic effect was utilized in the show exactly as seen in many professional magic shows.

"Magicraft [Design, Inc.] built the guillotine, excellent craftsmanship," remembers special effects designer Robert DeLapp.

"The handle was placed on one end of the blade so that the performer could identify which direction to put the sword in the stocks," continues DeLapp. "One way, you can cut things, the other way (reversed) is the way to put the blade in when a volunteer is in the stocks."

A pillow made the whole experience much more comfortable for the volunteer's knees (although this wasn't utilized when the show opened, but appeared several years later)

The guillotine sequence is the only part of the show where the timing couldn't be precise, because it involved interaction with audience volunteers.

“There was a little button on the stage," director Rich Hoag explained.  "When it went into audience participation, there was some background music. They [the actors playing Northrup] had about 5 minutes to do that whole sequence. The birds aren’t saying anything. When they were ready to start the show again [at the climax of the guillotine], they had to hit this button on the stage, and it would start the next track. It was right on the floor near the guillotine.”

In addition to the outdoor preshow, "the other chance to go off script was the guillotine audience participation section" remembers actor Lance Baker.  "You had to be really on top of it here as well keeping an eye on the kids.  Funny, I remember the parents getting more nervous than the kids."

"We were usually given a boy and a girl volunteer," continues David Solove, "and the boy was the one we put into the guillotine. Sometimes the boy wouldn't want to go into the guillotine, so we'd use the girl instead. If neither wanted to do it, I think we had an extra apple that we could do the trick with and show the apple hadn't been cut."

"Often, a person would chicken out before the stocks, and we’d have to improvise," recalls actor David John Madore.  "We'd either convince them to go through with it, or pick another person, or just abandon the trick. I think I once put an invisible person through the trick, and the audience enjoyed it."

"More than once I had a young volunteer freak out when I got them in the stocks," concurs actor Jamey Schrick.  "Most of the time I was able to just have them trade places with the other kid, but one poor little one just couldn't hold it together. He ... relieved himself ... all over the pillow he was kneeling on. If I recall correctly, I didn't discover this until after the trick was over. I'm pretty sure I still went on with the show, despite scaring a kid so bad he wet himself. "

Being a show requiring at least two volunteers, Jamey Schrick remembers one time doing a show "for two people.  It was 9:00 pm, last show of the day, pouring rain outside, so we were about to close down when a dad and his boy showed up. Given that we needed two volunteers for the show, this was a tough call - but I decided to go ahead and do it. It was kind of silly, having the only two audience members on stage for the guillotine trick, but we had fun. I remember the dad and son being appreciative, albeit a little weirded out by doing a show for no one but the ushers."

Miniature Northrup (Dan Walsh as Northrup - Photo courtesy of CastleOSullivan / Tyler Whitby)
Miniature Northrup
(Dan Walsh as Northrup - Photo courtesy of CastleOSullivan / Tyler Whitby)

Miniature Northrup

A clever use of the Pepper's Ghost effect, the shrinking of Northrup involved a blend of high- and low-tech theatrical trickery.

A piece of glass, placed at a 45 degree angle to the audience, was hidden in the "hutch" of the shelving unit.  Video screens embedded in the credenza, facing upward, reflect onto the glass.  The audience can see through the glass (onto the barrel and other real props), as well as the reflection of Northrup when he appears on screen.

Once the actor disappears in a puff of smoke, he quickly escapes via panel in the wall to an adjacent studio.  With walls and props painted all black, its cameras connect to the screens on stage, and the actor playing Northrup (complete with a chipmunk-style pitch shift to his microphone) appears on the shelf.

"Our mic would go up, and no one could understand what we were saying unless we spoke very low and slow," recalls actor David John Madore.  "Those of us with naturally high voices had a harder time of it than the others."

Shelf model detail“After he disappeared in a cloud of smoke, he had to climb out of a bottle," director Rich Hoag explains. "Everything was blackened [in the studio] so the only thing you saw was him. The guys [who played Northrup] really hated that because they could only assume that the cameras were rolling. I always wanted him to be a little bit bigger than he actually was, because it took the audience a long time to focus on the fact that there was a little character at the back.”

"The side of the bottle was actually a black wooden wall we had to scale," Madore confirms. "It was hard work, but fun."

Another Northrup actor confessed that "this is where we’d sometimes run into another mischievous Northrup with tricks up his sleeve. One time, someone put hand soap on the top of the glass bottle we had to climb out of, which I only noticed as I grabbed it and got my hand all gooped up.  Of course, you could never let on that something was up. It was a rule that no pranks could be seen by the audience. The gag with the hand soap on the top of the shrink wall was maybe one of my favorites, though."

"I always wanted to be a Northrup, but the issue was I was too tall for the shrink trick," remembers Chuck Santoro, who was a strolling entertainer at Busch Gardens for several years.  In 1993, he "became the park swing for the actors and [director] Emile Trimble let me play Northrup if I would duck down for the one trick, which I did every time I played him."

Northrup appears from the trunk (Dan Walsh as Northrup - Photo courtesy of CastleOSullivan / Tyler Whitby)
Northrup appears from the trunk
(Dan Walsh as Northrup - Photo courtesy of CastleOSullivan / Tyler Whitby)

"For the 'miniature' sequence," David Solove notes, "we deliberately called on our [guillotine] volunteers by name to help us with the restoration spell to let the audience know that this miniaturization was happening live and wasn't a pre-recorded effect."

After he fades from video view, a series of fiber optic strands embedded in the set direct the audience's eye away from the shelf and into the trunk (see concept model photo).  These sparkling lights allow the actor to exit the studio, sneak into the trunk via a hidden rear access panel, and give the muffled line "Rimshot!" before making his grand appearance (at right.)

Flying (Actor unknown - Photo courtesy of CastleOSullivan / Tyler Whitby)
(Tony Pinizzotto as Northrup - Photo courtesy of CastleOSullivan / Tyler Whitby)

Flying Northrup

Employing a theatrical technique known as "black art," the flying rig in Laboratory relied upon the area behind Northrup being jet black, which hid the fact that the entire wall inside the archway was moving.

A black support bar ran parallel to the floor, from Northrup's carpet pillow seat to the wall.  As the black wall moved up, down, and side to side, the seat moved with it.  But with careful lighting, the black support bar against the black background was invisible.

Flying scene without Northrup (photo courtesy of David John Madore)
Flying scene without Northrup (photo courtesy of David John Madore)

The apparatus was built by David Mendoza and the team at Magiccraft, Inc. (now ShowFX), "the group responsible for building a lot of David Copperfield's illusions and props at the time," recalls special effects designer Robert DeLapp.  It was "inspired by Doug Henning's illusion, and a similar levitation by the Great André" Kole.

Director Rich Hoag remembers “Northrup couldn’t be more than 140 pounds, so a lot of the guys who were picked for it over the years weren’t very big.”

"We were weighed weekly!" remembers Tom Witherspoon, one of the actors to play Northrup during the opening season.

A few years later, "they’d told us 135 pounds," confirms actor David John Madore.  "and wow, if someone was approaching that, the magic carpet would bounce precariously."

Costume management was as important as maintaining a healthy Northrup weight.  "I remember being told in rehearsals to make sure we tucked our cloak underneath ourselves so that it didn't get caught in the flying mechanism," actor David Solove recalls. "It never happened to me, but I know that it happened to others and they'd have to stop the show."

"One of the first vital lessons you learned as a Northrup was when you sat on that pillow to fly you had to make damned sure your robe was tucked up under your legs," confirms actor Steven Woolworth. "If the smallest part dragged behind you it would get caught in the auger and your entire body would get dragged with it pinning you against the flying wall. That would be the time to yell 'e-stop' and the hostesses were the only ones to help since there were no live technicians running the show. They’d stop the show and you would have to sit there pinned against the wall while the audience was escorted out and you waited for Tech Services to be called and they would free you from your dilemma."

Floating book stand
Floating book stand

Other Floating Props

While Northrup is flying (and actually, when he is reciting the incantation earlier), several items around the laboratory begin to float.

These items include the talking skull, a book stand (upstage right), and a barrel (center stage).  AVG, the same company who crafted the animatronic animals, built hidden control rods attached to pneumatic cylinders, which raise and lower these props from under or behind.

Magic cloak detail, John Sayers as Northrup
Original cloak detail (John Sayers as Northrup)

Nostramos' Cloak / Magic Robe

Designed to look oversized on any actor playing Northrup, the cloak of Nostramos was a work of art when the show opened, featuring fur-trimmed sleeves, raised collar, ornate jewels, and an internal system of fiber optic chasing lights (powered by battery, and controlled by the actor).

Nostramos' robe, 1989 (Steven Woolworth as Northrup)
Nostramos' robe, 1989 (Steven Woolworth as Northrup)

Unfortunately, the original wasn't durable enough to withstand multiple shows a day, every day, for an entire season.

A second cloak was created, with simpler electronics and less ornamentation.  What it lacked in craftsmanship it made up for in durability, and that design continued for the remainder of the show's seasons.

Rocking Chandelier

A pneumatic cylinder, hidden in the ceiling, was attached to the chandelier chain.  Opening and closing the cylinder caused the chandelier to sway.

Cauldron Ghosts

A lighting fixture, placed near the floor behind the cauldron, shines through a rotating piece of metal (gobo) featuring ghostly cutouts.


Strobe lights, hidden behind each window, are computer-controlled to flash along with the sound effect.  Note that these effects also extended into the audience area, where large "windows" lined the sides of the theater.

"Once, during the big storm section at the end," recalls actor David John Madore, "I ran up the stairs, turned around, stepped into my cloak, and tumbled down the stairs, grinding my forehead into the rough fiberglass floor.  I finished the show with blood running down my forehead, noticing two park paramedics at the end of the aisle, ready to talk to me after the audience left."

Gargoyle detail
Gargoyle detail


Formerly static gargoyles lining the walls of the theater come to life, moving their heads side to side, and raising their bowls up and down, thanks to interior animatronics.  Red lights inside their heads also give their eyes an evil glow.

It escapes (photo courtesy of David John Madore, pictured)
It escapes (photo courtesy of David John Madore, pictured)

"It" Grating

Pneumatic cylinders under the stage raise up the sculpted It, along with more fog and lighting effects.  Like the flying effect, this mechanism assumed the actor on top would be 140 lbs. or less.

"We actually had to really fight the cage from coming up," remembers Northrup actor David John Madore. "Most of those bumps with it going up and down are actually from us fighting it. If we didn't fight it, which would happen if we were exhausted, It would get really tall and scare the hell of the kiddos."

"I remember once that something went wrong with the settings of “It” in the floor and it was a more violent ride than usual," actor Tony Pinizzotto recalls. "One time “It” never went back in the floor. His head was stuck up for the rest of the whole show!"

The "It" skull prop was still kicking around as of October 2017, as it was spotted on the Howl-O-Scream train ride as a decoration:

"It" decoration at Howl-O-Scream, October 2017 (courtesy of Gary Terrell)
"It" decoration at Howl-O-Scream, October 2017 (courtesy of Gary Terrell)


The skull, which floated earlier in the show, comes back to help reprise the theme song.

A support bar and pneumatic cylinder, cleverly hidden behind the cylinder behind the skull, allows it to float.  A motor inside the head (presumably a servo motor) makes the jaw move.

Suit of Armor

For the show's finale effect, a series of lighting effects were combined.  Internally, a network of fiber optic strands throughout the suit of armor created the sparkle effect.  It was painted gray, but with a semi-gloss finish that would be reflective.  External, theatrical light fixtures slowly lit up the armor, beginning at its center, then spreading to the rest of the suit, and finally to its surrounding alcove, completing the illusion of a golden transformation.

"I originally designed this effect with a 50/50 mirror, like you would see at a lot of museums where one image superimposes over another," explains Robert DeLapp. "It was hard to find a good spot for it, being that the optimum spot was where 'miniature Northrup' played, and the levitating wall [flying Northrup] was needed where it was for its sight-lines and proximity to the audience."

Iron into gold (photo courtesy of David John Madore, pictured)
Iron into gold (photo courtesy of David John Madore, pictured)

"In addition, [director] Rich Hoag wanted Northrup to be able to touch it with the feather-duster. It was Art and Technology that came up with the solution and they are the ones that executed it."

"In reality it was two suits of armor, one inside the other, a 'golden' internally lit suit covered by a clear plastic one," DeLapp continues. "On-site, after lighting director Ed Ziegler set the lights, Art and Technology painted the clear buterite (plastic) with a translucent silver and translucent red (rust).  Opaque black was then applied to the shadows cast by the show lighting. By cross dissolving the surface lights from the show lighting to the internal lit gold suit, the gold light shone through the silver external shell and illuminated Northrup."

"The 'art' to this effect that made it really magical was putting the internal lighting on [multiple] channels so that the lighting effect could start at the armor's heart and spread out to the top of the helmet down its arms and legs to its feet."

Robert explains that the magical sparkling points of light "were in reality internal fiber-optics that penetrated the golden armor and touched lightly behind the silver external armor. Gregg Stephens was the 'artist' from Art and Technology that executed the fiber-optic animation, another ex-Disney Imagineer, and in my opinion, the fibers were the 'magic' to the effect. It could easily have looked like a Santa Claus lawn ornament on a dimmer."

Final scene (photo courtesy of David John Madore, pictured)
Final scene (photo courtesy of David John Madore, pictured)

"When smaller elements broke we just carried on as best we could until Tech Support could fix them," David Coronado says. "However, if any other element went down we usually cancelled the show. The animals had to move when they spoke or else it looked odd. And it was awkward singing a song about 'Flying' if you weren’t actually flying. And we had to have the 'iron into gold' special effect at the end or else the story didn’t conclude."