Materializing the Magic

Materializing the magical stretching portrait gallery

As a creator it's always exciting when out of the blue a client will reach out to you and ask you to design the unimaginable. Well that's not the case here, i was asked to recreate or should we say, materialize one of the most iconic spaces in our beloved Disney Haunted Mansion; the Stretching Portrait Gallery. Yes, you read that right. I was invited to design a clients extended dinning areas as one of the coolest spaces inside the Haunted Mansion.

Concept Drawing

This all started in February of this year when my customer reached out to me randomly and asked about my backdrops, and asked if I had a backdrop of the ceiling of the stretching portrait gallery, "of course I do." i said. Shared it, then asked to see the room he was taking about putting this backdrop up. I then realized there was more potential to this, and asked if he would be intersted in my opinion. The rest became this brilliant collaborative effort to recreate the stretching portrait gallery, Topher Adam style of course. Imafoolishmortal has to take it a step further and get this space created with the perfect plan imaginable. 

Sam, my client agreed to me designing something bigger and more suited for the space in mind. We agreed to allowing me to run nuts with a concept and present it to him. That didn't take long of course, I have an imagineer mind and knew exactly what was in store for this transformation that was about to take place. Hold my hatbox; ghosts, I have a bit of magic to perform. 

With Disney selling the new Gargoyles, I just saw this perfect recreation of the Mansions SP Gallery with the clinging on the walls, the stretching portraits hanging looking down at us under a canopy of ghoulish gargoyles hanging on the edge griming in ghoulish delight. This was the perfect space to build the biggest illusion yet for this foolish mortal, of course I thought to myself, why not! 

Mapping this madness out, I just knew this would rock and the idea materialized brilliantly on paper, and away it went to Sam. "I love it", said Sam. "How can we do this...." he continued. I just had to get this graphic started, figure out a print source, acquire four gargoyles, which by the way, sold out out like hotcakes. The plan started to come together, but with every project I undertake I overthink, over plan, and always want to ensure the quality, the overall appearance, and the concept are spot on. I won't do something half-ass, it has to be all or nothing. Down to the details, it's a blessing and a curse I have as a perfectionist creating something from scratch. So, a month had passed, I had to get this right, I thought to myself. I can't do this wrong, I need to recreate the graphic to fit the space, and to really push the idea of the illusion I was trying to create with the space. 

The coffered ceiling was not tiny, nor was it huge, so it had to look like the space was bending reality, so when you looked up, the perspective was perfectly suited to the space I had to play with. So, taking the already illustrated stretching portraits that I did a year or so before, I recreated the SPG (Stretching Portrait Gallery) to maximize the illusion, and think I spent at least a good three days to get it the way I felt it would work, I even spent time building the illusion in 3D to make sure that when I was seeing this graphic in my simulation, I got the feeling I wanted. You know me by now as fans, it's all or nothing, remember. 

3D model

So, I finally scored four gargoyles, thank ghost host a friend of mine was in FL Magic Kingdom when i was on the search for these, and low and behold, they were available. I snagged them, they were the perfection addition to this illusion, Seeing these unhappy fellows grim and grinning down, lit up like they do in the mansion, I was on a roll, designing the perfect platform for them to surround the graphic. I thought to myself, why not make it look like the woodwork surrounding the portrait gallery, they are above us, so why not make it feel like the real deal! Duh, Topher Adam, hello!!!!! Away this idea came, and I shared that concept with Sam, sending him my illustration of the concept and he was even more into this, this project steamrolled into something bigger than we both had anticipated; Im sure happy that I had a client who is as big of a mansion addict as I am, or this may not have materialized the way it should have or was showing in my mind. I have a big imagination, and to have a client see that potential and allow me to go nuts with this, well, I am beyond grateful he trusted my instincts and entrusted my imagination to just go for it.

It's time to get this graphic done now, get it off to the printer, and get this party started. Having mastered the graphic, I have finally got it the way I wanted. Off the the printer we went. this thing was 8'x13' and it had to be split into two parts. 

 Time to get the corbels made, this was my biggest challenge to date, I knew what i needed to do, i knew the design in my mind, but making it happen, well that was another story. I took wood shop in school, but that was ages ago, and then it dawned on me. I am Topher Adam, i love a challenge, and I am an artist, I can do it. So, put it on paper, planned it, angels and then sat on it in my mind for about a month to make sure I knew without fail what I had planned. I design in my sleep, so for a month, I would challenge myself during the night to consider the full design of the corbels, that had to house the gargoyle, a lamp, and be installed in a way that the safety of them was the top priority, Sam has two little ones and i wasn't about to do anything without considering the safety of those two little kids. I planned these things so well, that there would be no way they would fall, bend, or move once they were put up in the space allowed for them.

Time to to get my wood skills on, and pull out the tools and get to creating, no more waiting, my client wants this done. LOL First measuring, planning on the computer, and getting the CNC revved up to cut out my bases, I needed the have the gargoyle inset, and secured, allowing for the power adapters to fit without any issues. Plus I had to plan for the light fixture I planned to install on these corbels to add that ambience to the room and make the effect of the graphic seem real. *Another advantage of my career is lighting as a photographer, and set designer for theater and film. I knew how the light would work on the backdrop graphic to help build the distance illusion. Started cutting my platforms, and assembly, inset the l brackets, and was on a roll! This is really happening. 

Along the way I realized I best check the angle of these corbels because I only had a 6" clearance from the lower edge of the coffered ceiling to the inset. The gargoyles candles had to be close to the ceiling but not touching. I had four corbels done, glued, painted, and ready to wire up and well. . .  my heart dropped, the angle I had made them was off, and well, I just about flipped out. I made these wrong, i knew better when I made the 30 degree cut, instead of the 45 degree cut of the angle for the gargoyles platform and I messed up. I had to start making these bad-boys all over again, i didn't let it bother me and just did it. Mistakes happen especially when it's your first time doing these. Revved up the CNC, made new platforms, and cut the 45 degree, and I was going to make this work. This time I decided I was going to add more to them, and make them even better. I had sculpted a madame Leota cameo and thought how cool would they be sitting on something that helped represent the mansion with snakes and iron work and added some detailing and more support to the corbels. I came up with these extra designs and started cutting them out and getting them ready for wire covers on the corbels, The addition added so much more to these that it was so cool that my mistake lead me to making these corbels better. We started painting these, and assembling them, wired them up, tested them, the angle was perfect and well.... I did it. I got them right the second time, and they turned out even better than before. A masterpiece from my mind to wood, hand worked details, and the design for these are a mini masterpiece if you ask me. LOL 


The best part of making things and being a maker is the end result, the big reveal, how it will look at the clients house. That part wasn't something i would be able to do, this project was always going to be something the client had to install, so when I was designing, i had to be very clear, and conscious about making this simple enough and understandable that anyone could do it. We packed these corbels up, along with the ceiling graphic transfer, and gargoyles, my dear friend who came down to help me, Dee Andrea was kind enough to deliver them for me to my client on her way home back to California. Client got the goods and started packing these corbels, and never once asked how to even instal them. I think my directions, planning, and design was clear enough and easy enough that it all worked out wonderfully. 

Days later, Sam started getting these up and in place with an electrician, sending me the first preview of what we had accomplished so far.


OMGhostHost, what a relief this was to see these perfectly situated in their new home, exactly how I designed and envisioned them. The angle worked, it's so awesome, I was jumping for joy at this point. Wow, what magic. Next was the transfer install, this was the next challenge, the transfer is a heat transfer and it's complicated when you are on your own, so Sam had a brilliant idea of mounting them and then installing them. That was the perfect solution to making this an easier install.


The install was done. Sam was so excited, he was texting me while laying on his Stretching Portrait gallery floor taking and texting photos of the accomplishments we made on this project. Sam was so complimentary and said, "Well done my friend, mansion accomplished" That's a good feeling when you know you brought joy into someones life and home for them to enjoy for many years to come. We are now adding more to the space to finish it, and get it complete, then move onto his next adventures. I am very happy and proud of this project. My business "Haunted Home Decor" by Topher Adam is finally really established with this massive undertaking. I have always been a designer, not only by degree, but by experience and history of my career. Getting this out there for people to see is fantastic and so awesome. Each element besides the gargoyles was created by me, nothing stolen, all illustrated, and made by me, that's a wonderful feeling. To make something out of nothing and all from an imagination. I am a dream imagineer, i may not or ever work for Disney, but at least I know my craft and skills. This was a wonderful opportunity to be asked to create something and have it materialize. 
We're adding the Corridor of Doors Door along with some other amazing stained glass window designs I have done, and then the rest is up to the ghost inhabiting this friendly haunted home away from home. Thank you again Sam Britt and Amber for this opportunity, such magic, and thank you for trusting me with this, it's my life to bring magic to people through my art and talents. This was an opportunity of my life. Means the world to me. 

Stay tuned you foolish mortals for more magic to come from this mind, I am an imagineer of and there is no limit to any possibilities in your mind or heart, a dream is a wish your heart makes, remember that. 

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A great read and freaking awesome project! Great job and killed it!

Janeane Simpkins

Spectacularly awesome!!!

Stuart Kuramoto

Holy crap that looks amazing!! Outstanding work!!

Dan Kakavas

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