(credit: Koen van Weel/AFP/Getty Images)
Hailing from a multi-generational family of Halloween lovers, Bay Area local Brent Ross has been creating realistic Halloween displays for over 30 years. Introduced to the holiday at a young age by his parents, Ross says he, “quickly became obsessed with creating realistic displays and has be going overboard” with their Halloween décor ever since, and has even started to pass the torch to his own young children. In addition to having quite a local following and being featured in numerous area news articles, in 2007, the DC Cemetery won “America’s Scariest Home Haunt,” and the award was presented to them live on Today Show in New York City.
DC Design Studio
P.O. Box 132
Mountain View, CA 94042-132
DC Cemetery’s Brent Ross says he has loved the holiday for longer than he can remember, and is truly passionate about creating elaborate Halloween displays. Over the years, this love has evolved from the decoration of his own home to an entire business custom crafting high-end animated and mechanized holiday props. Ross is a firm believer that Halloween is a children’s holiday, and often stresses that home designs should not only reflect this idea but also provide the opportunity to pass on memorable moments to a future generation of decorators.
Ross says the single most important aspect of creating a realistic Halloween display is selecting and then sticking to a theme. He recommends choosing something universally spooky, such as a cemetery, and then working backwards to ensure every element of the design reflects the theme. Working around the central theme will help to hone the design and eliminate any extraneous non-relevant props or design elements. While Ross is a big fan of integrating generally creepy elements such as bats, spiders and rats, he strongly suggests sticking to a kid-friendly design and believes Halloween is mainly for children. For those hard-core gore fanatics, he suggests keeping the heavy gore design elements segregated to an adults-only area.
After choosing a theme, Ross says the second most important aspect of a design scheme is props. He is not a fan of mass-market store bought Halloween props, and instead suggests hand crafting them or checking out local individual prop crafters or companies. For those interested in going the DIY route, Ross suggests checking out the Nor Cal Haunters, a group of Halloween lovers that gathers together monthly to share ideas on prop-building. Ross finds the creation of one’s own props can instill a sense of accomplishment and pride, a feeling that can be achieved even when using purchased props from big box stores by aging or modification to create custom pieces.
Audio, Ross believes, is an essential element for creating a truly frightening environment. Appropriately chosen audio can help to heighten a sense of unease and anticipation, and is a design element not to be overlooked. Audio is easily obtainable through varied online sources, and Ross regular uses haunt music from the Bay Area’s Mark Harvey of Pumpkinland Studios, which is available at 13th Track.
The next necessity for creating a memorable display is the appropriate use of lighting. Ross recommends integrating multiple levels of lighting, and not flooding the scene with strobe lights or colored spotlights. Instead, he suggests using uplighting on larger background items such as trees or walls, using shades of blue, red and purple to create visually interesting natural shadows that draw in the viewer. Secondarily, highlight a few select focal points for viewers by incorporating things like flickering porch lights or blacklit doorways, which in turn can create startle areas with the addition of motion-activated props. Thirdly, Ross suggests adding focused prop lighting to highlight all of the prop craftsmanship. This can be done through the use of small LED spotlights, or by using low-wattage colored lightbulbs. Finally, Ross says to not overlook the use of natural light and shadow and finds that even something as simple as an appropriately placed pumpkin can create spooky shadows and an essential Halloween scent.
The final design element essential for an awe-inspiring display is the incorporation of special effects. These elements can include everything from dry ice and fog machines to realistic spider webs and animated props. For spider webs, Ross prefers hot glue web shooters that use compressed air to shoot strings of hot glue to create realistic looking webs. Industrial versions can be found at Ghost Ride, or find DIY instructions online. For ideas on incorporating animated props, which can bring life and movement into displays, check out Ross’ own DC Props website. Finally, Ross says it is essential to take a step back and enjoy one’s handiwork. He suggests expanding on this by watching visitors’ faces as they experience the display, and mingling in the crowd to eavesdrop and pick up on their admiration and praise.