Things You're Just Supposed to Know

Most of the time, Long-Forgotten assumes that its readers are already familiar with basic facts
about the Haunted Mansion. If you wanna keep up with the big boys, I suggest you check out
first of all the website, Doombuggies.com. After that, the best place to go is Jason Surrell's book,
The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (NY: Disney Editions, 2003; 2nd ed. 2009).

This site is not affiliated in any way with any Walt Disney company. It is an independent
fan site dedicated to critical examination and historical review of the Haunted Mansions.
All images that are © Disney are posted under commonly understood guidelines of Fair Use.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Into the Dark Forest

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Before someone asks, I must say that the amazing synchronicity between this post and THIS ONE is coincidental.  I had no inkling what the next Passport blog was going to discuss.  The post you're now reading has been "in the can" and pretty much ready to go for over a month!  

Did any of Disney's animated films play any role in the development of the Haunted Mansion?  The current consensus among orthodox Mansionologists is: "Why yes, certainly, but only two or three of them."

Raise the topic, and you'll hear about Ken Anderson's 1957-58 plans to build the attraction around the Legend of Sleepy Hollow as interpreted in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, as well as his plans for a "Lonesome Ghost" character, inspired by the Mickey Mouse short of the same name.  That's what you'll read at Doombuggies.com, in Jason Surrell's Haunted Mansion book, and in any number of magazine articles or video presentations dealing with the history of the attraction, and as a matter of fact we talked about those in our earlier treatment of cinematic influences.  Those two are mainly of historical interest, however, since neither Ichabod nor Lonesome left any mark on the finished ride beyond a few ambiguous and incidental details.

Sometimes a third film is mentioned: the Night on Bald Mountain segment from Fantasia.  We discussed that one earlier too.  The wispy spirits in the graveyard and perhaps also the wraiths flying in and out of the ballroom windows may owe something to the famous Fantasia segment.



(Jeff Fillmore Life by the Drop)


Here's Disney historian Ed Squair citing those three films in The Making of the Haunted Mansion, included with the DVD release of the 2003 movie.




The Fourth Film

It's odd, because there is definitely a fourth Disney animated film that influenced one of the scenes in the Haunted Mansion, but it's never cited as an inspiration.  Why is that?  Beats me, except that these narratives do tend to get stuck in the same old groove after awhile, and we're all too lazy to rethink them.  The fourth film is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and I'm thinking specifically of the sequence in which Snow White flees into the dark forest, and her terrified imagination turns ordinary trees into threatening demons.



This concept was recycled in the aforementioned Adventures of Ichabod mini-feature, and as we saw in the
earlier post on cinematic influences, one of the trees in that film may actually have inspired a few Mansion ghosts.


Okay, so where is the Haunted Mansion's own version of this?  Well duh, it's the short journey from the attic to the ground level in the graveyard, a passage through dark and threatening trees.  Seven of them, as a matter of fact.

Usually, when we embark on these excursions into Mansion backgrounds, we wander far and wide, but in this case I don't think that is necessary.  "The Dark Forest" as an archetype in dreams, myths, and legends is a rich topic, but in this brief scene I don't think the HM Imagineers went beyond the boundaries of Snow White any more than Ichabod did.  It's the Dark Forest as distilled through that one source.  I will cite one influence behind Snow White's scary forest, however, because it's quite possible the HM Imagineers were directly familiar with it.

Swedish illustrator Gustaf Tenggren was hired by Disney in 1936 and was a major influence on the look and feel of Snow White, bringing an Old World, fairy-tale storybook ambience to the film. Tenggren's influence on the Snow White forest scenes was particularly strong.  Compare this 1937 Snow White sketch to a sketch he did in 1924.


(Hat tip to Filmic Light for the Tenggren material)

This is probably as far back as we need to go for the roots of the scary trees in the Haunted Mansion.


Snow White's Scary Adventures

Between the film version of Snow White and the Haunted Mansion, however, came Snow White's Scary Adventures (that's the current name; it's had several), so in this case the animated feature had already been translated into a dark ride before the Haunted Mansion came along, and that ride in turn exercised its own direct influence on the future attraction.  Claude Coats worked on Scary Adventures, which was largely designed by Ken Anderson.

A comparison of the movie artwork with the painted flats and fully-dimensional trees in the original 1955 dark ride shows that the Imagineers wanted to preserve the look of the film in the forest scene.

(pix from The E-Ticket magazine, Summer 1992)

What did it look like in the dark?  We can't expect to find very many good photos of the original scene under show lighting conditions, but you can still get an idea by simply going on the ride, since this section of Scary Adventures hasn't been radically altered over the years.  In fact, there may be reason to believe that the trees that are there today are still the originals.  I base that conjecture on their appearance under regular light.  The trees in the now-defunct WDW Snow White ride looked, and the trees in the Tokyo ride still look, pretty good when the lights are on, but the DL trees?  Hideous, unrecognizable piles of what looks like melted plastic.

Walt Disney World:

(above and lower right: screen caps from video by Mousechat.net)

Tokyo Disneyland:

(pic by ywloop)

Now check out Disneyland:


Gross.  I don't know for sure, but it seems to me that's what fifty-seven year old mechanical trees might look like after being repaired and repainted over and over.  But even though they look like crap under regular light, they transform into the scary monsters we see in the movie whenever the show lighting comes on.  Such is the magic of black light.  Modern photography can better capture some of the feel.



Several of these trees are animated, of course, turning back and forth as you go by.


The Dark Forest Running Away from Snow White?

I think the most interesting discovery in examining the influence of Snow Whiteboth the film and the ride—on the "dark trees" section of the Haunted Mansion, is that the Imagineers consistently drifted away from Snow White as time went by, whether by design or accident.

To start with, the physical layout of the dark tree sequence in the Haunted Mansion bears some similarity to the depiction of the dark forest scene in the Ken Anderson-designed mural that graced the exterior of Snow White's Scary Adventures from 1955 until 1982:



It may be coincidence, but golly, imagine going down that path backwards in a doombuggy.


Not only that, but the trees in the HM were originally going to be animated, like the trees in the Snow White ride.  Note the references to "MECHANICAL TREES" on the blueprint.  This is from the spring of 1969, so that effect may have been scrapped pretty late in the game.  We don't know why.  Technical problems?  Cost overruns? Manpower shortage?  Or was it thought to be too obviously a Scary Adventures retread?

Then too, there may have been plans to put large and highly visible sets
of eyes on the trees, if that is the correct way to read this other blueprint:


"EYES IN TREE TRUNKS, 7 PAIRS," "EYES IN TREES."  There was something like this
in the Snow White ride, a further attempt to replicate what you find in the movie.

(Original pic from Davelandweb.  Enhanced by HBG2)

And for what it's worth, in a few of Marc Davis's
concept sketches, he puts faces on the graveyard trees.


But it is equally possible that the blueprint is referring to the eyes that were put into the seven trees.  I think most Disneylanders know that the eyes are there, but hey, how come you never see an organized photo spread with all seven identified?  Once again it falls to us at Long-Forgotten to perform a shamefully neglected task.  Here ya go, kids, and the numbers are even matched to the blueprint above for easy reference.


If the trees had been animated, and if the eyes had been made even more prominent than they are, then the debt to Snow White's Scary Adventures would have been hard to miss.


How Thick is that Thicket Out the Window?

The one for our doombuggy trail?  Since the scene is so dark, it isn't easy to come up with a photographic image of the Anaheim trees that replicates their look under show conditions.  The videos are hopeless.



Here's a nice 3D image, if you can do the "magic eye" thing.


The twisty railings are supposed to read as pieces of random underbrush and branches.
You're passing through a dense thicket, you see.  (This is WDW, but Anaheim's railings are similar.)


While we're on the subject, as of this writing, something is going on at the
DL HM with regard to the railing on the landing right outside the attic exit.

(pic by MasterGracey)

My guess is that they were told this area needed a higher, safer railing.  I include the photo mainly in order to show how the current Imagineers are still sensitive to the camouflage strategy in use with these railings.  Note how the post supports mimic a snarly bunch of brush.  As luck would have it, this photo shows those post supports against the background of the real shrubbery and dead branches they're supposed to imitate.


The current generation of Imagineers comes in for a lot of criticism around the blogs and chatboards, so it's only right to congratulate them when they do something well, even if it's a relatively small thing. Or maybe especially when it's a relatively small thing.

Anyway, back to the topic of thicket thickness.

The seven Disneyland trees are black and stout and have faces on them, resembling the Snow White trees.  Below, that's from the now-defunct Scary Adventures at WDW on the left, with Disneyland's HM on the right.


At Disneyland, they crowd heavily around you.  Some of the shrubbery between them extends up past the top of the doombuggies.  A few of the trees still have some foliage, further blocking the view.  Real twigs and branches have been incorporated, all dense and twisted.  Visibility through and past the trees is quite limited.  In a word, you're trapped.


Whoops, can't go that way.



That way doesn't look too good either.



Forget it.



Sorry.


The WDW thicket is a complete contrast.  The trees are thinner, lighter in color, utterly bare, and do not have faces.  Their twigs are thin and spidery, but they are arched and curved, never gnarled and twisted.  There is far less shrubbery, and it's lower down, almost at track level.


You see through these trees as much as you see the trees themselves.
These 3D's from the WDW Mansion may help you to get a feel for it.


Admittedly, I haven't been to the Orlando Mansion, but judging from backstage photos, on-ride photos,
and videos, it looks to me like a very different "dark forest" experience than the Anaheim original.

Photobucket
(From the Martin-Warren video, 2009)

Here's a side-by-side that shows the dramatic contrast
between the designs of the WDW trees and the DL trees.

Incidentally, that "eye" in the DL tree is actually an infrared light that invisibly illuminates the area for the night vision
security system.  I suppose there's some irony in that, since it's part of the system by which they keep an eye on you.


Heh.  Reminds me of Flowers and Trees.


It's difficult to say whether one is better than the other.  One is a dark cavern, the other seems more like a prison cell with bars.

The differences between the two sets represent further steps away from Snow White, but it's not possible to know if that was the motive.  It could all be coincidental; nevertheless the differences between the blueprints and the production figures, and even more so the differences between Anaheim and Orlando, consistently go in that direction.

If indeed the Imagineers were concerned that the HM thicket would look too much like a Snow White rip-off, they needn't have worried, since no one ever mentions the obvious Snow White correlations anyway.


Falling Off the Roof

According to the official WED summary of the ride, released in the summer of 1969, you exit the attic window, then you "suddenly 'fall' backwards off the roof," and then you "descend past grasping, demon trees."

(Collin Campbell's take on the attic exit)

Out you go.  Go on.  Scoot.  All it takes is faith and trust, and a little Omnimover track.

Some people have interpreted this as a fatal fall, so that you are now one of them as you make your way through the graveyard jamboree.  But the ghosts still ignore you, except for the popup ghosts, who are still trying to scare you, and nothing the Ghost Host says later on suggests a change in your condition.  Why you survive the fall unharmed is not explained.  One supposes that the same force that compelled you to move through the house (represented by the doombuggy) buoyed you up safely as you softly descended.

I only bring that up because there is yet another way to read this portion of the ride.  Normally, I am cool toward Freudian interpretations, but I have to admit that they work rather well here, so maybe this time there's something to that approach.  The house is the womb in which you have gradually been prepared for entry into another, different world.  You fall through the birth canal (and all that dark underbrush, heh heh) and miraculously land unharmed, borne up safely by invisible hands, and now you're in that other world big time.  Ta da, you've been born.  If you hold to the "death" interpretation of the fall from the attic, this Freudian interpretation plays right into your hands.

I'm not saying I fully buy into any of this, and I bring it forward with reluctance, because if you give them Freudians an inch they take a mile.  "Yeah, yeah, that's gotta be it!  And notice that the first person you see is a 'caretaker,' and why is there no bathroom or bedroom in the Mansion?  And...well, you KNOW what Constance and her hatchet are all about, don't you?  DON'T YOU??  And...."

Good heavens, wouldja look at the time?  We have to wrap this post up.  I'll see you all a little later.



29 comments:

  1. This is super fortuitous and funny. I actually considered making the link to the Mansion in my article (which I've been poking away at for about a month), but decided the topic itself was a little too broad to take on all at once and so it's great to have a complimentary article which completes the circle, so to speak. I find people who are interested in Mansion are generally also interested in Snow White; besides the obvious links it's a case of people of good taste having it!

    The subject of the variant graveyard slopes came up recently, and I didn't have a much better answer for the difference than you do. I will say that there is a definite difference in emphasis in the scenes; the FL trees are essentially stark silhouettes, and it actually took me some time to even notice that the branches resembled hands. I think it's absolutely supposed to be subliminal. Florida instead focuses your attention on the "side" of the house with that green light that's always been there.

    I'm not sure why this happened. Perhaps nobody really liked the way the "Snow White" trees turned out and so Coats tried out something different? I've always liked them, although along with the "Peter Pan" stars the experiences are very different. I don't think the Coats Snow White trees were salvaged; I wish they had been installed inside Mansion, tucked away in the graveyard here and there...

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  2. I agree with FoxxFur..."people who are interested in Mansion are generally also interested in Snow White; besides the obvious links it's a case of people of good taste having it!" Right on. :)

    It's fascinating to think that the germ for the idea of scary trees within HM, and certainly on SWSA, could very well stem from an illustration that Gustaf Tenggren created back in 1924 for the Swedish folklore and fairy tales compilation Bland Tomtar och Troll (Among Gnomes and Trolls).

    Splendid post HBG2.

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  3. From reading this blog I can tell how much you dislike imposing stories or interpretations upon the ride, but isn't it having "no" obvious story one of the more important parts of the ride? It allows the viewer to push his own ideas upon the ride, and make it a much more personal and memorable experience.

    So I say interpret away, it's just as interesting to hear what other imagine about the ride as one might themselves!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've never suggested that guests shouldn't come up with individual interpretations, including whole backstories. I'm against Disney imposing official ones, that's all. As I said in an earlier post:

      "You need to have room to create an imaginative construct of your own and not have someone else's foisted on you. That's why I'm against 'official backstories' on principle. I've been robbed. Someone else's imagination is boxing in mine. They can't see that, or feel it, precisely because it IS their own creation, the product of their own imagination. 'Why doesn't everyone else get off on my personal vision as much as I do? I don't get it.' ...[L]eave the Mansion (and POTC, and TSI) alone, so future guests can breathe and dream their own dreams, and so they can make their own connections, or none at all, as they please."

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    2. I'm sorry, I don't think I explained that well enough, my bad. I meant that when you said this:

      "Normally, I am cool toward Freudian interpretations, but I have to admit that they work rather well here, so maybe this time there's something to that approach"

      I wouldn't mind more of that :)

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  4. The "higher, safer railing" you mentioned has been there for a long time; it was decorated in January of this year. Ironically, the railing was nearly invisible before the "camouflage" was added.

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    Replies
    1. Nice to know. But it looks temporary or unfinished with those cables for railings. Maybe that's all there is going to be.

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  5. Great post! I always wondered what was up with the backwards doombuggies when you leave the attic. The Imagineers wanted you to see those creepy trees. It's too bad that the faces are so difficult to see on the actual ride (at least they were when I rode the DL version back in the early noughties). They even put the Raven up among the trees, drawing attention not only to itself, but to other ghosts that may wish to 'better themselves' (the possessed trees). Or here's another interesting take: maybe the ghostly trees are the ones that gently set you down after you fall out of the attic, one tree handing each group of explorers of to another tree until we (in our non-existant doombuggies) reach the ground. Also apparently the WDW caretaker is a younger man who appears to be less shocked by ghosts and more stoned, believing this is a bad trip he's having.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. And yeah, I really don't like the WDW caretaker. He looks like he'd be more at home holding a skateboard than a shovel. (Guys, the stock character is "the OLD caretaker," got it?)

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    2. LOVE the idea of the trees plucking the rider from the roof and handing him down to the graveyard!

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  6. There are also grasping trees in the 1929 Silly Symphony "Skeleton Dance" (which also includes a skinny howling dog who bears a resemblance to the HM caretaker's hound).


    When I lived in the woods, I gained a whole new appreciation for one of my favorite Robert Frost poems:

    She had no saying dark enough
    For the dark pine that kept
    Forever trying the window latch
    Of the room where they slept.

    The tireless but ineffectual hands
    That with every futile pass
    Made the great tree seem as a little bird
    Before the mystery of glass!

    It never had been inside the room,
    And only one of the two
    Was afraid in an oft-repeated dream
    Of what the tree might do.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That poem is perfect.
      As for the Silly Symphony, yeah, grasping trees were a cliché long before Snow White. We could chase that one all over. But since the Skeleton Dance is a Disney classic, it would likely have been part of the imaginative toolbox mentally carried about by the Imagineers.

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  7. I have to ask, are the seven trees the seven dwarfs(loosely based)?

    I would swear #7 bears a slight resemblance to Dopey(little nose).
    Once you mentioned the seven dwarfs, I couldn't help but wonder. After all it wouldn't be the first attraction(other than Snow White), that the dwarfs made an appearance. Plus I know artists, they have a tendency to play such games.

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    Replies
    1. It's tempting to go looking for it, but I don't think it's there.

      Delete
    2. Considering all of the other things hidden in the mansion, it wouldn't surprise me if that's what they are.

      The only way to know is to see the trees in full light, and in person. Even then it would be up to interpretation. The people that would know are most likely gone.

      But it could lead to another Disney obsession, Hidden Dwarfs. :)

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  8. Did you notice that there are *eight* trees on that first blueprint? The eighth is in the bottom right-hand corner and looks like it's behind the singing busts. I'll have to look for a face on that one the next time I'm there.

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    1. Actually there are 12 "mechanical trees" enumerated on the blueprint altogether. There are the seven lining your way down into the graveyard plus another five scattered around. Most of the large trees you see in the graveyard were originally going to be animated.

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  9. I guess if the the trees moved the "o'er the dead oak tree" line wouldn't make sense anymore. Then again, it's not the trees themselves that are alive ;) I thought of another possible reason the animated trees could have ben nixed. Maybe the ones outside the attic were left static to give your mind time to rest and prepare between the terrifying attic and the grand finale-like nature of the graveyard. As for the ones in the graveyard, there is so much to focus on, the trees would probable get lost in the mix. I actually like the more subtle faces in the trees, it fits the overarching idea of the mansion and its grounds watching you. It would be neat if they put some kind of subtle lighting so you could see the tree faces a little more. It would be a far better update than what we've been getting so far.

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  10. The DL trees also remind me of the trees in the "Forest of No Return" scene in Babes in Toyland (1961). When those trees were in their "sleep" mode their faces were no quite so obvious and looked much like these HM trees.

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    1. I originally was going to discuss the FONR and the crabby apple trees in the Wizard of Oz, etc., but in the end I decided to restrict things to trees without any intentionally comic dimension, otherwise there would be too much material included of only marginal relevance. But yeah, the FONR trees do have some resemblance to the HM/Snow White trees, and as a matter of fact X. Atencio and Rolly Crump both worked on the Babes in Toyland movie.

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  11. Great post! I want to point out that it was the awful photos I took of the trees on Snow White and the HM that made me realize I needed to stop using a flash and upgrade my camera. Wow! Those trees looked like crumpled up tin foil. Amazing how much proper lighting can transform something.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, those types of photos are definitely a mixed blessing. The scientist in you sees what's going on, but the poet in you is not too impressed!

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  12. I don't remember the tree's being so prominent in my earlier ride experiences. They always seemed a later addition, and were an attempt to mask the exterior of the house you're exiting (Mansard Roof) is different from the greek revival House you enter. Memory is a tricky thing,so my memories are probably faulty, especially when you see the trees on the blueprints.

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    Replies
    1. "Memory is the most convincing of liars," it's true. The trees have always been there and are little altered.

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  13. Reading this post reminded me of an effect I remember seeing as a kid in the WDW mansion. As the doom buggies descend from the roof, two of the attic windows are visible to the right behind the trees. On various trips in the 90s, I recall the broken attic window dangling and flailing violently in the "wind". I've never seen anyone else mention this effect and I'm starting to wonder if I had imagined it as a kid. Could you shed any light on this?

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    1. Hmm. That's the first I've ever heard of that, and there's nothing on the blueprints suggesting it. I'd say it's doubtful.

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  14. HEy, just discovered this great post on a not well documented segment of this "over" documented attraction. I always liked the way those trees look when you can make them out...

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  15. Hi there - First, your blog is FANTASTIC, and an enormous asset to any Mansion fan. Excellent work on every one of your posts.

    Here's an interesting possible link between SWSA and the Haunted Mansion: The DL SWSA is notable for (reportedly) having had no actual figures of Snow White herself,

    prior to a 1983 remodel in which one was added. However, a photo from 1972 surfaced which shows a mysterious figure of Snow White not found later in the ride's

    history. There's a write-up here (http://www.kennetti.fi/swscary_castlecourtyard.html) which discusses the authenticity of the photo, and possible origins

    for the figure.

    What struck me was the familiar outstretched right hand, left hand on dress, and blank-eyed stare. I realized it looked a heck of a lot like the "round eyes" and

    "middle" brides, and oddly enough, the mysterious "slit eyes" bride even moreso. I'm really wondering if they're copies of the same simple AA, or MAYBE one of the

    brides was even recycled. I made a photo comparison I'd be happy to email you. Some of the hand positions are an almost exact match - just imagine a candle in her

    hand instead of a bird.

    Disney used AA copies extensively, as you've pointed out before, so this may not be all that notable. Maybe there are "brides" all over the park! But still thought

    it was interesting to see this mysterious "lost" AA and suddenly feel like I was looking at the Mansion instead. If true, it's also amusing to think that Disney would

    re-tool the dark, scary attic bride as Snow White, of all characters.

    Or just maybe it went the other way - perhaps the bride's face IS Snow White under all that dark paint! :)

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    1. Hi Mike, glad you like it here. It wouldn't surprise me too much if that Snow White figure used the same body as Beating Heart. One issue would be size. Most of the figures in the Fantasyland dark rides are less than full-scale, to save room. But that SW figure is mysterious anyway, and may not even be from the SW ride, so anything's possible.

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