How the 5th Dimension Scene Works – Tower of Terror (Florida)

5th_dimension_diagramThe Hollywood Studios (WDW, Florida) version of the Tower of Terror is the only version of the ride that contains the “5th Dimension” scene.  Essentially a hallway of stars and mirrors, the 5th Dimension is a horizontal connection between one of the four “lift shafts” at the back of the Tower building and one of the two “drop shafts” at the front.

Learning how the 5th Dimension scene works will spoil some of the mystery so proceed with caution!

The 5th Dimension Experience

After the ghosts in the corridor scene, Florida riders are treated to a unique experience known as the 5th Dimension.  The elevator lifts the passenger car and the doors open to reveal a dark star-field.  Suddenly, the passenger car drifts forward.  Bizarre sights and sounds pop up around the car – a door to nowhere, the apparitions from the hallway, an eyeball reflecting the passengers themselves.  The stars fade away and are replaced by glowing outlines on a set of elevator doors, which open wide and swallow the approaching passengers.

Everything goes dark as Rod Serling’s voice intones, “You are about to discover what lies beyond the fifth dimension. Beyond the deepest, darkest corner of the imagination… in the Tower of Terror.”   Faster-than-gravity thrills ensue!

Now let’s take a look behind the scenes at how this all works.


This photo from (now defunct) shows the 5th Dimension scene fairly well illuminated, likely with the help of a camera flash.

The Passenger Car

The transitions from “lift shaft” elevator to “drop shaft” elevator are so well hidden, most guests don’t realize that the passenger car is not the elevator itself.  The passenger car is in fact a separate vehicle, often termed an “autonomous guided vehicle” or AGV.  The AGV moves independently of the elevator cars.

Look behind you!

It’s not always possible, but if you’re seated in a particular position (for example, if you’re seated on the left side of an elevator car that just emerged from a right-side shaft) you can look backwards through the wire wall of your car and catch a glimpse of the other 5th dimension entrance – or possibly another AGV full of ride passengers. It’s rare, but whenever I’m seated on the side of the car I try to look back and see if anyone’s over there.

Self Steering Car

The car that takes you through the 5th Dimension is self-steering.  You’re not on a track! The car rides on its own wheels, steered by its own computer, following a buried wire underneath the floor.


A peek at the underside of the Tower of Terror’s “autonomous guided vehicle”, ie: the car you ride in as you move forward through the 5th Dimension.

The system is highly sensitive – any abnormalities in the 5th Dimension’s floor, such as a dropped object, will cause any approaching AGVs to come to a stop.  (Because this system is so prone to delay-causing troubles, the 5th Dimension scene was not included in later versions of the Tower.  It also takes up a lot of horizontal space, which was at a premium in other parks.)

This 3-minute clip  from “Modern Marvels” demonstrates the entire process.

Ride Diagram

Coincidentally, the 5th Dimension is on the building’s 5th floor.

Passengers load into the AGV, which is already sitting inside of a larger elevator car (A, B, C, or D, depending on which loading dock was used). The elevator lifts the AGV first to the “ghosts in the hallway” scene, and then lifts the AGV again, this time to the fifth floor.  The passenger car moves forward and out of the elevator, traveling on its own through the mirrored hallway scene.  At the end of the 5th Dimension, a set of doors open and the passenger car moves forward into one of the two front (E, F) elevators.

In other words, the 5th Dimension is just an elaborate way of transferring the passenger car from one elevator to another.

tower of terror how the 5th dimension scene works diagram

5th Dimension Hallway Design

The Tower actually has two separate 5th Dimension hallways.  They’re basically identical as far as passengers can tell. Each one is Y-shaped and each accepts passenger cars from two of the four lift shafts (so A and B share one 5th Dimension while C and D share another). Each 5th Dimension hallway feeds cars into the final “drop elevators” located at the front of the Tower structure.

5th Dimension props and effects

There’s a ton of visual eye candy in the 5th Dimension – you could ride a dozen times before you’ve really seen it all! There’s flashing lightning, a startling breaking window, a door, an eyeball that sometimes shows a photo of your car, and a seemingly never-ending field of stars.

While these illusions are convincing, they’re very simply made – just plastic cutouts with an image shining on them from a projector. The twinkling stars are fiber optic lights. Mirrors and reflective surfaces add to the otherworldly experience.

Catch a glimpse of your vehicle

If you’re seated in an advantageous position (a front row seat, far right or far left depending which fork you’re entering from tends to be best), you can sometimes see the red lights on the underside of your vehicle reflected in the mirrors of the 5th Dimension. To Disney’s credit, their designers did a great job of making it hard to see anything you aren’t “supposed to” in the 5th Dimension.

Exit signs and doors

One of the easiest “secrets” to spot in the 5th Dimension are the exit doors. Look around, especially to the sides, and you can spot ’em. I find them comforting, personally!

Passengers who have had to disembark the ride at this point due to technical problems have described the floor as rather flimsy-feeling.   Near the entrance to the 5th Dimension hallway, a door to “backstage” areas of the attraction is hidden in the darkness.

How’d They Do It? Rod Serling’s Tower of Terror Appearance

Tower of Terror Rod Serling intro video

“This as you may recognize is a maintenance service elevator…” Photo credit: Designing Disney

When Disney’s Imagineers created a “new” episode of the Twilight Zone for fans to step into, they knew they’d have to nail the show’s trademark onscreen introduction by Rod Serling, the creator and on-screen host of the classic sci-fi show. But Serling died in 1975 – nearly 20 years before Disney began work on the attraction.  How could Serling appear in the video and Tower narration?

The answer is a mix of video editing and the voice talents of Mark Silverman – read on to learn more!

Tower of Terror Pre-Show Video

To fans of the original show who knew of Serling’s passing, Serling’s appearance the pre-show video about a haunted hotel from the golden age of Hollywood may have been a bit of a surprise.  His narration also punctuates various points in the ride experience itself, talking about things that were never a part of any pre-existing episode.

The Disney California Adventure version of the video is identical to the original, save for the shots of the Tower itself.

Video credit: Talk Disney Videos

Mixing Old and New

Watch the video closely – Rod Serling is only on screen for a small portion of the pre-show video.  While on screen he says “This, as you may recognize, is a m-“.  A cut occurs at the “m” and the narration continues “maintenance service elevator still in operation, waiting for you.” 

This footage of Serling came from the Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life”.  In the original episode Serling says, “Tonight’s story on the Twilight Zone is somewhat unique and calls for a different kind of introduction. This, as you may recognize, is a map of the United States.”  Hulu has the video here:

Tower of Terror Rod Serling map of the United States

Rod Serling in “It’s a Good Life”. The footage of Serling was re-used in the Tower of Terror’s intro video.

The video cuts away as he says “maintenance” – but if you compare the Tower’s pre-show video (YouTube link) to the original “It’s a Good Life” episode (imdb Hulu link), there are subtle differences in Serling’s voice.  It stands to reason that Mark Silverman took over for this entire scene, even though the script remains the same.

Getting the video to look as if Serling is standing in front of the elevator was done with video compositing, which was already common in Hollywood and TV productions in 1993.  Care was obviously taken to match the quality of Rod Serling’s footage to the background he was added over, along with matching perspective and lightning.

Finding an Impersonator

Disney auditioned hundreds of people for the role of Serling’s off-camera narration. Mark Silverman, already an established voice actor, was chosen for the role after winning approval by none other than Rod Serling’s widow.  Silverman reprised the role again a decade later to record a few new lines (including the new “Wave goodbye…” sequence) for the Disney California Adventure version of the ride.

Mark Silverman Tower of Terror Rod Serling impersonator

Mark Silverman’s impersonation of Rod Serling won him the role of the Tower of Terror’s ominous-sounding narrator

Growing up, Mark Silverman was a huge fan of the Twilight Zone – and Disneyland. To help prepare for the role, Silverman practiced narrating mundane things in Serling’s signature Twilight Zone style.

I began to narrate everything like it was a Twilight Zone episode. If I was at a red light and a businessman walked across the street, I would say as Rod Serling “His name is Harry Diddlebert, he’s 47 years old. Mr. Diddlebert is on his way to a business meeting. He doesn’t know it yet, but that business meeting will lead him down a direct path, to the Twilight Zone.” I would just do that to anyone I saw.

The excerpt above is from a wonderful interview with Mark Silverman, where he answers questions about his career and his Tower of Terror role. It’s a very interesting “behind the scenes” look at a bit of Disney magic!

Catch up on the Twilight Zone with a free week of CBS All Access – stream hundreds of episodes of The Twilight Zone, plus hundreds of other CBS shows. (affiliate link)

Inside the Tower of Terror Construction: Motors, Brakes, and More!

Back in 2008, a German TV promo entitled “Disney Filmparade” presented an incredible 8-minute long behind-the-scenes tour of the final stages of the Tower of Terror’s construction.  The video is a treasure trove of Tower of Terror construction secrets, but there’s just one problem: it’s entirely in German and an English version is nowhere to be found… until now!

TowerSecrets is proud to present the translation of this behind the scenes look at the year-long+ construction of the Tower of Terror in Paris, France.

Get ready to geek out: this video shows us how they installed the elevator cars, what the engine room looks like, how the braking system works, the computer control room, and how the Tower was tested for safety before opening to the public in 2007.

Original German Video


Constructing the Tower’s Shell


In front of Hollywood Tower façade, Narrator Steven Gätjen speaks:

0:18  Welcome to the Disney Movie Parade, today with another report from Europe’s largest ghost hotel construction site in Disneyland Paris!  This is where the Hollywood Tower Hotel is being built, in which very strange things happen.

(switch to TV screen, Gätjen continues:)


0:32  And this has already happened. In one of the most exciting episodes of the cult TV show “The Twilight Zone”, a whole family disappears in a hotel elevator.

(scene switches to Walt Disney Studios Park, Gätjen continues:)

0:44  The guests of the Walt Disney Studio Park will soon be able to experience that for themselves.

(time lapse of tower construction as Gätjen continues:)


0:48  The shell  construction of the Hollywood Tower Hotel was built in one week in 2006.

(interior shot, Gätjen continues:)


0:53  The rest of it will take a little longer.

(prop shots, Gätjen continues:)

0:55  These ceilings and floors were built in grueling manual labor.

0:58  More than 5,000 props were purchased from all over the world to make the rooms of the legendary hotel look like in 1939, the year of the disaster.


(switch to bare boiler room, Gätjen continues:)


1:08  This bare room was changed into an old boiler room from which the visitors will start their trip into the Fifth Dimension. (note: Gätjen actually says “Fourth Dimension”, but the Twilight Zone series traditionally refers to the Fifth Dimension)

(Scene change to outside construction, Gätjen continues:)

1:18  But first, there is still a lot to do.

The Elevator Cabins Arrive

1:27  Today, the elevator cabins are arriving.


1:30  They have a long trip behind them because they were produced abroad. That’s why they are so well-packaged.

1:39  Then they are transported to the loading ramp from which the are transported directly to the basement of the Hollywood Tower Hotel.




(Scene change to elevator cabin interior, Gätjen continues:)

1:50  So this is the ride of horror.

(Scene change to bottom of shaft, Gätjen continues:)


At the Bottom of the Elevator Shaft

1:54  And this is the bottom of the elevator shaft with its enormous shock absorbers in case anything really does go wrong.



2:03  Tom is showing us the shaft from below.



2:06  Now we understand why the hotel is also called “Tower of Terror”.

(Shot up the shaft with Tom in foreground. Tom:)


2:16  You actually drop faster than free fall –  you are pulled down. At 13.6 meters per second.

(Shot through steel cable opening, Gätjen continues:)

2:25  This is what it looks like through the opening for the steel cable.


The Tower of Terror’s Machine Room

(Shot of steel cable drum, Gätjen continues:)


2:31  And this is the steel cable.

2:35  The machine room is an engineering marvel.



(Shot of Merie Quick explaining drums. Merie:)

2:41  The basic mechanical portion of it is right here.


2:46  Every single motor operates according to the same principle.


2:49  The motor drives the first cable drum, and that goes on and pulls the second drum.

2:53  On the first drum has wire ropes that raise and lower the cab that the guest rides.


3:01  The second drum has cables, wire ropes, that go down to a counterweight.



(Scene change to Danny De Leeuw standing in front of a cable drum. Danny:)

3:10  A locomotive has approximately 5,000 PS – but these engines are almost twice as powerful.

(Scene changes back to Merie Quick. Merie:)

3:17  That part that stops it and makes it safe, are these large brakes.

3:22  There are four sets of brakes for every machine.


3:23  Of course, there’s three machines because there are three elevator shafts with the guests in it.

Power for the Tower

(Scene change to power generation building. Gätjen continues:)

3:30  The electricity for the motors comes out of this building.


(Scene change to interior with Tom explaining power cables. Tom:)

3:35  Those are the two power lines that come from the power station.

3:40  From here, we go to the high-voltage equipment up top,


3:47  These transformer transform 20,000 volts of high voltage are turned into 600 volts.


3:52  That powers the motors.  There is one transformer for each motor, so we have three.

4:02  This is a waterproof floor to collect the ten cubic meters of cooling liquid.


4:07   That is 10,000 liters of oil.

4:10  Each transformer weighs 13 tons.


Tower of Terror’s Computer Control Room

(Scene change to tower exterior. Gätjen continues:)

4:15  And this is where the journey in to the Fifth Dimension is  controlled –


(Scene change to computer control room interior)

4:20  from the Tower of Terror’s computer control room, and these are the experts.


(Unnamed computer control room official explains:)

4:26  The cabins behind me store show data.


4:31  Here is where all light, audio, and mechanical equipment which takes the visitor into another world stored.


4:37  Everything that happens in this building that “isn’t right” is controlled by these cabinets back here.

(Scene change with camera following power cable bundles. Gätjen continues:)


4:47  That requires more than one hundred kilometers of cable and several hundred computers. But what is happening here?


The “Wave Goodbye” Screen

(Scene change to Aslam Amiani in the basement. Aslam:)

4:59  Because of the way the building is set up, there are three ride shafts, we call them.


5:05  And the elevator doors open up on several different levels, and the visitor are looking at and interacting with the show.

(Scene change to trick pane. Gätjen continues:)

5:13  For example, they look through this pane, behind which there is a so-called magic mirror in which he can see himself and the other guests … and disappears in it.


5:24  Only the empty cabin is left behind.  All necessary tricks and effects are being installed by specialists from all over Europe.


Setting up the Hallway Scene


(Scene change to hotel hall floor. Aslam:)

5:40  This is one of the floors where the guests who disappear are now haunting this building.

5:45  And you will see them walking the halls of the hotel in here.


(Workers fade in. Gätjen continues:)

5:51  For that to happen, different spirits have to animate the hall.

5:56  Head designer David Fando and one of his co-workers arrange everything so that the hotel looks like it was actually inhabited, just like in 1939.



6:07  This was also carefully planned in advance.


6:11  Now it is ready to go.


Testing the Tower

(Scene change to computer control room. Unnamed computer control official continues:)

6:16  We’re just about finished with our safety tests, and we’ll do some mechanical safety tests through the last week of June.


(Scene change to rolling elevator cabin. Gätjen continues:)

6:21  The elevator cab is slid into the real cab by means of a special mechanism to disconcert visitors.






6:31  Then the doors are closed.

(Scene change to computer control room. Unnamed computer control official continues:)

6.36  A lot of rides we use sandbags to simulate the weight of our guests.  However, they would burst because of the tremendous acceleration and sand would be thrown all over shaft, so we are using water dummies, which are a lot less messy.


(Scene change to water dummies. Gätjen continues:)

6:50  They look like this and really have to stand extreme conditions.


6:56  It starts quite harmlessly, and you think that it’s not that big of a deal – if had known that earlier, I could have saved myself a lot of anxiety.



7:08  Tower of Terror.

7:13  That can only be an exaggeration.


7:16  But then…

(Scene change to Theron Skees outside the base of the tower. Theron:)

7:20  I know I’m going to be on the ride. I love rides. I’m a huge ride fan.

7:23  When we built the Tower of Terror in Florida, I rode that attraction for three hours straight try to figure out all the profiles and everything, so I can’t wait to get on this attraction.


(Scene change to elevator drop sequence. Gätjen continues:)

07:38  This was our second visit in Europe’s largest ghost hotel construction site.

07:42 In a few weeks


07:45 the Hollywood Tower Hotel will be opened for guests.

07:49  The elevator is waiting for you.

07:53  But for now: Have a lot of fun watching our Disney film. See you soon! Bye bye!



More Disney Imagineering

If you made it this far, you’d probably enjoy these books about Disney’s design and engineering processes!

Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making the Magic Real

This 200+ page book is packed with hundreds of sketches, paintings, and plans for many of the Disney parks. It reads like a history of Disney, and it’s awesome to see how much of what’s in these early drawings is still present in the parks today. I thought I was a Disney expert, then I read this book… wow! It’s pretty picture-heavy, so it’s great for all ages.

(This book is very park-development focused. If you’re looking for something more attractions-focused, scroll down this list a bit to this book’s follow-up.)


“Herbie, I just want it to look like nothing else in the world. And it should be surrounded by a train.” – Walt Disney

The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion

Speaking of spooky, mysterious rides… this meticulously researched guide to Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction is one of the coolest Disney book I’ve ever read. Jeff Baham (of is an absolute expert on this ride and this book is full of fascinating facts about the history of the Haunted Mansion, how the effects work, and a step by step walkthrough of the ride. There’s even a Kindle version, so you can read it while you wait line for your Doom Buggy. 😀


“Well, your artwork was effective. The effect was that Walt doesn’t want it to look anything like that. He said we’re going to let the ghosts do all that stuff on the inside.” – Sam McKim

Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making MORE Magic Real

This book is a follow-up to the first one in the list. Where the first book is about the parks and their development, this one focuses more heavily on attractions and modern design challenges. It covers: refurbishments to classics such as the Haunted Mansion and It’s a Small World, how the team brought the Tower of Terror to Japan, Cars Land, and more. This is a big fat 200 page book, like the first one, but it’s not just an update, it’s a whole new book.


Attractions-focused and updated to include rides built or refurbished during the 2000’s


Imagineering Field Guides

The Imagineering Field Guide series is really cool – each one is a pocket-sized guide for a single Disney parks, broken down by “land”. Each book includes trivia about attraction development, park maintenance, and the how’s and why’s of little details throughout the park. These books pack a lot into their 100+ pages, but the books are still small enough to carry around in the park and enjoy while scarfing down a corn dog.


Perfect for mega-fans and repeat visitors who love trivia and Disney factoids!

Note to readers: Links from TowerSecrets to are affiliate links, meaning this site earns a tiny % of your purchase price (if you make one) at no cost to you. The occasional Amazon sale keeps this site up and running for the 500+ people who visit it every day. 🙂 As always, you should shop around for the best deal!