SAMLAND Declares Universal Studios Hollywood's Transformers a Home Run
by, 05-02-2012 at 07:27 PM
Time to cut to the chase as they say in Hollywood. The soon to officially open Transformers at Universal Studios Hollywood is a home run and one of the most exciting thrill ride additions to the Southern California theme park scene in years. The ride should drive record numbers of people to Universal the same way the addition of the King Kong experience on the tram tour did a couple of years ago.
Let's begin with a confession. I must admit that I am not a Transformers kind of guy and I am not really familiar with the franchise. I have a good friend who is a big fan and she just adores the Camaro that unfolds into a giant beatbox. I believe this is the character they call Bumblebee. All I know is that everybody was cheering wildly when he appears. I figured out pretty quickly who was the bad guy and his minions were as well as who was the hero. To show you how pathetic my knowledge of the Transformers franchise is, I just kept thinking these were the robots that jump up and down just before the TV commercials on Fox's NFL coverage.
As you probably know by now, the Transformers ride is a motion-based simulator very similar to Universal's Spiderman, and not unlike Disney's Indiana Jones and Dinosaur attractions. While the Disney attractions move through three dimensional sets and use Audio-Animatronics, Universal has created a blend of practical sets and 3D movies. I understand that Universal also had planned to use Audio-Animatronics in key locations but those were removed during the "value-engineering" phase of the project. The film technology is the same as Star Tours and offers a crisp realistic view. More importantly, in the Transformers, the 3D films add depth and allows your point of view to break through the walls and make this very tight track layout seem much bigger than reality.
Since the ride is in its soft opening phase, I had a chance to ride the attraction twelve times in a row. I know, it is a tough job but somebody has to do it right? During the test runs I got a chance to sit in every row, rode the ride without the glasses, and even got to experience the attraction as it broke down.
As you approach the show building, you have three different ways to experience the attraction. For those with big bucks, you can shell out for a Gate A pass and get one, no wait ride. For those traveling solo, there is a single rider line with virtually no theming in the queue but also a minimal wait. The regular queue line must go on for a quarter-mile and takes you through a variety of rooms that build on the storyline. If you didn't know what was going on before you entered the building, you will certainly know the storyline by the time you make it through this queue to the loading dock. The line is so long, you could probably write a dissertation about the mythology of the Transformers by the time you take your seat and pull down on the lap bar.
I must admit the look on the faces of those in the know, when they pass by the All-Spark, is quite funny. It is like watching people view the Holy Grail.
I will be curious to watch how beat up the queue is going to look in just a few short months. Throughout the queue are switches and buttons guests can push which do nothing. It is my guess that it won't be long until most of these have been ripped out of the wall by the guests.
Once you get to the loud, chaotic loading platform, the employees, dressed in military fatigues, will start yelling at you to "load, load, load" into the vehicles in less than 10 seconds. For some reason, Universal did not add a separate lane to allow for those who need a bit of extra time to load. In both cases when the attraction went down, it was due to the vehicles stacking up as they load people from wheelchairs.
Like Spiderman, I expect this ride to be down frequently. Because of this oversight, I would suspect that the one place you really do not want to be in on the lower lot, middle of the summer, a park filled with 40k+ of guests, and the ride goes down and everybody is trapped down there with nothing to do. Universal's Entertainment Department is so lame that I am pretty sure they have not figured out how to keep the masses busy, so expect a lot of very angry people and long lines at Guest Relations on those days. My experience is that the good news is when this problem happens, it does not take very long to get the ride to recycle and get back up to speed.
If you have been to Universal's Islands of Adventure and have ridden Spiderman, it will be impossible not to compare the two rides. My preference, only by a hair, is Spiderman. Bottom-line is I enjoy the humor in the Spiderman script. It could also just be I am more familiar with the Spiderman characters. Whatever it is, it is a minor difference
What really stunned me was the realization that Transformers is designed so that it could replace Spiderman when Disney and Universal inevitably get into another one of their fights. Although the California ride is on a condensed track and utilizes two elevators, the special effects follow the same path as the Florida attraction.
For example, when you get squirted with water or encounter a fireball, the effects are in the same places as the Florida attraction. There is even the little tunnel that you go through when you are hit with the levitation gun in Spiderman but it turns out to be a dead end in Transformers. Now, I am pretty sure nobody at Universal Creative will admit this, but believe me, it wouldn't take much to switch these attractions. Maybe that is why they spent so much money in Florida upgrading the film technology to the new higher definition Transformers standard.
However, for me the real star of the Transformers ride is the EVAC ride vehicles. They combine the synchronized movement of a film like Star Tours with an Indiana Jones-type motion vehicle that moves through space with the ability to "point" you in the right direction for the best show. What struck me is that the EVAC vehicles could be considered the next generation of ride systems pioneered by Disney, such as the Omnimover.
For those not familiar with the Omnimover, it is one of those amazing ride technology breakthroughs that changed everything in the amusement park world. The technology has been used in a wide variety of applications ranging from the Haunted Mansion to the Little Mermaid.
As the story goes, Imagineer and Disney Legend Bob Gurr was sitting in John Hench's office, another Disney Legend, reviewing what they had learned from the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair. Gurr noticed a red plastic apple on Hench's desk and he picked up the apple and started to twirl it around by the stem. It was then that Gurr realized that he could develop a 'continuous chain' ride car that would rotate like the apple. Gurr worked the problem and designed the high-capacity ride system and the familiar clamshell shaped vehicle that we enjoy today. The name Omnimover was inspired by Walt's PeopleMover.
The Omnimover vehicles are linked together by a 'tow bar' and arranged in an endless loop. They could rotate 180 degrees to the right or the left, turn and point in specific directions, and could even rock backward. Along the track are cam-like activators that powered the vehicles. Disney worked with Arrow Development to fabricate the system.
The first application of the Omnimover was for Monsanto's Adventures Thru Inner Space in Disneyland's New Tomorrowland of 1967. That attraction connected 123 vehicles in a endless train that traveled along a hidden 682-foot loop. They were powered by sixteen electric motors from General Electric. With each vehicle carrying 2 passengers and loaded every 3 seconds from a revolving turntable, the ride capacity was an amazing 2,000 guests per hour.
Imagineer Claude Coats said, "When we were working on Adventure Thru Inner Space, we began to realize that it was the very best device to take people through the ride, because it would focus people in the best part of all the illusions.”
The Haunted Mansion would be the next attraction to utilize the Omnimover. Claude Coats recalls, "There there were going to be elevators taking people down to an area that was planned as a walk-around with about 40 people. We knew that wasn't the way to do it, but it was the only way to get any capacity into the show. Right about then we finished the Monsanto ride, and that lead us to the fact that we could best tell the Haunted Mansion story using the Omnimover." Coats noted, "We'd have guests almost by themselves, slightly secluded in each car, and not in a big group. We had complete control over the movements and timing...to see a certain element, a certain scene."
Coats recalled that the mechanism would be best "since some of the illusions in there were reflected images and so they were difficult to see from some angles." He added, "We could run them right through the best parts of an illusion, the reflected images and ghostlike things, without somebody at the edge of the crowd who couldn't see things properly. It was important that people were kept in proper orientation to get the best effect.”
For the Haunted Mansion, Gurr continued to refine the system and made some changes including reversing the angle of the safety bars.
The next leap in ride vehicle technology came with the transports for Indiana Jones. Imagineer Tony Baxter said, "Vehicles are not traditionally performers at Disneyland in the way lighting and music are. Thunder and lightning or sunshine or fog can tell you how you're supposed to feel in a movie or an attraction. While the Omnimover in the Haunted Mansion and the bateaux in Pirates are passive, in Indy, the troop transports, created by Bill Wolf and Ed Fritz, are part of the story."
For example, Baxter says, "When we come in front of the cobra and it lashes out, I wanted it to give a cringe of horror. So the vehicles does exactly what a human being would do, in feeling the concussion of that strike. [The transport] behaves as a result of that confrontation." Baxter describes the transports as "story tellers" and he said, "I think it got us closer than any ride in the park to putting our guests into the experience."
What the Transformers vehicles do is give the Universal designers the focused visual orientation of the Omnimover with the motion-based simulator of Indiana Jones and blended that with the latest in 3D film technology to create a ride that puts the Universal attraction right near the top of the list of best attractions to be found anywhere in the world.
Have you been on Transformers yet? If so, what was your experience and impression of the new ride?
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