What began life as a toy has grown into a series of action movies and now a big-time attraction at Universal Studios.
Transformers: The Ride — 3D incorporates giant screens, moving platforms and special effects — including a secret elevator — to tell a bombastic story about morphing alien robot characters that were introduced to children by Hasbro in the 1980s. But the new attraction looks and feels like the explosive "Transformers" films directed by Michael Bay.
Thierry Coup, senior vice president of Universal Creative, talks about what distinguishes the Transformers ride — which officially opens Thursday — from other theme-park attractions.
All of the attraction's battling Autobots and Decepticons are "actual size" — as seen in theaters. A style guide with dimensions and other details came with the rights to the Transformers, Coup says. Visitors see the first example before entering the building: Above the entrance is a 28-foot-figure of Optimus Prime, leader of the robotic good guys.
"We stuck to the exact size that those guys were created to be," Coup says. "There are specific sizes for each one of them. Optimus Prime is 28 feet, and Megatron [leader of the rival Deceptions] is 31 feet. In the ride, we're true to the exact size to what was intended."
That upsized scale adds an impressive dimension to the ride.
"When you're at the feet of Optimus Prime, you look up and he's 28 feet tall and he's right there. You really have to look up," Coup says.
Universal had big plans for the ride, but a small space in which to construct it. The solution: Build the attraction on two levels and subtly connect them with an elevator.
"We wanted it [the transition] to be invisible," Coup says.
A lift system, surrounded by a cylindrical screen, keeps elevating guests involved.
"What's really fun is that you're going vertically — going up or down — but really on the screen you feel like you're going forward. It's a good trick," Coup says.
The ride must multitask at this point. The 12-passenger ride vehicle rises in the elevator, which is in sync with on-screen action, audio and wind effects.
"There's a lot going on," Coup says. "It touches all your senses and draws you into the story."
Slow and steady
A unique element of the Transformers ride is the use of slow motion on its big screens. It happens twice: Once with an in-flight bullet and later in a flying-over-a-street scene. Universal weighed real-time versus slow-motion versions.
"It was so much more powerful in slow motion, and you completely buy it," Coup says. "You feel like you're there."
There had been concerns that the effect would break the illusion and the momentum of the ride, he says, but "It's such a Michael Bay signature thing, we had to have it."
The director was a creative consultant throughout the attraction's development. Universal Creative worked with Bay's film crew and had access to the folks who animated the characters for the movie.
"This way, they have the same look, the same feel, the same type of motion. It's so much more authentic," Coup says.
Coup used the word "hyper-real" to describe the look of Transformers: The Ride — 3D. Sure, there are no such things on Earth as Autobots and Decepticons but it looks like it in the attraction.
"They've come to life in our world," Coup says.
The setting — primarily in and above the streets of a major metropolitan area — looks sharp and as real as a movie. This is one of the ways the attraction contrasts with the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride at Universal's Islands of Adventure.
"Spider-Man is much more comic booky and not the real world," says Coup, who also helped create the Spider-Man ride, which opened in 1999. "Transformers is photo-realistic."
The latest thing
Although the Transformers ride is new to Orlando, fraternal twins of the attraction already have been operating at Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Singapore. But being a little later in the Transformers progression has a few advantages, particularly with technology of the projection systems and the screens' coating.
"There's a next-generation coating that just came out that we helped to develop," Coup says. "It gives us much better contrast on the imaging and a sharper image. It's an upgrade from Hollywood and Singapore, definitely."
Orlando's edge may not last long.
"It certainly makes a little bit of difference," Coup says. "We can go back into the other attractions and implement this."
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Transformers: The Ride — 3D
What: New attraction at Universal Studios
Where: Intersection of Interstate 4 and Kirkman Road, Orlando
When: Grand opening is Thursday, June 20. The attraction has had several "technical rehearsals," but there is no announced schedule for these soft openings or guarantee the ride will be open to guests before June 20.
Cost: A one-day ticket to Universal is $92 ($86 for ages 3-9).
5 burning Transformers questions
1. What's in the queue? The waiting area is designed to resemble the headquarters of NEST — the Nonbiological Extraterrestrial Species Treaty. It's a gray, bunkerlike experience, with lots of electronic buttons to push and levers to throw, but they don't activate special effects. Large screens explain the ride's story and safety precautions.
2. What are the height restrictions for Transformers: The Ride – 3D? Riders must be 40 inches tall. Guests shorter than 48 inches tall must be accompanied by a supervising companion.
3. I'm scared. Should I ride? Universal has the usual warnings for folks with high-blood pressure, heart conditions and other concerns. Although the on-screen action is intense, the ride vehicles never turn upside down, and the spinning motions are less severe than Islands of Adventure's Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride. If you can handle Spidey, you can handle Transformers.
4. Is there a single-riders line? Universal has tested the ride with the option of single riders, and there is a dedicated queue for folks willing to ride without the rest of their party. This helps each ride vehicle take off without empty seats and cuts down on the wait for some people. Beware, the single-rider line has reached capacity during the ride's technical rehearsals.
5. What used to be in the Transformers location? The spot most recently was home to a low-rise, beige soundstage that was off-limits to the public. Originally, that building held shows tied to the "Murder, She Wrote" television series.