ORLANDO — Transformers: The Ride is set to open at Universal Studios Orlando this summer, and the Tampa Bay Times got an inside sneak peek at its marvels, including an engaging queue and a walk through some of the movie trickery used to make you feel like you are in the movie.
The experience essentially starts in the 25-minute interactive line queue, called a "pre-show," that is separated into five "scenes" to introduce the story line. The ride's creator, Thierry Coup, senior vice president of Universal's Creative Studio, also showed off the towering projection screens that use stunning 3-D technology to trick riders into thinking they are barreling down the streets of Chicago with Optimus Prime.
Universal doesn't typically provide this type of access to an attraction before it opens, so the limited media assembled had to cough up cell phones, cameras and other audiovisual equipment before stepping inside.
Then we got to geek out.
The tour began with soldiers from NEST, (Non-biological Extraterrestrial Species Treaty) taking visitors to the NEST "bunker," which houses the ride and the last remaining shard of Allspark saved from the last Transformers movie.
After meeting Optimus Prime ("Humans, I must warn you, at this very moment the Decepticons are coming to take over Orlando") in person at the front of the ride, visitors enter a massive steel and concrete structure that resembles an Army bunker.
In the story line of the ride, the visitors, or "recruits," are led into the Allspark room where the artifact — capable of creating new Transformer life — remains protected from the Decepticons. Heavy pulsating bass and blue strobe lighting gives visitors the feeling that the Allspark is pulsing with power.
Universal worked closely with Michael Bay, the director of the Tranformers film series, as the ride's creative consultant. And the ride's creators were on the set of the third movie, Dark of the Moon, using the same footage, animators and composer for the ride.
The innovative ride, estimated by industry analysts to cost about $100 million, is credited with elevating Universal's revenues with higher attendance at its parks in California and Singapore.
The ride could easily increase attendance at the Orlando theme park by 10 to 12 percent, predicted Dennis Speigel, theme park expert and president of Cincinnati-based International Theme Park Services Inc. That's three times the normal jump theme parks get from a new ride.
It makes use of 3-D and flight simulator technologies to immerse passengers in an intense narrative — a chase with Megatron where they feel wind, heat and water and smell smoke as they swerve and soar through downtown Chicago.
Coup showed off some of the movie tricks used for ride intensity such as an actual truck set in a scene backed by a 40-foot 3D screen that makes the real images pop out even more.
Then there's the elevator trick. It's a two-story ride, with 30,000 feet of ride space on each floor. When the ride car is getting lifted to the second floor the riders are surrounded by a cylindrical screen, like a paper towel tube. So while in reality riders are going up an elevator, they think they are racing down the street with Megatron in pursuit
Universal's Coup said he "just rode it this morning" in Orlando, which sounds like the ride will be ready to open soon, but the park won't confirm an opening date, committing only to "this summer." When it broke ground last July they said it would be a record 11-month building schedule, putting the opening this June.
When you look at the Transformers lineage you find a ride based on a movie, which was based on a cartoon, which was inspired by a popular toy in the '80s where kids could change a truck, monkey, plane or dinosaur into a robot. So of course the gift shop, called the Supply Vault, is fully stocked and already selling wares to eager fans.
You can pick up an "I Only Date Autobots" T-shirt for $26.95 or a Bumblebee water bottle for $19.95. The most expensive item in the store: $225 for a big cube of Allspark.