Transformers ride at Universal Studios Hollywood

Transformers ride at Universal Studios Hollywood (Universal Studios Hollywood / April 13, 2012)

I took a behind-the-scenes tour Friday of the new Transformers ride opening in a few weeks at Universal Studios Hollywood.

PHOTOS: Behind-the-scenes tour of Transformers ride

For those of you who have never experienced Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey or the rebooted Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man at Florida's Universal Orlando (or traveled to Universal Studios Singapore where Transformers opened in December), you're in for a real treat when the new motion-simulator dark ride with high-definition 3-D images officially debuts on May 25.

For the better part of a decade, the Spider-Man ride was widely considered the best theme park attraction in the world, until the Wizarding World of Harry Potter came along and the Forbidden Journey reset the bar for attraction supremacy. Expect Transformers to reopen the best-in-the-world discussion when theme park fans finally get their chance to climb aboard.


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Scene-by-scene preview: Transformers ride at Universal Studios

Our preview tour was lead by Universal Creative's Chick Russell, show producer for the new Transformers ride. We were joined by Theme Park Insider's Robert Niles, MiceChat's Norm Gidney and IGN's Eric Goldman.

Out front, a towering portrait of Optimus Prime and Megatron in mid-battle hung over the attraction's main entrance on the movie theme park's lower lot.

Inside, the long and winding queue line filled us in on the attraction's back story, with rooms dedicated to the Autobots, Decepticons, the recent attack on the NEST headquarters and our mission: protect the AllSpark, source of life for all Transformers. My favorite part of the queue was all the buttons and switches that riders are encouraged to push and flip. Whirling red siren lights and wailing red alert horns added to the atmosphere.

PHOTOS: Transformers ride at Universal Studios

With Russell guiding the way, we made our first pass through the two-level dark ride building with the lights on to familiarize ourselves with the back story and view the practical set dressings, careful to step over the center rails that guide and power the ride vehicles.

In one scene, the cab of a military transport vehicle missing its virtual back end poked out of a blank screen. Toward the end of the ride, a defeated Megatron hovered overhead amid the rubble of a collapsed roadway overpass.

Throughout our tour, the hulking 12-seat ride vehicles sat motionless at various positions along the track, seemingly ready to transform into anthropomorphic robots at any moment. While the attraction is in operation, the vehicles will be evenly spaced so riders never see another vehicle.

Russell said ride designers employed the vehicles the same way a director uses a camera to control the audience's perspective, turning the car in different directions to make cuts or jump to new scenes.

On our second pass through the ride building we brought along 3-D glasses so we could watch the action on the dozen or so front, rear and curved projection screens. Even without riding in the vehicle and with the sound off it felt like Megatron was reaching out from the screen and grabbing me with his metallic arm.

In one scene, the footage on the 60-foot-tall screen created the illusion of moving forward and backward, a sensation that was equal parts exhilarating and disorienting.

Russell said ride designers thought of the Transformers attraction more like a video game than a movie, building a 3-D wire frame city that was then wrapped with digital photos of Chicago. The result is a visceral visual journey through a sim-city left in virtual rubble that will only be enhanced when the special effects explosions are turned on.

I have high expectations for the Transformers ride at Universal Studios Hollywood and can't wait to climb aboard. I'm sure it won't disappoint.