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A behind-the-scenes walk through Transformers: The Ride - 3D at Universal Studios Hollywood

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Published: April 13, 2012 at 11:12 AM

You can't get on Transformers: The Ride 3D officially until it opens on May 25. But if you follow along with me, we can walk through the new Universal Studios Hollywood attraction right here.

Transformers: The Ride 3D entrance

Universal Creative show producer Chick Russell greeted me, along with three other writers, before dawn this morning for a tour of the new 3D motion-base ride, which stands on the site of the old Backdraft and Special Effects Stages soundstages on Universal's lower lot.

Walking thorough the show building

Russell walked us through the 60,000-square foot show building twice, once with the work lights on, and then a second time with the work lights off and the 14 embedded film screens activated.

Having already ridden Transformers in Singapore, walking through the identical show building in Hollywood was a revelation. This perspective showed me some of the tricks that Universal Creative and Industrial Light and Magic artists employed to create the illusion of a real-life battle between the good-guy Autobots and bad-guy Decepticons - where where you're taken along for the ride.

Blank 3D screen
The opening screen in Transformers, as seen during our construction walk-through.

"The ride is a series of magic tricks," Russell said. "We use the vehicle like a director uses camera angles and cuts to focus your attention."

The vehicle in question is EVAC, which is a Transformer himself, assigned to move the all-important Allspark to a safer location after its home at the NEST compound comes under Decepticon attack.

Your ride vehicle
A front view of the EVAC ride vehicle

Side view of the EVAC
A side view of EVAC

If you're unfamiliar with the Transformers story and terms, don't worry. They'll all be explained to you in the ride's queue. And if you can't wait for that, take a look at our December interview with Universal Creative's Thierry Coup, where he explains the ride in great (spoiler-laden) detail.

The short version is, you're a visitor to the top-secret NEST military compound, enlisted into service to help battle-rookie EVAC get out of town safely, with the powerful Allspark in hand.

Site of a Transformers battle scene
The screen where Autobot Bumblebee and Decepticon Sideswipe fight for the Allspark. The prop helicopter in the foreground will blend with additional helicopters on the screen.

Universal manages to seamlessly blend the action on screen with the physical setting along the track. Only by walking the track could I effectively see where film action ended and physical props began.

Final scene in Transformers The Ride
Near the end of the ride, after you crash through a roadway, you'll end up here.

Even as the movement of the ride vehicle focuses your attention to the various screens, Universal's filled the periphery with physical detail, including props and scenery that all but the most dedicated repeat visitors likely will miss noticing consciously. But its presence helps sell the veracity of the experience, even subconsiously.

Wreckage in Transformers The Ride
Here's more of the wreckage detail from the final scene - detail most riders will miss as their attention turns to the screen with Optimus Prime on the other side of the track.

Ceiling detail
Additional detail on the ceiling of the ride as you approach the unload station - detail perhaps only best seen when on an invite-only, pre-construction walk with the lights on. ;^)

Do be sure to look up after Optimus Prime bids you farewell, though. You won't want to miss the most impressive physical prop in the ride.

Megatron
The one tactile Decepticon in the ride - the remains of Megatron, hanging horizontally above the track. Watch his eyes when you're on the ride.

But it's standing inside the ride while the film clips are running that you best appreciate how film and physical space intersect on Transformers. Universal and ILM have taken great care to synchronize the film with the motion-base vehicles' movements, so effectively that you don't really notice that you are watching short clips of films on 14 different screens when you're on the ride.

Standing still within the ride, you can see how the point of view depicted on the screen changes, to match the movement of the ride vehicles in front of it. The angle of the walls begins to slide to one side, as the ride vehicles move relative to it. The backside of an otherwise incomplete prop vehicle appears on the screen, as the EVAC ride vehicle moves to the side so you can "see" it.

As Russell explained, each rotation of the ride vehicles serves as a cut, redirecting your attention to the various screens and props inside the ride. But it's all so well coordinated that to you, the rider, the entire experience seems like one continuous "take."

Notice the physical props in front of this particular scene. Russell explained that Universal had to employ a rear projection 3D screen here so that the props would not cast shadows on the screen. That's the attention to detail that helps make the "magic tricks" in the ride so convincing.

Megatron vs. Optimus Prime
Megatron battles Optimus Prime, in one of the climactic scenes of Transformers: The Ride. (Universal projected this image in 2D for us to take still photographs.)

More than once, I had to remind myself that the concrete plinth upon which I was standing wasn't actually moving, as the illusion of motion on the screen was so convincing. Add in the ride vehicle motion, and you'll easily believe you're hurtling down a city street at more than 60 miles per hour.

And I had to laugh at myself while watching one rooftop scene, as I instinctively walked to one side to get a better view of a building in the background. "You dummy," I quickly realized. This is a movie. The point of view is the same no matter where you stand. But the quality of the high-definition 3D projection was so convincing I'd forgotten that.

The one element I missed in today's walkthrough? Sound. The ride's audio is contained on board the EVAC vehicles, which deliver 5,000 watts of sound from a 14-channel audio system. By keeping the audio on-board, Russell explained, Universal avoids the inevitable audio bleed that would happen between scenes if the sound were projected from speakers on the track.

As impressive as the visuals might be in Transformers, it's the audio that brings this story to life. EVAC talks with us throughout, and we hear directly from Megatron, Optimus Prime, and the other Transformers (voiced by their original film actors), as we engage with them in battle. It's those conversations that make us feel like characters within this story, as opposed to theme park tourists along for a ride.

But to hear that sound and have that full experience, we'll have to wait a few more weeks.

Readers' Opinions

From James Anberlin on April 13, 2012 at 11:26 AM
Fantastic article Robert! It's so cool to see behind the scenes coverage like this and I applaud Universal for 'lifting back the curtain' so-to-speak.
From Eric Malone on April 13, 2012 at 11:55 AM
Ah, the perks of running a popular theme park site, eh?
From Skipper Adam on April 13, 2012 at 12:20 PM
I think it looks better than FJ.
From N B on April 13, 2012 at 12:41 PM
Thanks for sharing Robert, the ride looks awesome even with the lights on.
From Dominick D on April 13, 2012 at 1:15 PM
For some reason I'm starting to like this (not on Spider-Man level though). It looks very fun and hopefully I can try it in the not so distant future. Skipper, I'm on the same boat as you (or Transformer ;) ), FJ was fun the first time, but it got old fast.
From Anon Mouse on April 13, 2012 at 1:48 PM
It sounds amazing, but I may have to miss it this year. I will be down in DCA to enjoy the new Cars Land. I hope they announce plans for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter soon.
From José María Sandoval on April 13, 2012 at 2:02 PM
Robert what do you like the most?, FJ or Transformers, previously was transformers better than spiderman in the tournament.
From Rob Pastor on April 13, 2012 at 2:02 PM
Even one of the predominent Disney sites (Mice Age) is trumpeting the Transformers. They were present also and they said they were blown away by the presentation. They predict it will challenge anything that Disney puts out and they lauded Universal for their innovative creations on dark rides, mentioning Spider Man, Harry Potter & Transformers.
From James Rao on April 13, 2012 at 2:21 PM
Great articles like this one are the reason I [heart] you, Robert Niles! #mancrush
From Robert Niles on April 13, 2012 at 2:44 PM
For me:

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey > Transformers > Spider-Man.

Caveats: The castle and the queue are a huge part of my preference for FJ. And the Dementor's Kiss has always worked for me. Also, I haven't seen the upgrade of Spider-Man yet.

Now, Transformers vs. Journey to the Center of the Earth is a soul-ripping toss-up for me. And since Radiator Springs Racers uses much of the same tech as Journey, I am *very* eager to ride RSS and find where it ranks.

From Doug Jenkins on April 13, 2012 at 3:33 PM
I think I would LOVE to have a Transformers ride in Universal Orlando. It would be a compliment, not a distraction, for Spiderman.
From Robert Niles on April 13, 2012 at 3:49 PM
Here's an interesting nugget about how Universal and ILM "filmed" the background imagery for the ride. Basically, they put together the imagery like a video game, wrapping high-res still photos around a 3D frame:

ILM produced a three-dimensional wireframe which they wrapped with real world, super high definition images. They rigged a specially-devised high resolution, sphere-shaped still camera, shooting 360-degrees of panoramic imagery that captures 75 images every 50 feet within a designated square mile area of a major metropolitan city. [I'm told it was Chicago-Robert]

This elaborate photo realistic technique allowed ILM to accurately alter visual perspectives to precisely match what each guest sees while seated in the roving ride vehicle. In essence, the effect allows the 3D image to shift from one viewpoint to another.

From Paula Cevasco on April 13, 2012 at 3:53 PM
This is the first I've ever heard about this ride, is it replacing an old one?
From 71.192.65.50 on April 13, 2012 at 4:26 PM
wow that going be fun ride for me.
From Jay R. on April 13, 2012 at 4:30 PM
^^^^^
It's located in the old Backdraft building, so technically it's replacing the Backdraft attraction.
From José María Sandoval on April 13, 2012 at 5:43 PM
Very interesting, thanks, i am waiting for the radiator springs racers conclusion.
From Andrew Dougherty on April 13, 2012 at 8:59 PM
Is it just me or does the outside building look lackluster?
From 71.153.241.189 on April 14, 2012 at 9:12 PM
Wow, for some reason I thought there would be no physical props, or at least very, very few. From the look of the pictures they got some pretty good looking physical sets to compliment what I'm assuming is going to be some crazy action on screen.

Transformers will be awesome! I absolutely can't wait to experience it.

From 76.173.167.22 on April 15, 2012 at 11:55 PM
Soft opening for Transformers: The Ride-3D is this Thursday . :-)

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