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Universal Studios Florida construction update: Now with The Simpsons

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Published: November 13, 2012 at 8:56 PM

ORLANDO - I took a short break from the 2012 IAAPA Attractions Expo to drop in over at Universal Orlando, to check on the construction and ride a few of the new and refurbished attractions there I hadn't yet experienced.

First, we've got three construction zones at Universal Studios Florida now. The newest construction zone surrounds The Simpsons Ride, which just got its new collection of carnival games this year, replacing the games displaced by Harry Potter evicted Amity and Jaws.

Simpsons Ride

Universal has closed the International Food and Film Festival food court, striking it from the park map. Construction walls started going up today. We're expecting this to be the site of a new Simpsons-themed eatery and possibly a gift shop.

Film Festival food court

If you look carefully, you can see construction equipment getting ready to go, behind one of the walls in the area. Construction walls also block the lagoon in front of IFFF and Simpsons.

Simpsons construction

Harry Potter Diagon Alley Construction

Universal's making progress on the Diagon Alley-themed Harry Potter land that's also going into Universal Studios Florida. Here's a look at the show building for the Gringotts coaster, rising above one of the Universal's Cinematic Spectacular show units in the park's lagoon.

Gringotts show building

And a closer look at the show building.

More Gringotts, under construction

The rest of Diagon Alley, including the Kings Cross station that will connect the Hogwarts Express to the existing Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Islands of Adventure, has yet to go vertical.

Diagon Alley construction site

But the new Thames River wall is complete.

Thames river wall, at Universal Studios Florida

Transformers: The Ride 3D Construction

Hey, it's nice to be able to write about a project that Universal's actually confirmed, for a change. I've never seen a theme park build an attraction of this size this quickly. Granted, they had the design ready to go from Singapore and Hollywood, but this is a lot of iron and metal to put up, in less than five months so far.

Here's a view of the Transformers building, viewed from the New York street along the lagoon.

Transformers building, in Orlando

And looking toward New York, from the side of Mel's Diner.

Transformers, from Mel's

Here's the building, as seen rising behind the Monsters Cafe.

Transformers under construction

Finally, here's a view from above.

Aerial view of Transformers

By the way, today I got my first rides on Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem and the refurbished 4K HD Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. Loved 'em both. Minion Mayhem's an action-packed simulator ride that manages to exude much of the cuteness from the end of the movie. And if you get into the spirit of it, the dance party at the end is a nice interlude before the inevitable exit through the souvenir shop.

And Spider-Man? Wow. Universal Creative nailed it on this one, refreshing Spider-Man with a sharp re-do that packs visual detail never seen before in the ride. Even if you thought you'd grown tired of Spider-Man in years past, give this new version a try. You won't be sorry. It's like rediscovering something you thought you'd known, but hadn't.

Now, when do we get some new super high-def effects on Potter? (Yeah, we're greedy, we fans….)

Readers' Opinions

From Dominick D on November 13, 2012 at 9:18 PM
What's rumored to go by the lagoon is a ferris wheel. I have a good question though: does anyone know where the entrance to Transformers will be? There's like three possible areas.
From Raul Araoz on November 13, 2012 at 9:59 PM
From everything I've read, the entrance for Transformers will be on the lagoon side of the building.
From Eric G on November 14, 2012 at 12:36 AM
There is so much misconception and bad reporting when it comes to digital projection and misuse of the term high-definition (HD).

Universal enhanced the animated scenes of the Spiderman Ride, but the equipment they replaced to project those scenes is of lesser quality by most standards. Proclaiming 4K digital projection an upgrade to 70MM is not really true. In fact, most would argue that 5/70 projection is superior.

The real advantage to digital is the behind the scenes cost savings from not having to replace the costly 70MM prints and ease at which the content can be modified.

The differences you perceive as superior because Universal uses the term HD in their press materials are really not an upgrade.

The digital advantage we see comes from the fact that the projected image doesn’t decline over time from wear and tear. The projector doesn’t project dirt that's on the print. And finally digital projectors are typically brighter and project more vivid colors, which is particularly pleasing with animation.

However, Universal and others labeling it as a ”high-definition” is nonsense since the 5/70 projectors before the digital switch already projected images that exceeds the quality of the best broadcast HD content seen today. Furthermore, both the 5/70 prints and the digital 4K projector projects an image that is actually of higher resolution than your best consumer High-Definition television display can show. Once again, totally misleading since this is better than what the HD label implies.

Finally, I want to touch on your suggestion that Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey needs this similar treatment. That’s complete nonsense as that ride already uses a combination of 2K and 4K digital projectors, both of which project images that exceed the quality of what the HD term describes. Resolution is not the issue with the projected scenes on this ride.

The difference between Spiderman and Harry Potter can be attributed to the content of the projected scenes and the rides themself. There is a lot more movement going on in Harry Potter during the projected scenes, which makes it harder for our eye to focus. Second, in many of the scenes the rider is placed much closer to the screen so pixelation becomes a huge issue. If you were to view the same content from a proper distance as you do in the opening and closing sequences on Harry Potter and with minimal movement of the ride vehicle then the quality of the content would be much more apparent.

From Kelly Muggleton on November 14, 2012 at 1:51 AM
I saw the Transformers construction site in September and I cannot believe how quickly this has gone up! (apologies to the family who were wondering what is was when I shouted at my family - oooh thats gonna be Transformers!)
Well done Universal!
From James Rao on November 14, 2012 at 4:11 AM
Nice update, thanks (although you did almost lose me by leading with carnival games - ugh!). Most importantly, your pictures highlight one of the best reasons for off-season touring in Orlando: the park is nearly empty! Lucky you!
From Russell Meyer on November 14, 2012 at 8:47 AM
When I was at Universal a few weeks ago, I took a long look at the building in the former Jaws area. I'm just not buying the rumor that there's a roller coaster going in there. Roller coasters require extensive support systems, columns, foundations, and to top it all off, every indoor roller coaster installation I've ever seen built has the track mostly in place BEFORE the walls of the building go up, unless an existing building is aready being used (Mummy), and in that event the roof is removed to allow for pieces to be dropped into place.

It's completely possible that a coaster is going into that building, but there's just no evidence on the ground to support that rumor. If you look at the Transformers construction site, they are already putting in the track and remedial infrastructure as they're putting the building together (it was really clear when I was there before they started putting together the second floor). The new Potter building is very much like an airplane hanger (similar to Soarin') with a completely flat floor (no bolts, footers, or mounts) that would suggest something other than a roller coaster going into that building.

As far as Forbidden Journey, I think the biggest issue with it is that it's so incredibly dark. The projections are very dark, and the animatronic effects are very dark. It could just be my perception, because I always ride through the single rider line, so my eyes only have about 2-5 minutes to adjust from bright sunshine to the dark attraction, but the whole thing could be improve through increased illumination throughout.

From Anon Mouse on November 14, 2012 at 9:49 AM
@Eric G: You lost me. You're arguing for more clarity, but how do you sell "4K is better than HD". Do you start marketing "Extreme Definition"?

Perhaps the upgrade should tout conversion of 70mm film to digital projection in Extreme Definition (4K). You'll lose just about everyone since people are familiar with High Defintion. Maybe they should use Extreme HD, but the post already said 4K HD.

It isn't long for 4K televisions to arrive. TV manufacturers need more product to sell. Soon everyone will know what 4K means, but not for at least 5 more years. Only recently have people started to get 1080P as standard across all their hardware.

From Daniel Etcheberry on November 14, 2012 at 9:49 AM
Robert,
Do you still consider Transformers to be superior than Spider-Man?
From 63.255.223.58 on November 14, 2012 at 10:31 AM
Russell, Revenge of the Mummy's coaster was placed into a preexisting building.

That building in Potter will be a coaster.

From Mark Fairleigh on November 14, 2012 at 11:40 AM
It was a bit surreal on it's own to see construction going on at Transformers during HHN. Amazingly, other than the bright spotlights, there was little to no distraction really...the noise was minimal to nonexistent with all the ambient noise around.
From Robert Niles on November 14, 2012 at 11:41 AM
Daniel,

The gap's closed, but I still love that building fly-through on Transformers so much. The simulated speed on that ride's addictive. But I'd happily ride both all day.

As to Russell's concerns, having seen the blueprints, I think we should keep in mind that this isn't go to be anything like a traditional roller coaster. It's much more a dark ride on a coaster track. There will be some dips, but the ride cars will rotate, and the ride will not have the big lift hills, drops and other elements we often think of when imagining about a roller coaster. You'll "coast" on the ride, but I don't think it will be as intense a ride as Mummy (and that's not that intense).

From Bryce McGibeny on November 14, 2012 at 12:44 PM
Gosh, I just love Universal. They are doing all these amazing things at once, such as Transformers, Simpsons, Harry Potter and giving Islands of Adventure a fresh coat of paint. They are relentless recently with everything... It's just amazing.

Can't wait to go this weekend!

From James Trexen on November 14, 2012 at 2:01 PM
The wonders Parkscope can teach you kids,

Russell, Universal recently filed a Notice of Commencement to start track layout for Gringotts. Since Mosley, the company that helped build Rip Ride Rockit, has been listed as manufacturer, so we can expect a coaster of sorts.

Also, looks like the Monsters Cafe's days are limited. A permit has been filed as Project 007 (coincidence?) that is calling for some remodeling/retheming. Perhaps to go with the Transformers theme...

From N B on November 14, 2012 at 2:31 PM
I think Eric is mistaken on the type of projection Spider-Man used originally and what it was replaced with. The projectors and scenes have always been digital. BTTF used actual film, not Spider-Man.


From robert morris on November 14, 2012 at 3:26 PM
Granted this isn't a high bar to exceed but the Simpsons Carnival games seemed the best quality I've seen at a theme park. They also are the only ones in Orlando that actually fit a theme instead of just being forced.

@Dom the Ferris Wheel on Lagoon Side was that for London and a "mini I" or for a Simpsons themed Ferris Wheel?

Also Miceage had an article today discussing Wicked moving into Blue Man Group's stage? Granted it was quickly refuted by Blue Man Group. But thinking they could place Wicked in Twister's building add a Broadway theme and marque and not have to retheme the gift shop.

The scary part (in a good way) is that the Studios have a large tract of land for expansion going thru the gap between Simpsons and MIB.

From Dominick D on November 14, 2012 at 3:44 PM
I'm talking about a Simpsons ferris wheel.
From robert morris on November 14, 2012 at 3:55 PM
Would prefer a themed squid port waterfront from Springfield but as long as the Ferris Wheel has something to it theme wise...can't complain about an extra ride that wasn't expected

Also I guess make the land look better on the park map to have two rides instead of just one

From Dominick D on November 14, 2012 at 4:02 PM
Krusty's Fun Wheel anyone?
From Scott Marlow on November 14, 2012 at 4:28 PM
I am disappointed now... I was at USF yesterday too and didn't get to meet you Robert! Funny you posted the construction update, I got some night photos of the Transformers building from behind Monsters Cafe as well. Indeed, they have done quite a bit on such short notice.
From edwin roman on November 14, 2012 at 5:47 PM
Having seen blueprints, means signing a non disclosure...usually...

but, I think the potter stuff sounds fantastic...the train to both parks? this will add big time to universal and encourage the 2 park pass...universal will jump up in people visiting the park and now its going to be disneys turn to come in with something since avatar was put on hold or cancelled.

From Robert Niles on November 14, 2012 at 8:57 PM
Oh, Edwin, that's only if you see things with permission. But our readers here are wonderful, sharing people. ;^)
From 189.62.46.121 on November 15, 2012 at 9:03 AM
The new Potter area in USO will be ready to go in October 2013?! I'm planning my trip and would love to ride it!

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