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Projections in Attractions: Disney vs Universal

Discussion of the different attitudes Disney and Universal have toward projections.

From Thomas Donovan
Posted June 26, 2012 at 9:02 AM
Ever since Star Tours took the theme park world by storm in the 80s, theme parks have made use of projection technology in attractions.
As of late however, it seems that Universal Studios has embraced projection as the primary means of conveying a story. The Forbidden Journey, Transformers, Minion Mayhem, King Kong, and the Spiderman update all demonstrate a dedication to the projection technology to a degree that is unmatched by Disney.

This is not to say that Universal is only relying on projections, given recent attractions such as Space Fantasy or even the rumored Gringotts coaster. Despite this, the two rivals seem to be diverging on this issue. Disney's new attractions, with the exception of the Star Tours reboot and Toy Story Midway Mania, all rely mainly on physical effects to convey story.

Which approach will be more successful? I for one wholly support Universal in this matter. Ironically, I have only been on Disney 3d rides such as Star Tours 2 and Midway Mania, but both have convinced me that projections are a valid method to convey story in an attraction. FJ and Transformers take what Disney has done with projection and ramped it up to a level that leaves me anxious to ride. Once one's disbelief is suspended, I think projection technology can actually be more convincing than physical sets, while at the same time being more cost-effective. Universal has time and time again delivered products of an equal caliber to those of Disney's at only a fraction of the cost. The trade-off is that projections will surely show their age faster than a comparable physical ride, so re-investment is necessary, as we have seen with Spiderman. However, perhaps as technology improves, it will also become easier to update projection systems.

So I put it to you TPI readers, which will prevail projection or physical?

*Note* I'm sure we can all agree that a balance of the two is optimal, but for purpose of discussion, which will be dominant?


Comments in chronological order. Most recent at the bottom. Scroll down to respond.

From Dominick D
Posted June 26, 2012 at 10:34 AM
Note that the only rides to use 4K projectors are Star Tours 2, Spiderman, Transformers, and Minion Mayhem. As for the topic, I like physical better, as it immerses you more. Star Tours and Spiderman are my to favorite rides in the world, followed by physical rides.

From Skipper Adam
Posted June 26, 2012 at 2:34 PM
I think screens lack things that physical sets can offer. Mostly space. One of the awe factors of Pirates, Mansion's ballroom, Indiana Jones and a hand full of others are impressive because of space. I would much rather see physical and realistic interpretations of characters, like in the new Radiators Springs Racers over typical CG that is found in most cinemas now.

The screens that do work are ones blended in seamlessly with physical sets, like on Spider-Man. Others, like Harry Potter or Simpson or Minion Mayhem I find distracting and unrealistic. True they can convey a story well, but so can movie theaters.

Story is important, but not so much so that we forgo the experience and awe. I would rather have something believable in a real space with real depth than a story on a screen. Which I can get at a theater. Which is why 4D movies like It's Tough to be a Bug, Terminator and Shrek are growing more and more unpopular and stale.

From Javi Badillo
Posted June 26, 2012 at 5:30 PM
its best to use a combination of things. Having a ride like spiderman and transformers without using any screens is nearly impossible.

From Phil B.
Posted June 26, 2012 at 5:48 PM
I don't think either one will prevail. Both have there place and either are a viable option to tell an enjoyable, immersive story, whit each having there own shortcomings and strengths. Ultimately a combination of the two is the best option, which is something that Radiator Springs Racers makes pretty slick use of. If I had to choose, for the most part, I want to see something that has physical weight and mass moving within the same physical plane, or as close to it, as I am. 3D is fun and a neat trick, but it will never make as large an impression on me as when I float into the middle of a pirate ship attacking a spanish fort, or a working Yeti taking a life threatening swipe at me. For attractions like Toy Story, Star Tours and Spiderman its a great fit! To be honest, I'm actually disappointed that Universal didn't have atleast one full scale animatronic Transformer in their new ride, something I'm sure Disney would have pushed the limitations of the technology to realize. What a great payoff to have a full scale Optimus Prime thanking you as you complete your adventure.

From Jorge Arnoldson
Posted June 26, 2012 at 8:04 PM
Only if used correctly, like what Universal has done recently with Potter and Spidey, projections can be used as a very convincing method of storytelling. The perspective method for making images look good from a moving point of view works very well in attractions that use it (Spider-Man, DarKastle, Forbidden Journey, Transformers, etc.). Disney has recently stolen this concept to use in one scene of Radiator Springs Racers.

From Dominick D
Posted June 26, 2012 at 8:43 PM
^What do you mean by 'stolen'?

From James Trexen
Posted June 26, 2012 at 9:27 PM
^I believe Jorge is referring the Ramone's scene in which screens use squinging (spelling?).

From Dominick D
Posted June 26, 2012 at 9:56 PM
I knew that, but does he mean It like the stole the idea?

From Robert Niles
Posted June 26, 2012 at 11:21 PM
So long as means serve ends instead of ends serving means, it's all good. The issue is never so much tools so the hands that wield them.

Thought great hands can do better work with great tools, of course. I'me very much looking forward to seeing what Universal does with Gringotts.

From Rob P
Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:11 AM
I think it's all about balance. So long as we get a good mix of the "visual" and the "physical" within the Parks I'll be happy.
It's a good question , though , about whether new visual technology has the potential to dominate to the extent that other types of attraction begin to perhaps suffer in the popularity stakes.
On a personal note I think I prefer the more immersive , physical experiences like Pirates to the simulators like Star Tours.
Using those two rides as my examples one overriding aspect is transparent. On Pirates we are dropped into an environment where we will draw our experience from a whole plethora of scenes and animatronic characters. What you watch is entirely up to you. Whereas with Star Tours you only experience what they want you to. It's essentially a movie. You can't dwell on one thing and then see something you missed the next time you ride it.
Simulators may be 3 Dimensional visually but possibly only one dimensional in content. Physical attractions generally tend to offer me a more multi dimensional experience perhaps.

From Don Neal
Posted June 28, 2012 at 1:55 PM
I think those that find the balance ala Spiderman, Men in Black, Transformers are the best. The screens in Harry Potter were distracting, I would have preferred a straight dark ride with the physical elements instead but it worked well enough.

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