With immense 3D projections towering up to 60 feet tall depicting the much-beloved Autobots and Decepticons in an impressive 6-minute battle that puts humans at the center of the action, Transformers: The Ride 3D is an astounding feat of high-tech wizardry building upon tried and true attractions of the past and improving them for today’s demanding audiences.
When Universal Studios Hollywood grand opened Transformers: The Ride 3D last week, fans, celebrities, and a crowd of media flocked to the latest installment in the ever-growing battle for theme park attention. On hand amidst the spectacle were some of the many talented people who worked for the past four years to create the immersive experience, each happy to discuss their involvement in the ride.
Most notably connected to the early days of the “Transformers” franchise, actors Peter Cullen and Frank Welker walked the red carpet, best known to fans as the voices of the main hero and villain of the new attraction, Optimus Prime and Megatron. Also in attendance was Dustin Leighton, a fan of the series since he was a kid, now voicing the newest Autobot named Evac, the robot character that literally takes guests through the ride while “in disguise” as a 12-passenger vehicle.
In the video interviews below, Leighton and Welker weigh in with their thoughts on the importance of the first-ever ride to be created in the many decades “Transformers” has been around, while Cullen, in a hurry to find a spot to watch the grand opening ceremony, offers just two iconic words that say everything about his famous role.
Video: “Transformers: The Ride 3D” voice actors Dustin Leighton (Evac), Frank Welker (Megatron), Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime)
In advance of last week’s official unveiling of the attraction, Universal Studios Hollywood released a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Transformers: The Ride 3D. But there is even more than meets the eye when it comes to Transformers: The Ride 3D.
Universal Studios worked with famed Hollywood effects house Industrial Light and Magic to create the immersive 3D visuals that comprise the majority of the ride’s entertainment, displayed in front of, above, and wrapping around guests as they are rapidly pulled from scene to scene.
In the video below, show producer Chick Russell and ILM visual effects supervisor Jeff White speak about how the jump was made from the “Transformers” movies to the new ride and how they were able to create such realism on an attraction that focuses mainly on screen projections.
Interviews: Creators of “Transformers: The Ride 3D”
Show producer Chick Russell (who previously worked on the unprecedentedly popular Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride) saw the project through to the end from the initial pitch made by “Transformers” producer (and legendary director) Steven Spielberg, who first brought the idea for the ride to Universal.
While that idea was first sparked four years ago, Transformers: The Ride 3D is based on proprietary ride technology that Universal has cherished since the ’90s, first debuting their “flight simulator on a track” system with The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man in the Islands of Adventure theme park at Universal Orlando in Florida. Since then, Spider-Man has been upgraded to dazzling 4K HD projections while the Transformers: The Ride 3D team was thinking even larger.
Russell explained that while “Transformers” has been around since the early ’80s, it’s taken until today for technology to become advanced enough for Universal to properly bring to life the iconic characters from the series at the proper scale in lifelike, realistic form. When Optimus Prime is seen transforming just feet away from riders and then stands up, it’s an awe-inspiring sight requiring guests to tilt their heads way up to see him at his full height.
Industrial Light and Magic’s Jeff White, who worked on the visual effects of all three “Transformers” films, noted that the huge size of the attraction’s 14 screens allowed his team to move 3D imagery further “out” of the screen, more so than is possible with the (relatively speaking) small screens of standard movie theaters.
To achieve the scope and scale needed to complete the experience, Universal Studios constructed a multi-level show building that seamlessly sends guests through a first and second floor, ascending and descending a lift while attention is on the massive 3D screens. Those vertical movements aren’t part of the story but are built into the ride’s sensations, never once cluing guests in on the fact that they have gently risen more than 20 feet in the air, to be smoothly brought down later. It’s possible to see these movements by looking for them, away from the screens at key moments in the ride, but they go unnoticeable anyone transfixed by the ride’s highly entertaining visuals.
Though Transformers: The Ride 3D does exist in the same universe as the films Michael Bay directed, it exists in its own world, not directly tied to the storyline of any of those movies. The characters and content are familiar but do not follow the same timeline. Instead Universal had a “clean slate,” as Russell put it, to form a story around what would best work in a theme park environment, appealing to longtime “Transformers” fans and newcomers alike. Even without an elaborate plot, hardcore fans will surely not be disappointed when thrust face-to-face with Optimus Prime, Megatron, Starscream, Bumblebee, and other instantly recognizable characters many have grown up watching. But Russell also “challenges” fans to find the yellow Volkswagen Beetle hidden near the end of the ride, a nod to Bumblebee’s original vehicle form.
The key to a perfect theme park attraction is that the technology used to create the experience disappears to the average guest’s eyes, leaving only an immersive environment, characters, story, and all around fun time, temporarily transporting visitors to another world. Transformers: The Ride 3D successfully blends massive 3D projections with photorealistic visuals and exciting ride movements to create the ultimate attraction that will make any visitor’s jaw drop in amazement. The state-of-the-art technology is there, but it’s “in disguise.”