Transforming 'Transformers' Into the 3D Ride

2012-22 BIZ Rides Transformers Bumblebee H

Bumblebee, from the "Transformers" movies, metamorphoses.

At a cost that insiders put at $200 million, Transfomers: The Ride 3-D opened May 25 at Universal Studios Hollywood, placing guests in a world of giant bots while racing through Chicago and battling against Decepticons to save the world. "You're combining ride action, spectacular visuals and great special effects," says Mark Woodbury, president of Universal Creative, of the attraction, for which director Michael Bay served as creative consultant. Billed as the theme park's most technically complex ride, the experience begins as guests enter a N.E.S.T. (Nonbiological Extraterrestrial Species Treaty) compound, where Transformers, who appear on video monitors and in voiceover, inform them that they are new recruits, called to action to rescue the planet. Guests are handed a pair of 3D glasses and board 12-seat Transformers named EVAC.

The flight-simulator vehicles travel along a 2,000-foot track, carrying visitors across sets and in front of 60-foot curved screens in ultra-high-definition 3D, called photoreal, which Universal claims to be a first for a theme-park ride. "For the big curved screens where you are fully enveloped, we delivered at 4K resolution, but we had to render at 9K," explains Jeff White, VFX supervisor at Industrial Light + Magic, which was the lead visual-effects house on the movies. "We also had to distort the images to make the changing perspectives line up correctly." At the height of production, ILM used a staggering 98 terabytes of disk space.

Along the track, fast-paced action unfolds, with wind, water and heat effects immersing guests in such sensations as falling from great heights. 3D-glasses technology from Infitec uses interference filters to deliver a different color frequency to the left and right eyes, allowing visitors to move their heads around and view at all angles, says Paul Cuoco, senior technical manager for Universal Creative, which dramatically improves upon the 3D effect moviegoers are used to.

The 60,000-square-foot venue, an existing building that was home to a Backdraft ride, had been gutted. "And because the characters are so huge," says ride producer Chick Russell, "we had to dig a basement and build a second floor." All in a day's (or several years') work for creating an A-list attraction. Says White: "It was great having Michael Bay involved in the creative process. The bulk of the work was done essentially at the same time that we were doing Transformers: Dark of the Moon, so there was a lot of creative back and forth." He cites a slow-motion shot in the film where Sam (Shia LaBeouf) is ejected from Bumblebee as a bottle truck flips over: "That concept was lifted straight from the movie for the ride."