Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the “Transformers” franchise doesn’t begin and end with the action-packed Michael Bay movies. The series about a group of robots in disguise has managed to transcend the passing of time and remain relevant almost three decades after its creation. That’s why it only seems fitting that “Transformers” be memorialized in yet another medium: a theme park ride.
Thursday May 24 marked the grand opening of “Transformers: The Ride” at Universal Studios Hollywood. IFC was on hand for the event along with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Judd Apatow and Peter Cullen, the voice of Optimus Prime himself. Even though the ride has Bay’s stamp all over it — he even made an appearance via satellite before the ride was opened — it is clear that the attraction is more about the blockbuster appeal of the characters than the filmmaker himself.
Glenn Morshower, who plays General Morshower in the “Transformers” movies and ride, kicked off the premiere by appearing in character to let us know that Megatron was trying yet again to capture the All Spark. Cue Bumblebee and Optimus Prime rolling up in their disguised forms to prevent the evil Decepticon from obtaining the cube. Spoiler alert: good prevailed, though if you have a chance to ride “Transformers: The Ride” you’ll know that it doesn’t prevent Megatron from trying to snag it yet again.
I had the pleasure of standing next to Cullen and Frank Welker, the voice of Megatron, during this performance, and it was clear from the looks of glee on their faces that this is a ride for “Transformers” fans, by “Transformers” fans. When Morshower first announced that Megatron was trying to steal the All Spark, Cullen playfully started punching Wekler in the arm. When the Optimus Prime truck and Bumblebee car rolled up, Cullen could only whisper, “Wow.”
The ride is as involved as any of the Universal rides are and, while it isn’t as immersive as say The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, it’s certainly a treat for fans of the franchise. I had the chance to catch up with Industrial Lights and Magic visual supervisor Jeff White, who was largely involved in the development of the ride’s effects, and said his team did their best to make “Transformers: The Ride” as true to the franchise as possible.
“We had our first meeting right after we finished the second film and the whole ride was in progress during the production of ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon,’ so what was really great about that is Michael was very involved in both projects and there was a lot of cross-collaboration between the two.” he said. “For those of you that are big fans of the movie, when you go on the ride you’ll see elements of the movie in there, and yet the ride very much stands on its own in terms of the action that goes on in there.”
Cullen and Welker both lended their voice talents to the project, and were both on hand to look at storyboards and talk to the ride’s creators during its development. For Welker, working on this project was a dream come true.
“I’ve been very fortunate in my career and started working in college and never ever stopped, so I’ve veen very lucky and fortunately animation took off in the middle of my career so there was a lot of product to do and it was like a Renaissance in animation, it’s been fantastic. But now, being a voice in a ride is sort of the epitome. It’s like being in voice heaven,” he said on the premiere red carpet.
With the ILM team working on the “Transformers” ride as well as the movies, the visual effects are consistent across both mediums. And though it’s a standalone storyline, it’s clear to see where the ride stands in the Michael Bay “Transformers” universe. In fact, it feels a lot like riding through an action scene in one of Bay’s movies, and that’s definitely a good thing. The 3D aspect of the attraction adds to its immersion, and White said a main goal in the development of the project was to make riders feel like they’re a part of that world.
“What we tried to do was bring the ‘Transformers’ aesthetic to the ride, and yet we had a real opportunity to the ride being in 3D and with the screens being so huge to play the characters out in the audience space and to really make it interactive with the audience and be completely immersive, which is something you can’t typically do in a movie theater. We tried to take advantage of the venue, and Universal knows how to make such great rides, that it ended up being a great collaboration,” he said. “When we do an effect like a water spray or heat and then there’s an actual physical experience that combines with that, it just adds to the believability of what you’re seeing.”
Though the ride has been open in rehearsals for several weeks, Cullen and Welker hadn’t had a chance to experience it yet. They were right at the front of the line when guests at the premiere were finally allowed to go on the ride, and it was clear they were dying to see how the characters they have personified for 28 years were immortalized in a theme park ride.
“It really is so cool. I’m trying to be very calm, but inside I’m going, ‘You’re a part of the ride! Ahh!'” Welker said before he was allowed to go on. “I’m trying to be very, very cool. But it’s awesome.”
Special thanks go to Ricky Brigante at Inside the Magic for the awesome video of the event.