Home » Behind the Ride: 4 MIND-BLOWING Facts about The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man

    Behind the Ride: 4 MIND-BLOWING Facts about The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man

    Okay, would-be Web Slingers. Today’s finally your day. You Theme Park Tourists have perennially voted The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man as one of the best overall attractions in the entire industry. Since 1999, this Universal Studios Florida motion simulation ride has operated as the prototype for most of what’s followed during the ascent of Universal Studios as a vacation getaway. Harry Potter gets most of the glory, but it was Aunt May’s favorite nephew that put Universal on the path.

    The Marvel character’s adventures through New York City quickly redefined what was possible through the magic of 3-D and some engineering ingenuity. From day one, the Spider-Man ride was such a hit that Universal Studios quickly duplicated it in Japan, where it debuted in 2004. They’ve since embraced the technology to the point that innumerable Universal attractions such as Transformers: The Ride, The Simpsons Ride, Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem, and both major Harry Potter rides follow this formula to some degree.

    Clearly, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man is one of the most influential rides of the 20th century, one whose impact is still felt today. Let’s go Behind the Ride to learn how Universal Studios engineers built one of the most impacting amusement park creations ever.

    The Experience: Bringing the Pages of a Comic Book to Life

    The Trick: Setting the Tone in the Line Queue

    Working at a newspaper like The Daily Bugle is very 20th century. Yes, the newspaper industry is almost extinct today, but it wasn’t when The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man opened in 1999. More important, it was a critical part of Spider-Man’s story since the inception of the comic book. Spider-Man’s rogues’ gallery is epic. The bane of Peter Parker’s existence, however, is J. Jonah Jameson, his employer and boss.

    The setting of the line queue is the office of The Daily Bugle. It’s thematic to a fault. To wit, guests oftentimes complain about how bland and gray the backdrop is, failing to understand that this is entirely the point. In developing the ride, Universal planners stress authenticity.


    When you look back at comics from the 1960s, the time of Spider-Man’s debut, you’ll note that many cells are dull and lifeless. That was a tactic to save artists from having to draw the entirety of the panel. The locations where the panel has color are the focal point for the action. The line queue is the same in that you’re not supposed to look at the standard items you’d see in a newspaper bullpen. If anything, you should pay attention to the televisions in each area since they’re reporting on a heinous assault perpetrated by the dastardly villains of New York City. The desks, computers, snacks, and other accoutrements standard in a newspaper office shouldn’t distract you away from an apocalyptic assault on the Statue of Liberty, folks!

    The Experience: Throwing You into the Pages of a Comic Adventure

    The Trick: A mobile ride cart called The Scoop

    The conceit of The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man is that you’re not the famous Webslinger himself. Instead, you’re a cub reporter about to stumble onto your big break…if you survive it. J. Jonah Jameson, the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Bugle needs someone to cover the story of five supervillains hijacking one of the country’s most storied artifacts. Since supervillains are callous about collateral damage, you’re the only sucker in the office willing to take the job. Everybody who isn’t working their first day on the job avoids these assignments. By running away screaming.

    Jameson tells you that he’s developed a new journalistic tool that will aid you in covering the story. It’s The Scoop, the ride cart for this attraction, and it doesn’t seem to do much to keep you out of harm’s way. Still, it’s an amazing technical innovation, one that’s since become the jumping off point for several other Universal Studios attractions of similar popularity.

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    Image: Universal

    In building the ride, the goal was to craft a mobile attraction that would make theme park tourists feel as if they were a part of an actual Spider-Man brawl. To achieve this effect, engineers constructed mobile carts that would hit certain spots at the appropriate moments. At each location, a projector would display 3D imagery that would add the sensation of motion to the experience. Since the projected images weren’t stable in the center of the picture, they’d move in and out of the action as if they were real.

    The trick was to time everything just right. Neither Universal nor any other theme park had attempted this sort of attraction before. The closest thing up until that point was Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye at Disneyland. As such, they had to innovate with The Scoop while also guaranteeing that their attraction vastly surpassed the competition from Disney.

    The Scoop follows a new kind of track that gives more freedom of motion. The Scoop itself enjoys six different types of motion. It can spin in a circle or vibrate to simulate a ratting effect. It also can roll, pitch, and yaw. That means the cart can lean left, right, up, or down. Its independent control is why you feel a thump when Spider-Man jumps on the front of the cart or experience the sensation of plummeting 400 feet without ever really going anywhere. Fans of Universal Studios Orlando are used to this sort of motion simulation today, but it was historically unprecedented when park officials unveiled The Scoop.

    The Experience: Achieving multi-dimensional visual while in motion

    The Trick:  You can’t have a movie without a projection screen!

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    Image: Universal

    You’re wearing 3D glasses throughout the ride, so you have no way to know this, but The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man features 13 different projection screens. Engineers placed them at appropriate points throughout the attraction so that you’re always looking at a screen during the action. This required a tremendous amount of testing since (again) it was something that had never been attempted on this scale before. As you can see, the Spider-Man ride has stood the test of time since it was so revolutionary for its era.

    The 13 screens aren’t placed symmetrically. Instead, Universal employees performed tests involving fog machines and lasers. They did this to identify the best locations for perfect synchronization of the ride vehicle along with the onscreen projections. Without this attention to detail, you’d hear dialogue that you couldn’t see or you’d arrive at a location too soon, causing you to watch something that wasn’t supposed to happen yet. Universal officials suggest that they spent the body of three years fine-tuning the timing between the rides and projectors since it was that difficult to perfect.

    Engineers had to anticipate not only where the cart would be located during each moment of the ride but also how the view would look from within the cart. Keep in mind that 12 different people are onboard, each of them with a variant look at the projection screens in front of them. And all of them wear 3D goggles that must display the same point of view. Otherwise, riders will fall victim to blurring, which isn’t merely distracting. It can also cause dizziness in pronounced instances. Universal’s attention to detail largely made this a non-issue, although emerging technologies forced some changes.

    The Experience: Spidey saves the day!

    The Trick: A great story and some intimidating supervillains

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    Image: Universal

    The most important part of the story, of course, is Spidey himself. Universal chose to make him an occasional participant rather than ubiquitous throughout the ride. Generally speaking, any time you see the Webslinger, bad stuff is about to go down. Alternately, it already has, and you need a superhero to save the day.

    The explanation for all the drama is that Doctor Octopus has brought together a team of five supervillains. As is usually the case in comics, they have an overly dramatic terrorist plan. It involves the Statue of Liberty and an anti-gravity ray. Nobody who owns an anti-gravity ray uses it for goodness and decency.

    Sure enough, the Sinister Syndicate causes chaos throughout New York City. They also hate cub reporters from The Daily Bugle, which is why Electro tries to fry you, Hydro-Man tries to drown you, and Scream, well, screams at you. The genius of the ride involves the usage of 3D to cause the danger to feel real.

    Thanks to clever use of heat and the positioning of The Scoop relative to the projection screen, a Green Goblin flaming pumpkin actually looks AND feels like it’s coming right at you. In that moment, you fully believe that you’re in the midst of a comic book battle between good and evil. The Spidey ride delivers immersive ride engineering performed masterfully.

    The seminal moment occurs when that infernal anti-gravity ray lifts The Scoop 40 stories in the air. At this point, the cub reporter seems certain to meet his doom at the hands of villainy. As the vehicle falls at a terrifying velocity, all hope ceases…until a heroic teenager spins a giant web that saves every passenger at the last possible moment.

    I won’t spoil the trick here, but Universal deserves all the credit in the world for this feat. They convince the rider that they’re hundreds of feet in the air, that they’re falling to their death-splat, and that they’re heroically stopped from dying by Spider-Man all in the course of a few seconds. That bit alone differentiates The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man from all over attractions.

    The Experience: a new paint job

    The Trick: a 2012 update

    Universal Studios executives clearly have a soft spot for their first motion simulation attraction. That’s why they invested a great deal of money to modernize it a few years ago. The explanation for the project is fairly simple. Have you watched a CGI movie like Toy Story lately? Or looked at CGI cut scenes from a videogame like Final Fantasy VII? They’re comically dated, a by-product of the amazing innovations in graphics simulation.

    The Spider-Man ride suffered from these same issues prior to its update. The graphics looked dated, which distracted away from the quality of the experience. Similarly, the one thing that engineers couldn’t test while building the ride was how The Scoop vehicles would handle over time. Eventually, synching them with the projectors proved difficult due to the degradation of the hardware involved. The blurring effect I mentioned above had become a serious concern by this point.

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    Image: Universal

    Universal engineers took this opportunity to shut down the ride and give it a tune-up. The result is that when The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man V2.0 opened in 2012, the graphics were vastly improved. Employees future-proofed the attraction by adding video with 4K resolution. At 2160p, it likely has twice the picture quality of your home television unless you’re an early adopter. That’s why engineers involved with the project can brag that the stitches in Spider-Man’s gloves are now visible. The ride features some of the best graphics available, and the blurring issues caused by shaky 3D and synchronization mishaps are now a thing of the past. Due to the improvements, the Spidey ride has once again claimed a spot on top of the dark ride industry.

    PS: Marvel movies have a tradition of featuring Stan Lee cameos. See how many times you can spot him during the ride.