During the mid-2000s, Universal Orlando was heavily criticised for installing few major attractions and allowing Disney to widen its lead in the Florida theme park market. Then, in May 2007, came an astonishing announcement - the company had secured the rights to the Harry Potterstories, and would build a new themed area consisting of rides, shops and restaurants known as "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" at Islands of Adventure. Universal knew that it needed a spectacular attraction to headline the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – one that would have the same impact on the public that The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man had had when Islands of Adventure first opened.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey would play that role. From an early stage, Universal hoped to recreate the experience of flying, a central element of the Potter stories. By the time the Wizarding World was officially announced, it had already found the answer. Dynamic Structures - which had supplied the track for Spider-Man – was showing off a unique new ride concept that combined a RoboCoaster (a new type of simulator based on the same technology as robotic arms used in manufacturing and designed by German company KUKA) with a seating unit from roller coaster manufacturer Vekoma, and mounted them onto a track. Universal was impressed enough by the system to sign an exclusive deal with Dynamic Structures. Just as with Spider-Man, Forbidden Journey would combine physical sets and video projections to bring Harry Potter’s world to life.
The RoboCoaster system would be used to create the illusion of flight, in another technological leap forward from the Enhanced Motion Vehicles used by Spider-Man. The ride's plot revolves around guests, in the role of "muggles" (non-wizards), being invited to tour Hogwarts, and escaping a boring presentation on the school's history with the aid of Harry, Ron and Hermione. After riders board their "enhanted benches", they are "enchanted" by Hermione, sending them flying off to the castle’s astronomy tower. From there, they go on an adventure that takes in the pit of the Acromantulas (the enormous spiders seen in the movies), an encounter with a dragon, a close shave with the Whomping Willow, a Quidditch match and a battle with eerie dementors.
The queue line for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is designed to be an attraction in itself, winding through the interior of Hogwarts Castle and recreating well-known areas such as Dumbledore’s office, the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom and the Gryffindor common room There are a number of fascinating special effects employed by Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and many hidden secrets tucked away in the ride's queue. Here are some to look out for as you navigate Hogwarts and soar through the skies.
12. The moving portraits
The queue line features “moving portraits”, just like those seen in the movies. This was achieved by embedding large television screens into the walls, surrounded by frames, and covered with transparent materials to create the illusion of brush strokes. Look closely at the moving portraits of the four founders of Hogwarts (Godric Gryffindor, Salazar Slytherin, Rowena Ravenclaw and Helga Hufflepuff). Each is holding an object that Lord Voldemort stole from them to create his evil Horcruxes.
11. Right there with you
A second special effect enables lifelike projections of Dumbledore, Harry, Ron and Hermione to appear in the rooms with guests. This makes use of the Musion Eyeliner system, a proprietary high definition projection system that was created and patented by Uwe Maass. Similar to the "Pepper’s Ghost" effect employed in the ballroom scene in Disney’s Haunted Mansion, it sees a thin metalized film being placed at an angle of 45 degrees towards the audience. Hidden below this is a projector, which projects onto the film, creating the illusion that the character is actually physically present in three dimensions.
Mandrakes, the screaming plants seen in the movies, can be spotted in static form in the greenhouse section of the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey queue (elsewhere, a moving version can be seen in the shop window of the Dogweed and Deathcap store).