The construction of almost any new theme park ride is a major undertaking. Engineering rides that are thrilling, but completely safe, is not an easy task. Specialist firms can charge millions (or tens of millions) of dollars to the biggest park operators for the installation of a new roller coaster or dark ride. For attractions that are particularly ground-breaking in nature, the design and construction process can be excruciatingly difficult. That was the case for some of the most innovative attractions ever created, which in some cases involved creating all-new technology for the purpose of entertaining theme park visitors. Let's take a look at 5 world-renowed attractions that were shockingly hard to build...
5. Terminator 2: 3-D – Battle Across Time (Universal Studios Florida)
In 1992, Universal approached Gary Goddard, whose company, Landmark Entertainment, had worked on the Conan the Barbarian stunt show at Universal Studios Hollywood. It asked Goddard to produce a design for a live-action stunt show based on Terminator 2, similar in style to the Conan show. It would replace Conan at the Hollywood park, as well as becoming a new attraction for Universal Studios Florida. Goddard immediately decided that a stunt show was the wrong approach: "Very quickly, I realized that a traditional ‘stunt show’ was just far and apart from the emotional center of T2. I thought, an Arnold [Schwarzenegger] look-alike, taking punches at a live actor in some kind of tinfoil suit? That would be a disaster." Two days before a key meeting with Universal to discuss the attraction, Goddard had a breakthrough: "I was in a restaurant having a late dinner and I was scratching around in my notebook. And I said, okay just think: ‘What would be cool?’ What could happen in that theatre that would be cool? And I got this idea of the liquid metal - the T-1000 - coming off the screen in 3-D and suddenly forming into the Robert Patrick character, and when the process was completed, the character was a live actor in the theatre who leaps out at the audience." The idea impressed Terminator 2 director James Cameron so much that he came on board to direct, bringing the movie's stellar cast with him. But actually implementing it proved to be immensely challenging. Filming the type of fast-moving action sequences favored by Cameron in stereovision would prove to be one of the biggest problems. To capture the 3-D image, two 70mm cameras were employed. One shot down into a beam-splitter, while the other shot through it in order to align the two images. The resulting camera package weighed some 450 pounds – approximately the size and weight of a washing machine. "They were huge and cumbersome and finicky," recalls effects guru Stan Winston. "And who wants to be married to something that’s huge, cumbersome and finicky?" "'3-D sucks' was the popular sentiment on the set,” joked Cameron, who would later go on to direct 3-D epic Avatar. "It’s just really hard to do." If the cameras moved slightly out of position, then a whole scene would have to be re-shot. To prevent this, an elaborate "cable-cam" pulley system was devised, carrying the cameras at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour for the chase sequences. By the time production was completed, the film sequences would cost some $24 million. At 12 minutes long, Terminator 2: 3-D was the most expensive film ever produced at the time, on a per-minute basis. The 3-D issues aside, the production of the live-action sequences was a fairly standard affair. However, the digital effects required for the attraction would be breaking new ground. In total, nearly 50 digital artists at specialist firm Digital Domain would work for nearly 6 months to bring the Terminators to life, in what was the first ever use of digital effects in a 3-D movie.
Two additional screens suddenly be revealed for the final scene, which would take place in an entirely computerized environment. This posed further problems: "It was the amount of data we were dealing with," says graphic artist Judith Crow. "We were used to doing commercials, or feature films with shots that were maybe 10 to 12 seconds long. Here we were producing CG that runs for several minutes in a row, across three screens, two views per screen, and suddenly we were faced with manipulating this enormous amount of data." Every frame would have to be created twice, once for the left eye, and once for the right. With work on the effects nearing completion, Goddard and Digital Domain became involved in the painstaking work to synchronize the timing of the stage show with the on-screen action. The slightest change would often require significant re-work from the effects artists. Universal’s management would frequently visit the show building to find chaos. Goddard recalls: “They would see things not working. They would see actors on a break for four hours while the tech team tried to track down a bug in the show control system. It certainly looked like they had a $60 million bomb on their hands.” With a week left until the attraction’s opening date, Universal executives demanded that the production team be ready to show the attraction to a test audience in 48 hours. Goddard was furious, but was left with no choice: “We did the show for them. It was a miracle that we got through it - without a stop. Everything worked. And the audience went ballistic. That is no exaggeration. They were stomping their feet and shouting and clapping. It was unbelievable. I got a call that night at about 8:30pm. Universal ordered us to do two more shows the next day. The survey numbers were so high - higher than anything they had ever seen on any attraction before, that they thought there was some kind of anomaly that affected it. So we did two more shows the next day, and again, the surveys were through the roof."