In June of 2010, Universal Orlando reinvented itself as the freshest theme park resort in the world when it went all-in on Harry Potter roughly three years after announcing that a deal had been struck for the license. With the benefit of hindsight, we know that the decision fundamentally changed the way that people think of theme parks.
The cutting edge technology employed at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter instantly captivated customers who had previously shrugged their shoulders at Universal Orlando. Islands of Adventure has enjoyed 37% growth over the three years since the inception of its Harry Potter presence, soaring from 5.9 million visitors in 2010 to 8.1 million in 2013 (2014 data has yet to be disclosed).
One of the most popular new attractions at the facility during its first phase is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Let’s once again go Behind the Ride to discover the tricks that elevate it to greatness.
The Experience : Creating a sense of entering the Wizarding World
The Trick: Forced perspective builds an illusionary perception of the area
The core concept of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is that you are a visitor entering the magic land envisioned by author J.K. Rowling. From the moment you set foot in the area, you must believe that you have been transported to another realm, the highlight of which is the fabled Hogwarts Castle.
In order to manipulate the visitor into feeling this way, forced perspective is employed. You enter the land, so to speak, in Hogsmeade Village. When you do, your eyes are naturally drawn to the breathtaking castle on the mountainside. Some of the primary elements of the fictional land are recreated. The Great Hall, Gryffindor Commons, and the courtyard are all represented, but the scaling of the cliff is manipulated so that the entire region seems exponentially larger than in reality (the rocks, by the way, are made of concrete). It’s a trick that Disney has employed for years, most notably in Expedition Everest, but the Islands of Adventure implementation is crucial to a person’s acceptance that they are in Harry Potter’s realm.
The Experience: Meeting the characters in the queue line
The Trick: A new twist on an old illusion
The queue line for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was 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.
Two special effects stand out in the queue line. The first is the creation of “moving portraits” just like those seen in the movies, achieved by embedding large television screens into the walls, surrounded by frames, and covered with transparent materials to create the illusion of brush strokes.
The second 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.
The Experience: Making a stationary passenger feel like they’re flying
The Trick: A robotic arm does all the heavy lifting (literally)
The conceit of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is that you are flying through the air in the same manner as your favorite Quidditch players. In fact, part of the action includes a Quidditch match. In order to accomplish this goal, however, Universal employed some technology that it had been considering for a never-built ride based on Van Helsing.
The key is that Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is not a roller coaster but a dark ride. In order to accomplish everything envisioned in building the attraction, the user needs to interact with the scenery in a manner similar to popular Universal simulator rides such as The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and The Simpsons Ride. However, there are also elements of conventional Omnimover experiences that require meticulous control of the rider’s line of sight.
Universal employed a creative solution by merging the two premises into a single ride. The key was that they could take a robotic arm contraption built by specialist firm Kuka and update it to fit the unprecedented needs for the Harry Potter dark ride. The implementation of this technology demonstrates brilliance in innovation.
The Kuka arm is attached to a base that follows a busbar track. The arm looks suspiciously like the automated processor robots you see in automotive manufacturing plants (many of Kuka's products have industrial uses). Its purpose is to pick up four-person ride carts called Enchanted Benches. The base then moves the Enchanted Bench down the line at a steady pace. No matter the action displayed onscreen, the viewer’s actual velocity never changes. The key is that the base slides down the track in the same manner as an Omnimover, but the arm possesses range of motion that affords it the ability to swivel the people in the cart whenever needed. By matching the onscreen action, the robotic arm and Enchanted Bench foster the illusion of a faster pace at times even as the arm maintains its meticulous velocity.