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4. The Dementor

Image: Universal

Attraction: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

By far the most sought-after ride at Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is an absolutely astounding technological marvel and a must-see marvel for generations of Potter fans. Okay, technically, it's also kind of a narrative mess. But even as guests zip incoherently from scene to scene on a breakneck tour of the Hogwarts grounds for fleeting face-to-face encounters with just about every bad guy from the seven-book series, one encounter reigns supreme. 

When their stormy tour of the Quidditch Pitch is interrupted by a dark cloud of descending Dementors, guests find themselves (yes, somewhat incoherently) pulled into the Chamber of Secrets. There, roosting among its dark stone statues reside hoardes of the cloaked horror creatures, rasping and reaching for riders. Even still, one particularly startling scene sees a Dementor float out of the shadows and follow guests' reversing benches, literally following them around a turn, hand outstretched as it sucks out their souls. Sheesh! (When it's working, guests then pass through a mist curtain where they physically see their souls being drawn out of them...) On Forbidden Journey, it's not unusual to get uncomfortably close to Dragons, Womping Willows, and Acromantulas... but the Dementor's pursuit of guests is staggering and surprising.

HOW IT WORKS: One of the things that makes Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey so inexplicable is its ride system, with highly sophisticated KUKA Robo Arms attached to continuously-moving bases on a dark ride track. "Joints" at the robotic equivalent of an elbow and wrist allow riders to be tipped, spun, swung, dangled, and flipped along the way – a sensation most riders are unlikely to have ever experienced before. Believe it or not, the Dementor (and the Womping Willow, for that matter) is actually on its own KUKA Arm, able to "float" before guests and follow their route before silently swinging back into the shadows to repeat the close encounter with the next riders. A single KUKA Robo Arm is also used on Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Know where? 

5. The Mirror

Image: Disney

Attraction: Enchanted Tales with Belle

Many fans are quick to decry Magic Kingdom's New Fantasyland expansion as a bit of a let-down, trading the Lost Legend: Snow White's Scary Adventures for just two new rides: Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. But for all it's earned the scorn of some, Enchanted Tales with Belle is a surprisingly charming attraction in its own right; a 21st century "Play & Greet" fusing a walkthrough, a show, and a meet-and-greet in an experience the whole family can enjoy. And in fact, this unassuming (and staggeringly low-capacity) experience contains an effect that is downright breathtaking.

Image: Disney

Guests queue in the whimsical gardens and wacky workshops in the provincial French cottage of Belle and her father. So in order to "transport" guests to the Beast's castle (and, for continuity buffs, to the day when Belle should be wearing that meet-and-greet-friendly yellow dress), a little magic is needed. In this case, it's a magic mirror hanging on the wall of Maurice's workshop. With a call-and-response request from eager families, Maurice's workshop is overcome with a supernatural green magic, which emanates from the mirror's golden frame. The mirror is overcome with an image of the Beast's castle, and as the magical view flies through the forest and to the castle's front gate, the mirror inexplicably grows.

The mirror stretches and skews, somehow expanding beyond its original width and all the way to the floor as the glass is filled with the castle's wooden doorway. As the wooden doors swing open, the mirror has become a magical portal. Crackling green energy on the other side reveals the darkened corridors of the castle beyond – a magical shortcut that leads guests to the castle library on the day Belle and the Beast fell in love. (Cue "Beauty and the Beast.") What follows is a surprisingly low-tech mini-show starring guests, but the magic mirror's transformation is downright perplexing enough to leave even parents wondering what happened...

HOW IT WORKS: Like many of the tricks on our list, the mirror is surprisingly simple once you know how it works – perhaps best seen in this video. In this case, the frame is the key. Only the top central part of the frame is fixed in place. The rest of the frame telescopes outward from it, both horizontally (expanding to the width of the opening beyond) and vertically (lowering the bottom frame and the lower section of wall into the ground entirely). While guests are mesmerized by the projection effects, the glass mirror slides aside, centering an elevator-style split between panels. As animation shows the wooden doors swinging inward, the glass panels split, receding into either side of the wall where they and the gap made by the sinking lower frame edge are quickly covered and guests are ushered inside. 

6. The Plane

Image: Universal

Attraction: WATERWORLD

In the post-apocolyptic 1995 film Waterworld, melted ice caps have turned Earth into an oceanic wasteland with endless seas sailed by massive, man-made "atolls" made of scrap metal, where the desperate remains of humanity search for the mythical "Dryland." Of course, you'd be forgiven for forgetting about the Kevin Costner sci-fi flick... Despite its lofty premise and being the most expensive film ever made at the time of its release, Waterworld turned out to be waterlogged, failing to recoup its massive costs and sinking Universal's fortunes. That said, the studio did salvage one thing from the film: the 1995 water stunt show of the same name that originated at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Though Floridian Universal fans may be surprised to hear it, WATERWORLD: A Live Sea War Spectacular is literally an anchor attraction at every other Universal Resort to this day (including Hollywood, Japan, Singapore, and even the under-construction Beijing park). The show is your classic mix of water ski stunts, explosions, gunfire, zip lines, high dives, audience interaction, and – of course! – a "Splash Zone." The show's most iconic stunt, though, is its grand finale, when a full seaplane comes in front a landing by exploding through the atoll's wall and literally crashing into the arena's pool of water in a shower of sparks and an audience-drenching wave of water.

HOW IT WORKS: The seaplane effect is so amazing because it's literally, sincerely real. There's no track and no strings. In fact, the seaplane effect has to be aborted if high winds might cause the plane to veer of course in its really-for-real flight! The plane itself is a three-quarter scale creation, but weighs in at nearly 3,000 pounds. It's launched via an upward hydraulic launch system (patented by Universal) that accelerates it to 30-miles per hour in a blink, erupting through a false wall atop the set and freefalling into the pool below. After the cheering audiences clears, a crane (built right into the metallic atoll set) lifts the plane and manuevers it back onto its hidden behind-the-scenes launcher. 

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Comments

These were all amazing, I really loved this article! I always want to know how things were done-- it doesn't diminish the wonder to me at all.

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