When Universal Studios Hollywood closed its aging Jurassic Park ride in September for an overhaul, the park’s research and development team wanted to inject the same big-adrenaline scares and state-of-the-art magic seen in its latest blockbuster dinosaur movies.
But the team also had to rush to finish the ride in time for this year’s peak summer tourist season.
Jurassic World — The Ride, as it’s officially called, opened last week after several days of testing with almost no fanfare. The ride has been met with huge crowds, queues up to two hours long and mostly positive reviews from riders.
“This biggest challenge was to turn it around in a very short accelerated pace,” Thierry Coup, senior vice president of Universal Creative, the research and development team for Universal Parks and Resorts, said in an interview about his latest attraction.
To do that, Coup said, his team turned to some unique visual effects, the latest in animatronics and a few ideas borrowed from existing attractions such as the King Kong 360 3D segment of its Studios Tour.
“It’s still all about delivering a great experience,” he said.
Park officials declined to say how much they spent to overhaul the 23-year-old ride, which reopened less than two months after its biggest cross-town rival, Disneyland, launched its $1-billion expansion, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Industry experts say theme parks try to open new attractions in late spring to take advantage of the surge in tourists when youngsters get out of school and families start summer vacation.
Although Universal Studios Hollywood has been advertising since April that the ride would reopen at some time this summer, Jurassic World launched July 12 without the usual hoopla — or even the kind of advance notice that would have given out-of-town fans time to plan a visit.
The Jurassic World attraction is still a boat ride posing as a tour of a research facility where dinosaurs have been brought back to life thanks to amazing advances in science. But, like the earlier version, the ride turns haywire when the creatures escape and threaten to eat the visitors.
Early in the ride, passengers on the boat float past what looks like an aquarium that holds 3.5 million gallons of water and a 60-foot-long Mosasaurus (think of a cross between an alligator and a whale). The sea creature chomps down on a shark and then hungrily eyes the boat passengers before smashing into the aquarium glass, sending water splashing onto the monster’s intended victims.
The aquarium walls are actually eight massive high-definition screens — four on each side of the boats — and the Mosasaurus is made to look real thanks to proprietary Universal Studios technology that changes the images on the screens to reflect the perspective of the viewers in the passing boats.
The technology, known as squinching, creates a 3-D effect by making objects that are closer to viewers move faster across their field of vision than objects in the distance.
The technique was first tried on the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride that opened at Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure theme park in 1999 and later on Transformers: The Ride 3D, which opened at Universal Studios Hollywood in 2012, Coup said.
Because the high-definition screens are on both sides of the boat, it appears the parkgoers are passing through the giant aquarium and the Mosasaurus is swimming around and below the boat.
The effect was used in the King Kong 360 3D attraction on the park’s Studio Tour, Coup said. In the King Kong attraction, two 180-foot-long-by-40-foot-tall screens that wrap around the trams allow the giant ape to bound over the passengers several times as Kong battles prehistoric creatures.
“The idea was to create a breathtaking moment earlier [in the ride] to be true to the latest movie,” Coup said, referring to the Jurassic World movies.
More sophisticated animatronics make the new dinosaurs’ movements smoother and more agile than the older versions, he said. The creatures are also bigger and more frightening, Coup said, to reflect the blood-thirsty monsters in the latest “Jurassic” movies.
“The dinosaurs have gotten bigger, with more teeth,” Coup said.
As for the new attractions at Disneyland, the Universal Studios Hollywood executive said he welcomes the rivalry. “It’s always healthy for business to have competition,” he said.
Long lines didn’t appear to discourage parkgoers who rode the new attraction this week. (The Times’ Todd Martens found the ride “an adrenaline-inducing blast” but bemoaned the loss of the tension-building narrative pace that the previous attraction pioneered.)
“The effects are really good,” said Nicole Sincock, an Australian tourist who rode the attraction this week while on vacation with her daughter Nicole. “I would not be mother of the year if I didn’t bring her.”
Other riders said they preferred the new ride to the older version.
“This is a lot more nerve-racking,” Juan Alvarado of Los Angeles said of the attraction after riding it with several cousins.
Most riders didn’t know about the squinching technology that was used to create the aquarium section of the ride, but they said it worked.
“The Mosasaurus looked real,” Kalyn Bailess, 17, said as she got off the ride. “Amazing.”