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Universal’s new ride will transform your face into a puppy’s. Here’s how:

“The Secret Life of Pets 2"
A ride based on the “The Secret Life of Pets 2" will open this spring at Universal Studios Hollywood.
(Illumination Entertainment / Universal Pictures)

It will be a dog’s life for riders of Universal Studios Hollywood’s newest ride.

The next ride to open at the movie-themed amusement park this spring will feature characters and scenes from the animated film franchise “The Secret Life of Pets.” The park is boasting that the new attraction will rely on a “series of technological firsts” that will turn a rider’s face into the mug of a puppy in need of adoption.

The ride, whose exact opening date has yet to be announced, represents the latest in the theme park industry’s move toward more sophisticated and technologically advanced attractions. But technology can have drawbacks.

This month, Disneyland opened Rise of the Resistance, a ride that combines holograms, animatronics, live actors and pyrotechnics to put riders in the middle of a space battle.

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The ride, part of the new 14-acre Star Wars expansion, has been getting rave reviews from parkgoers; but the attraction has temporarily broken down several times since it opened Jan. 17, which reduces how many groups of riders can be accommodated each day.

In 2012, the addition of Cars Land at Disney California Adventure included a ride called Luigi’s Flying Tires, which lofted visitors in tire-shaped bumper cars floating on a cushion of air — like an air-hockey game with humans. But the Cars Land feature was plagued by poor reviews because the technology moved the vehicles at a lethargic speed and was replaced by a new ride a few years later.

Martin Lewison, a business administration professor and theme park expert from Farmingdale State College in New York, said that when theme parks rely too heavily on new technology they run the risk of breakdowns, especially when the ride is new.

“One of the downsides is the difficulty of getting the rides up to speed,” he said, adding that he is confident that major theme park companies like Universal Studios and the Walt Disney Co. have the money and resources to eventually work out the kinks in the rides.

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Asked to comment on the breakdowns of Disneyland’s new ride, the park issued a statement saying: “Guests are having a blast experiencing Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.”

At Universal Studios Hollywood, the new ride will use live actors, animatronic characters and projection mapping, which projects moving images on uneven surfaces, to replicate a New York City scene. But the featured technology will be the use of facial recognition and “enhanced gesture tracking,” which will allow cameras and projectors to create a unique image of each rider, resembling a dog on a screen.

For each seat on the ride, the technology will depict the riders as a different dog.

Universal Studios Hollywood representatives say they have not heard of any other theme park attraction using facial recognition technology on a ride. Lewison said at least two Six Flags parks on the East Coast use facial recognition technology to make riders in Batman-themed roller coasters resemble Batman’s arch rival, The Joker.

The new ride at Universal Studios Hollywood will operate out of a new building on the site of the Globe Theater, adjacent to the “Despicable Me Minion Mayhem” and “Super Silly Fun Land” attractions. The actors who voiced the characters in the Secret Life of Pets and its sequel — including Kevin Hart, Patton Oswalt and Dana Carvey — will be featured in the ride.


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