The Evolution of Unique Ride Vehicle Designs
Ten inches: the height difference between the two seating options for Universal Orlando Resort’s newest ride, “Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.”
That seemingly small difference is large enough to create two very unique rider experiences, according to the Universal Creative team that helped build and develop the all-new ride.
“Part of the reason we felt the motorbike and sidecar lended itself to this experience is that we were replacing two high-thrill coasters with one coaster,” says Amir Montgomery, senior production designer at Universal Orlando Resort.
It all has to do with guests’ center of gravity and how they physically move with every twist and turn, says Montgomery.
“So, each movement feels different if you’re in the sidecar as opposed to the motorbike,” he says.
The attraction opened in June, replacing the “Dragon Challenge” dueling coaster located in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade section of Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park. Since opening day, dedicated fans have waited hours in line to ride through the Forbidden Forest and meet some of the fictional giant’s favorite creatures.
Universal’s decision to give guests a chance to physically ride a motorbike based on the wildly popular “Harry Potter” series aligns with industry trends pushing the envelope in terms of ride vehicle development and design.
Within the last decade or so, ride vehicles have evolved from the standard train design, where two riders sit side by side in a carriage to enjoy an attraction. Now, engineers compete with an abundance of enhanced technology available within someone’s home, resulting in industry leaders stepping up their game.
“We have to think out of the box to make it flat out marketable for people to come and see and experience,” says Cynthia Emerick, senior vice president of global business development for Dynamic Attractions. “And that means, in my opinion, lots of action, speed, and things that they can’t do and feel in their living rooms.”
With more than two decades of experience in the attractions industry, Emerick says engineers do their best to balance innovation with the necessary, critical safety measures.
“Safety is always number one,” she says, adding the general public usually does not understand the complex safety parameters that must be considered during the production of a vehicle or the ride system itself.
In the case of Universal’s motorbike design, the ride vehicles were also custom made to mirror an iconic prop within the “Harry Potter” story.
“In terms of the ride vehicle, we really felt we wanted to make it as real and true as possible to the film,” says Montgomery, adding the creative team studied motorbikes in film references. “We made sure the actual ride vehicles sport real motorbike parts.”
The wheels, shock absorbers, and headlights are real parts, he says.
“We really felt that to sell this idea that you’re on a motorbike with Hagrid, you had to make it as realistic as possible,” Montgomery says.
With an emphasis on hyper-realistic detail, the Universal team even focused on vehicle lighting. With each twist and turn as the ride brakes, the tail lights actually light up reactively to match the ride experience. And with the push of a button on the vehicle, a guest activates a dragon-fire effect.
Orlando’s newest addition is not the first time a Universal-branded property flipped the script on the standard ride vehicle.
“Space Fantasy – The Ride,” a spinning roller coaster, opened at Universal Studios Japan in 2010.
The ride, designed by Germany-based Mack Rides, received high praise from fans and industry leaders alike. Maximilian Roeser, head of marketing for Mack Rides, attributes the ride’s positive reception to the ride vehicle itself, a circular-shaped seating arrangement that seats two pairs back to back.
“The ride is delivering a new experience with each ride cycle as the weight distribution is responsible for the spinning,” Roeser says. “Every time people sit on different seats the car will spin differently.”
The ability for a ride to offer multiple experiences is something engineers and theme park leaders need to strive for, Emerick says.
“That’s always the niche—to create an attraction that gets repeat ridership,” she says. “That’s the hard part.”
No matter how innovative a ride vehicle can become, it only works if there is good storytelling to support it, the experts say.
Emerick says Dynamic Attractions focuses on providing their clients the tools needed, both with ride systems and vehicles, to support whatever story they want to tell.
“The evolution of ride vehicles is, in my view, an evolution in storytelling,” Roeser says. “To get the attention of the riders, the visitors can be turned to face the animatronics and the story. This got more and more important as coaster rides implemented animatronics and storytelling more and more.”
Gary Blumenstein, creative director of Universal Creative, says park leaders and the design team took this opportunity to up its storytelling ability in an iconic way.
“I think what we’re illustrating with it is when you make the commitment to deliver on story and quality and combine that with an innovative and thrilling ride system or attraction experience, it pays off,” he says.