‘Transformers’ drives into U’s theme park

Ride tied to film franchise will bow next spring in H'wood

Michael Bay may prefer to wreak havoc, destroying Chicago at multiplexes this weekend — but when it comes to the offscreen lives of Hasbro’s robots, the “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” director is in construction mode.

Helmer is giving his creative notes to “Transformers: The Ride — 3D,” a big-budget theme park attraction under construction on the lower lot of Universal Studios Hollywood that opens next spring.

The motion-based ride will tell an original “Transformers” story and use 3D animation, animatronics and the latest flight-simulator technology to place guests in the middle of a battle between the heroic Autobots and villainous Decepticons.

Because the films breathed new life into Hasbro’s toy line in 2007, the toymaker chose to embrace the look of the shape-shifting characters from the pics for the ride, its first theme park attraction since exploiting its brands (“G.I. Joe,” “Monopoly,” “Battleship,” “Ouija” and “Candyland,” among others) across various entertainment platforms.

“We’re always looking for ways to engage people and show our characters where people want to experience them,” Aaron Archer, Hasbro’s VP brand creative, brand design and IP development told Variety.

Exec has been overseeing the “Transformers” line for the past 12 years. He worked closely with Bay’s art department and was part of the pitch that got the helmer interested in the property in the first place.

Audiences have grown accustomed to the look of the pics’ bots after the first film earned $710 million worldwide and its sequel hauled in $836 million.

As a result, toy sales tied to the franchise generated $482 million for Hasbro after its first outing and more than $600 million around the second, providing a case study on how toymakers can capitalize on film and TV shows based on their popular playthings.

Hasbro, which owns the rights to the brand and how it’s spun off, didn’t necessarily have to stick with the design; its new animated “Transformers” series on kids cabler The Hub steers clear of the look.

“It’s definitely set in the film universe,” Archer said. “We wanted to have the best experiences of the movies come forward and bring it to life with all original content.”

Chip Largman, senior VP of creative at Universal Studios Hollywood, calls the ride “a natural follow up to the films” that serves as “an extension” of what auds have already seen in theaters. “But it’s not dependent upon your experience in seeing the film.”

The move will benefit both Paramount, which can use the ride to promote its film franchise, and Universal, which is always looking for new attractions based on tentpoles.

Par, in particular, is looking to keep the films going. Although Bay has said the third installment is his swan song, it’s only a matter of time before the studio reboots the series with a new helmer.

Given the popularity of the films, Hasbro is naturally eager to keep the property alive on the bigscreen, as well. Until more films are made, it has the ride to keep auds interested.

To do that, Hasbro enlisted Industrial Light and Magic to reprise its role from the films to create the photorealistic 3D characters and visuals and for the ride, and hired Peter Cullen to voice Optimus Prime and other actors from the series.

It also won’t be cheap, with U said to be spending significantly more than the roughly $40 million it spent to build “The Simpsons Ride.” An identical “Transformers” ride is also being built at Universal Studios Singapore.

The timing of next year’s launch of the “Transformers” ride “had a lot to do with the amount of time truly needed to create and implement a technical feat,” Largman said. “We were not in a position to do something that was lockstep in time with the release of the film.”

The project, which replaces the former “Backdraft” attraction and Special Effects Stages, is the second time Universal Creative, which designs attractions for U’s theme parks, has partnered with a major effects house on a ride after working with Weta Digital on Peter Jackson’s “King Kong 360 3D” that opened last year.

Bay’s collaboration on the ride also isn’t new for U. It developed the King Kong ride with Jackson, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter park with J.K. Rowling, “The Simpsons” ride with the show’s creators James L. Brooks and Matt Groening, and a number of attractions with Steven Spielberg, who is a creative consultant to the parks, and was an exec producer of the “Transformers” films.

Of course, Universal hopes “Transformers” becomes another main attraction at its Hollywood park, especially as rival Disney is readying to open its 12-acre “Cars Land” park inside California Adventure next summer.

“We’ve pushed the boundaries of 3D, hyperrealism and immersive visual effects to transport our guests, physically and viscerally, into the world of ‘Transformers,’ ” said Mark Woodbury, president of Universal Creative.

Meanwhile, Universal is overhauling its “Spider-Man” ride at its Islands of Adventure park in Orlando, Fla., with updated, high-definition 3D footage to tap into the trend in theaters.

” ‘Transformers’ is about change and converting from one thing to another,” said Archer. Over the years, “the brand has evolved from cars to animals and dinosaurs and now realistic cars that you can buy at a dealership. If you’re a fan of these films this is one of the best ways to experience it.”

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