sk anyone who's ever worked in themed entertainment about what
the tougher job is: building a brand-new ride, show or attraction from the ground
up OR finding a way to shoehorn a brand-new ride into a pre-existing show
building. And to a man, they will tell you that the retrofit is always the
tougher, more challenging project.
And no one in the themed entertainment would know this
better than Mike West, the former Imagineer who is now an Executive Producer
with Universal Creative. West was one of the primary forces behind what many
now consider to be the gold standard when it comes to theme park attraction
redos (i.e. When "Back to the Future - The Ride" was transformed into
"The Simpsons Ride"). And what Mike found was that many of the lessons he
learned while working on "Simpsons" could then be applied while West began
riding herd on turning "Jimmy Neutron's Nicktoon Blast" in
"Despicable Me Minion Mayhem."
Copyright Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved
"This particular project moved along very
quickly," Mike recalled in a recent interview. "While there were some
discussions early on about how we could possibly bring Gru, the girls and the
minions in the Parks during the Summer of 2010 when 'Despicable Me
' was initially
out to theaters, it wasn't 'til January or February of 2011 that we began
talking in earnest about building a full-blown attraction around these
Now by theme park standards, to go from Universal Creative
having preliminary discussions about possibly building a "Despicable Me'
attraction to Guests actually being able to enter Gru's secret lab so that they
then could be turned into minions in under 18 months is extraordinary. Which
West was quick to acknowledge.
"Yes, this was a quick turnaround. A year and a half is
fast. It's far more typical in this industry that you first spend 3 to 4 years
on design & development before you then move forward with construction. But
with 'Despicable Me,' we had this property that had been a huge success for
Universal. It's actually one of the Top 10 grossing animated films in U.S.
history. Plus we had the 'Despicable Me' sequel coming in 2013. So it just made
sense to get an attraction based on this super-popular intellectual property
into Universal Studios Florida as quickly as possible."
And given the popularity of this IP, the folks at Universal
Creative wanted to place this new 'Despicable Me' attraction as close as
possible to the front of USF. Which quickly led them to decide that this
Illumination Entertainment-inspired production would serve as the replacement
of the then-8 year-old "Jimmy Neutron's Nicktoon Blast."
"Which isn't the sort of decision that we made
casually," Mike admitted. "Me personally, the Chicken Dance sequence
in 'Nicktoon Blast' is one of my favorite moments ever in a theme park
attraction. To be seated in a motion-based vehicle and to then have your ride
vehicle do that specific dance move is just a brilliant blending of music,
story and technology. I miss that scene even now. But that said, when Guests
come to our Parks, they always expect to find new experiences. So in order for
that to happen, Jimmy Neutron had to blast off for good so that Gru & the
girls could then move into his spot."
But given that this particular show building in USF's
Production Central area had already been home to two other attractions (i.e.
"The Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera" and "Jimmy Neutron's
Nicktoon Blast"), West and his team knew that -- if they wanted to catch people's
eyes as they entered this theme park -- Universal Creative was going to have to
make a very big statement. Which is why they decided to build a full-sized
version of Gru's house. Which they then deliberately faced towards USF's
"As Gru would say, 'You can't miss this baby,' " Mike laughed.
"We wanted the Guests to know -- as soon as they came through the Main
Gate -- that this was the real deal. That this wasn't the same attraction that
you experienced the last time you visited Universal Studios Florida. That Gru
and the girls had moved in. More to the point, given the 37 minions that were now
hanging all over the outside of this show building, something fun had to be
going on inside of this new attraction."
West wanted to make sure that repeat USF visitors understood
that "Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" was a brand-new ride. Which is why
he and his team at Universal Creative had the entrance to this attraction moved
further on down the show building.
"We actually persuaded the Park to give up retail space
so that we could then add an additional pre-show scene. Which then helped us
better establish the world that Gru & the girls now live in," Mike
continued. "After all, you can't assume that every Guest coming through
the door is going to be familiar with the 'Despicable Me' film. Which is why
it's always important to properly set the scene in every attraction. Make
people aware of the sort of story they're about to experience."
In the specific case of "Minion Mayhem," this meant establishing a
version of Gru's house that Agnes, Edith & Margo had clearly turned into
their home. If you carefully look around in this particular pre-show scene,
you'll soon see all sorts of signs that this former super villain's lair is now
a child-friendly space. Everything from how the girls' crayon drawings are now
proudly displayed on the walls to how the iron maiden has now been
child-proofed by placing tennis balls on all of this medieval torture device's
"And given that we were trying for a far more sincere
feeling with the storyline of 'Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem,' we deliberately
steered clear of the you're-in-a-theme-park jokes that you typically find in
other Universal shows like 'Shrek 4-D' and 'The Simpsons Ride,' " West
explained. "In this entire attraction, there's only one reference to theme
parks. That's when Gru -- in the pre-show movie -- talks about the three
hour-long written exam that you'll have to take before you can then be turned
into a minion. 'So there'll be no seeing the park today,' Gru says. It's only
then that Margo says 'We're not doing the written exam anymore.' And Gru the
says 'Oh. Okay.' "
Another smart thing that Mike and his team did to make
"Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" different from "The Funtastic
World of Hanna-Barbera" and "Jimmy Neutron's Nicktoon Blast" was
by taking another chunk of this show building's former retail space and then
turning it into a new post-show scene.
"I mean, given that people no longer got to experience
what it was like to do the Chicken Dance while seated inside of their 'Jimmy
Neutron' ride vehicle, I thought that the very least we could do was turn this
attraction's post-show sequence into a dance party where USF visitors could
then boogie-down right along with the minions," West said. "So we
have a CG line of minions dancing across the top of our Jumbotron. Plus two Universal cast members
dressed as minions out there on the dance floor as Guests exit the main
theater. So what we're trying to do here is keep that dance party feeling from
the very end of the attraction going for a little while longer. Before Gru cuts
off all the music and says 'Alright. Back to work.' And then basically forces
all of the Guests to exit the dance floor and then go straight into our Super
Silly Stuff store."
Speaking of the attraction itself ... I don't want to give
away too much of the "Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" storyline other
than to say that Mike and his team have crammed an awful lot of fun into this 4
minute-long ride film.
"And I want to stress here that Universal Creative
didn't do the 'Despicable Me' ride film all on our own. Chris Melandri and his
team at Illumination Entertainment were very much involved in this project,"
West stated. "Reel Effects of Dallas did a lot of CG work on this project,
as did Ken Duncan Studios of Pasadena. And Chris Bailey did a brilliant job of
directing this ride film, making sure that every inch of this screen was filled
with minion craziness."
And speaking of that screen, Mike wanted to make sure that USF visitors
understood that it wasn't just the exterior of the "Despicable Me Minion
Mayhem" show building that received an extensive overhaul. The interior of
the main theater underwent a pretty intense makeover as well.
"The screen inside of that theater now is 70% bigger
than the one 'Jimmy Neutron' used to be projected on. So it really fills your
field of vision now," West enthused. "The 3D projection system that's
used in this attraction is the exact same one that we use over in Spider-Man at
Islands of Adventure. It's the best 3D that I've ever seen in my life. I mean,
you can be seated off-angle and it's still pretty spectacular."
Speaking of "Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" 's
theater ... This big open space -- coupled with the motion based ride system
that West & Co. carried over from "Hanna-Barbera" and "Jimmy
Neutron" -- really influenced the sort of story that Universal Creative
tried to tell with this attraction.
Copyright Universal Orlando Resort / Fox. All rights reserved
"Let's face it. 'Minion Mayhem' isn't really like 'The Simpsons Ride.' I
mean, sure. They both are motion based attractions featuring CG ride films that
are populated with yellow people. But when you're on 'Simpsons,' once the doors
of your ride vehicle come down, you're now kind of cut off from the rest of the
world. Which is why what happens on that attraction seems to be happening just to
you. That's why the characters in 'The Simpsons' ride film often seem to be
talking directly to you," Mike said.
Whereas on 'Minion Mayhem,' because the space that this
'Despicable Me' motion based attraction occupies is far more open and better
lit that 'The Simpsons Ride,' you can always see the other Guests who are experiencing
this USF attraction along with you. Which is why West and his team decided to
turn 'Minion Mayhem' into a far more communal experience.
"That's why we filled this show's scenes with hundreds
of minions. We're hoping that -- by cramming in so many bits of business, so
blink-and-you'll-miss-it gags -- that Universal Orlando Resort visitors will
then be forced to ride this new attraction a second and a third time. Just so
they can then try and catch all of the stuff that they missed on their first ride-thru,"
(L to R) Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier and Elsie Fisher -- the voices of Gru's daughtersMargo, Edith and Agnes -- ride "Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" on July 2, 2012, theofficial opening day of this new Universal Orlando Attraction. CopyrightUniversal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved
"But you want to know my favorite part of the
'Despicable Me Minion Mayhem' attraction? It's that -- in spite of everything
that's going on onscreen, all of the craziness with the minions, plus the
movement of the vehicle -- people are still able to keep track of this
attraction's emotional storyline. I love it when I'm on the 'Despicable Me'
ride and I can hear all of the little girls who in the main theater the same
time as me say things like 'Save the present!' ," Mike said. "It's
the moments like that when you realize that people are really getting into
something that you helped create. That they're now emotionally involved in the
storyline that you helped write. Which -- given that these ride films are
typically only 4 minutes-long -- is a pretty hard thing to do. Hook them in
like that. Make them actually care about these characters and their storyline."
Which is why -- when you talk with people who work in the themed entertainment
industry these days -- it would now appear that there's a new gold standard. At
least when it comes to retrofitting an old show building with a brand-new,
So the next time you're at the Universal Orlando Resort, be
sure at drop by Production Central to experience "Despicable Me Minion
Mayhem." So that you can then see why so many people who work in the
themed entertainment industry are now calling this new USF attraction one in a
minion ... er ... million.
Wonderful! More Universal articles, please!
This is amazing. I really hope to visit this place one day and enjoy all the good things they offer.