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Home of the 3D Thrills

Rick DeMott traveled to the Universal Studios Hollywood Terminator 2 3D attraction and reveals that the thrill factor is high.

Universal City 1999 A.D. Sent by my curiosity, three friends and I ventured forth in search of a new thrill. The location chosen was the Universal Studios Hollywood Terminator 2 3D attraction.

He's back! And in 3D. The Terminator 2 3D ride thrills audiences with its (literally) in your face action. © Universal Studios, Inc.

After being ushered into a large waiting room, a very chipper employee of Cyberdyne, creators of the Terminator cyborgs, show us a wonderful propaganda film on how the company will better enhance the world and our lives. But wait, what's this? The broadcast is interrupted. Our chipper host runs around in a panic. On the screen flashes Sarah and John Connor, played by Terminator 2 stars Linda Hamilton and Edward Furlong. After the Connors warn us of Cyberdyne's Big Brother-like Skynet program, our quickly collected host moves us into a stadium theatre where animatronic T-70 Terminators rise from the floor. However pandemonium soon breaks loose when new live actors playing Sarah and John Connor rush into the theatre in an attempt to destroy the corporation's world domination plans. All is not safe when the T-1000 Terminator leaps from the 165 foot screen ready to waste us and our heroes. But that's not all! Exploding forth on a 1,500 pound Harley Davidson "Fat Boy" motorcycle comes the T-101 Terminator (i.e. an Arnold Schwarzenegger look-a-like) to save the day. He grabs John Connor and rides off into the screen. So begins the most expensive frame for frame live-action film of all time. Moreover, it's all in 3-D.

For T2 3D James Cameron and crew even created a new Terminator called the T-1,000,000. © Universal Studios, Inc.

Three sets of Iwerk twin-arranged 65mm cameras are used to project the film on three 23' x 50' screens. This array creates a 180 degree visual surface, plus a state-of-the art sound system blasts 45,620 watts of sound through 159 speakers, as actors Furlong and Schwarzenegger ride along a futuristic wasteland with the camera sweeping through explosions. This feat of camera work has never been done in 3D films before due to the difficulty of moving the 450 pound cameras used to film in 3D. Oscar-winning director James Cameron, Oscar-winning visual effects specialist Scott Winston (Jurassic Park and Aliens), and Oscar-winning visual effects specialist John Bruno (The Abyss) created an intricate pulley system that allowed the camera to move up to 50 mph. Forty-seven digital artists from Venice, CA-based Digital Domain, Inc. worked with the co-directing team of Cameron, Winston, and Bruno to create the film. Cameron even elicited aid from Dr. Ken Jones of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratories. Even the big man himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger says, "What we have created with T2 3D is the quintessential sight and sound experience for the 21st century."

Directors Stan Winston, James Cameron and John Bruno (left to right) have moved the Terminator franchise into new directions with the ground-breaking short film T2 3D. © Universal Studios, Inc.

Wow, makes you want to run out and spend almost 50 bucks to get into the park doesn't it? That's what linking the name of a blockbuster film and the thrill of an amusement ride is supposed to do. This phenomenon has long been used to boost theme park attendance, and it seems now that every "big" film franchise is getting its own amusement ride.

What does all this mean in terms of where digital wizardry is going, especially when the likes of Cameron, Schwarzenegger, and Digital Domain are getting into the business of making what may be called virtual roller coasters? Could T2 3D be the new direction for visual effects movies as Arnold said?

Could film-inspired theme rides be the next generation of sequels for big visual effects blockbusters? © Universal Studios, Inc.

Well, with millions spent on the revolutionary theatre and sound system, anything like this attraction coming to the Emmaus, Pennsylvania's of the world is very unlikely. Yet it does give a new avenue for visually creative minds to create stunning adventures. With eye-popping spectacles like The Lion King and Titanic making it to Broadway, it's not a stretch to think that this combination of live theatre and cinematic magic will stop growing. If you think this new direction will replace artistic substance with adrenaline generating gimmicks, you may be right. However, most visual effects-laden movies are not created to enlighten us on the ever growing plight of the whooping crane anyway. Part of seeing visual effects in the theatre is the thrill. So it seems, the logical approach is to move these kinds of movies into the land of roller coasters. What is your average action flick but a thrill ride anyway? To Universal Studios and the Terminator 2 3D ride? When I'm looking for some simple thrills, "I'll be back!"

Rick DeMott is the Associate Editor of Animation World Magazine. Previously, he served as Media Coordinator for Hollywood-based Acme Filmworks. He holds a BA in Film/Video from Penn State University with a Minor in Comperative Literature.

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