Entering the world of Transformers at Universal Orlando

Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots, stands guard above the entrance of Universal's new Transformers: The Ride - 3D. (Daniel Leclair, Universal Orlando)

What began life as a toy has grown into a series of action movies and now a big-time attraction at Universal Studios.

Transformers: The Ride — 3D incorporates giant screens, moving platforms and special effects — including a secret elevator — to tell a bombastic story about morphing alien robot characters that were introduced to children by Hasbro in the 1980s. But the new attraction looks and feels like the explosive "Transformers" films directed by Michael Bay.

Thierry Coup, senior vice president of Universal Creative, talks about what distinguishes the Transformers ride — which officially opens Thursday — from other theme-park attractions.

Big time

All of the attraction's battling Autobots and Decepticons are "actual size" — as seen in theaters. A style guide with dimensions and other details came with the rights to the Transformers, Coup says. Visitors see the first example before entering the building: Above the entrance is a 28-foot-figure of Optimus Prime, leader of the robotic good guys.

"We stuck to the exact size that those guys were created to be," Coup says. "There are specific sizes for each one of them. Optimus Prime is 28 feet, and Megatron [leader of the rival Deceptions] is 31 feet. In the ride, we're true to the exact size to what was intended."

That upsized scale adds an impressive dimension to the ride.

"When you're at the feet of Optimus Prime, you look up and he's 28 feet tall and he's right there. You really have to look up," Coup says.

High stakes

Universal had big plans for the ride, but a small space in which to construct it. The solution: Build the attraction on two levels and subtly connect them with an elevator.

"We wanted it [the transition] to be invisible," Coup says.

A lift system, surrounded by a cylindrical screen, keeps elevating guests involved.

"What's really fun is that you're going vertically — going up or down — but really on the screen you feel like you're going forward. It's a good trick," Coup says.

The ride must multitask at this point. The 12-passenger ride vehicle rises in the elevator, which is in sync with on-screen action, audio and wind effects.

"There's a lot going on," Coup says. "It touches all your senses and draws you into the story."

Slow and steady

A unique element of the Transformers ride is the use of slow motion on its big screens. It happens twice: Once with an in-flight bullet and later in a flying-over-a-street scene. Universal weighed real-time versus slow-motion versions.

"It was so much more powerful in slow motion, and you completely buy it," Coup says. "You feel like you're there."

There had been concerns that the effect would break the illusion and the momentum of the ride, he says, but "It's such a Michael Bay signature thing, we had to have it."

The director was a creative consultant throughout the attraction's development. Universal Creative worked with Bay's film crew and had access to the folks who animated the characters for the movie.