We’ve certainly seen plenty of vivid live entertainment from Universal in the past, but this latest extravaganza is a genuine cinematic blockbuster, packed into 19 minutes of fountains, lasers, movie projections, fireworks and other special effects.
It has been more than a year in the making and is now the new nightly finale at the Universal Studios park, and the initial impression from the assembled group of media and park guests was pretty emphatic. There were laughs, cheers and outright amazement as the show burst into life with the famous trademark Universal Pictures logo and a choreographed sequence from the huge array of fountains that have been built into the central lagoon.
The show quickly moved through sequences from well-known movies like Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, The Fast And The Furious, ET, How To Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda. It continued with Trolls and Transformers, and then moved into the mega-popular world of Harry Potter and friends. Finally, it was the turn of those hilarious Minions and Despicable Me, closely followed by The Secret Life of Pets and the cast of Sing, all blending into one big, party-style encore and a grand finale.
It is a multi-dimensional assault on the senses – in the best possible way – and is guaranteed to bring the house down every night. And it differs from any previous show presentation at the Studios by being centred on a specific part of the lagoon, a 350ft-wide stretch facing the former Central Park area of the theme park, which has now been converted into a three-tiered outdoor amphitheater that faces the lagoon and can hold more than 6,000 people.
The buildings of New York provide the backdrop and are also used as part of the ‘stage’ thanks to a special projection-mapping system of cameras that are able to incorporate the three-dimensional landscape behind the lagoon in a similar way to the Castle show at the Magic Kingdom.
High-tech meets high drama in a welter of classic movie moments, providing a dazzling three-dimensional display that is highlighted – but not overpowered – by the use of pyrotechnics and lasers, while the cameras also use the fountains and giant central water-screen as their ‘canvas.’
If that’s the basic idea, the overall impact is as good as it sounds, and it is embellished by a series of state-of-the-art speakers that are built into and around the lagoon.
But we still needed to know HOW Universal had put all this technology and visual wizardry together, so we spoke to Michael Aiello, the Senior Director Entertainment Creative Development, and he gave us the full inside track.
“On Day One, we decided we wanted to re-think how we do our night-time shows,” he told us. “The previous one here was based on 100 years of Universal Pictures, so we designed a show purely on the library of films that Universal had created. In engaging the lagoon once again in how we could do a different show, it all started with our guests, and how we were going to have them experience the new show here.
“The first item on the agenda was how we could ensure that every single guest would get the same experience, because you couldn’t say that about the past night-time shows. The guest experience was dictated by where they chose to stand around the lagoon because all of our past shows were done in 360 degrees – anywhere you stood around the lagoon, you were able to experience the show.
“We wanted to change that and create an area where guests could experience the show communally, which is something we hadn’t done before. So we have redesigned our Central Park area to accommodate between 6,000 and 6,500 people, and we feel it gives them a really awesome view of everything they are going to see here at night. This is where the creative process started and this is where we decided how the show would live and breathe. We knew this perspective would allow us to create a completely different type of experience.”
From that creative starting point, Aiello and his team went to work on the technical side, bringing in the engineers and plumbers, the animators and pyrotechnic experts to build both a massive stage and the technical under-pinning of the show.
“Obviously with the lagoon, we knew it was going to be water based,” Aiello added. “So we brought in more than 120 fountains to go with the colour, the lighting and the motion of our show. Then we added water projection, creating an epic 350ft widescreen panorama view of all the media that we use.
“And then, knowing we had a very different backdrop from all our night-time shows, the wonderful New York facades become our setting, a texture to aid in the story-telling. We also wanted this show to be about the guest experience here at Universal Orlando, so it offers up a lot of the characters and moments they will have experienced here during the day. That includes, for the first time, taking the Wizarding World of Harry Potter out of the Wizarding World and displaying it here on the lagoon. We are really, really proud of it.”
Listening to Michael explain the thought and design process behind the Cinematic Celebration it was easy to see how the passion and excitement the creators have for their work translates into the end product, a true audio-visual sensation that has grown-ups cheering with excitement – and children saucer-eyed with amazement, gasping, “How did they do that?!”.
It’s also worth pointing out that Universal Orlando now has two must-see night-time shows, with The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle over at Islands of Adventure providing yet another evening spectacle of awesome film projection and special effects. And it all goes to prove that Orlando really is home to some of the most creative minds in the theme park multiverse. Miss it at your peril!
Check out the video below for a sneak peek...
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