10 Magical Facts about Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

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Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey opened with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal’s Islands of Adventure on June 18, 2010. With its exciting use of cutting-edge technology and fast-paced storytelling, it was an instant success with Potter fans and regular guests alike.

The ride incorporates dark ride elements, motion simulator movements, projections, animatronics and more to bring J.K. Rowling’s unique world to life. But, did you know one of the original concepts for the ride was going to be based on the stories of Van Helsing? Or that there was a chance early on that Walt Disney World could’ve been the official home of the boy wizard? Here are 10 “magical” facts about Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

1. Harry Potter Almost Came to Disney World

Early Concept Art (Photos: Universal)

Disney showed interest in creating theme park attractions for the boy wizard all the way back in 2001. By 2003 J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. took them up on that offer and asked to hear their ideas. Reportedly Disney pitched a wand shooter attraction with an exit gift shop and a magical creatures petting to be built at the Magic Kingdom, on the former site of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Rowling was unhappy with the small Fantasyland pitch, which would be based entirely on the books and not the popular film series that was just taking off at the time. By 2004 the Disney deal fell apart with both parties unable to agree. Supposedly, Rowling and Warner Bros. went right down the street to Universal, who was more than willing to listen to their ideas, and the rest is history.

2. Stealing Van Helsing’s Home

Hogwarts Castle Concept Art (Photo: Universal)

On May 31, 2007, Universal and Warner Bros. announced that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter would be coming to Islands of Adventure. It was decided early on that the centerpiece attraction would take place within the iconic Hogwarts Castle. The ride sits on large expansion plot that was originally being reserved for future Jurassic Park attractions. One of the concepts that was considered prior was called Jurassic Park Helicoptours, a simulator ride over Jurassic Park similar to Disney’s Star Tours attraction. Another abandoned concept for this plot was a dark ride based on the stories of Van Helsing. This ride would actually have been very similar to Forbidden Journey, featuring similar ride technology and its research and development may have helped the popular Harry Potter ride come to be what it is.

3. Designing a Winning Attraction

The Creative Director for the attraction Thierry Coup had previously worked on attractions like Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and Revenge of the Mummy. Coup and Universal Creative employees made several trips to Scotland to meet with J.K. Rowling while designing the new ride. Taking what they had learned from previous projects like Spider-Man, they wanted to create an immersive experience that would break new ground technologically. In fact, the team had developed some of the ideas for the attraction before they came up with the technologies to make it possible.

4. Enter KUKA Arm Technology

Ride System with Kuka Arm (Images: US Patent Office)

The ride’s vehicle is an enchanted bench. The bench is meant to feel like you’re floating through the air and it achieves this by using robotic arms designed by KUKA. Usually these large arms are used to assemble automobiles on assembly lines, but in the years leading up to the design of this attraction they were starting to be seen in amusement parks. Unlike those other attractions where riders sit in a chair and are thrashed about in all directions with the robotic arm bolted to the floor, this ride would bolt the arm to a moving platform on a track. The vehicle is always moving at the same rate of speed along the track. The arm is attached to the vehicle. And the bench is attached to the arm. This gives an incredible range of motion, using multiple joints, along with the curves in the track. Because the vehicles never stop moving you have to walk onto a moving platform to get on the ride. This helps keep capacity high, allowing more people to enjoy this popular ride.

5. Carousels of Screens

Screen Carousels Patent Design (Images: US Patent Office)

The ride incorporates many physical sets, animatronics, and several screen-based portions. Because the ride vehicles are always moving the designers had trouble figuring out exactly how to pull off the screen sections of the ride. They couldn’t have multiple ride vehicles share one large screen since they would all enter at different times, so the decision was made to give each bench their own screen. Early sketches had a screen attached to the ride vehicle, but the engineering team couldn’t make it work. Pretty late in the game finally someone had the genius idea of creating a series of carousels. These large rotating wheels have six dome screens and they rotate at a rate that matches the ride vehicles. Your vehicle follows a path that follows the movement of the screen for 30 seconds, and the bench creates simulator movements within the domed screen. There are three dome screen scenes in the ride and all are the same length of time. When a screen portion ends the ride path continues on into a physical scene.

6. Re-visiting Locations from the Series

Quidditch pitch during the ride (Photo: Universal)

During the attraction our flying bench takes us through some of the popular locations from the series, including the Forbidden Forest, Quidditch pitch, and even the abandoned Chamber of Secrets. This location was first seen in the second Harry Potter installment. Here we see the skeleton of the long-deceased Basilisk lying on the floor along with the rows of snake-head pillars, some of which have began to crumble since Harry’s fight with the Basilisk. We exit this scene through the massive Salazar Slytherin statue at the back wall of the chamber.

7. A Lot More Dementors

An unused Dementor hiding along the wall (Photo: YouTube)

During the ride you encounter several animatronic Dementors, mounted on moving KUKA arms themselves, including one that attemps to steal your soul. When the effect works, a photo of the riders’ faces is projected onto a blanket of fog. Plus, a cold air blast is shot at you while powerful heartbeat sounds are played through sub-woofers in your bench. Originally this sequence was going to feature dozens more Dementors coming at you, descending in droves from the ceiling. There would even be some painted on the walls in UV paint that illuminated as you pass. According to rumors, J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. felt the sequence was too frightening and the scene was limited to the one Dementor, however if you look closely you can still see several rows of static Dementors lining the walls, only visible for a brief second during flashing light effects.

8. Movie Sets and Props

Defense Against the Dark Arts Classroom (Photo: Universal)

Several rooms and areas of Hogwarts Castle have been re-created by the production designers from the Harry Potter film series to be used as queue for the ride. Some of the rooms include Dumbledore’s Office, the Defense against the Dark Arts Classroom, Gryffindor Common Room, and more. Plus, all of the rooms are filled with recognizable props from the films. In the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom alone we see at least one item from each Dark Arts professor in the series including Quirrell’s traveling trunks, Lockhart’s autobiographies and the large dragon skeleton overhead, Lupin’s spine candles, Moody’s walking stick, Umbridge’s Beginners books, and Snape’s slide projector. Also, notice that the chalkboard shows the lesson for the day: the Patronus charm.

9. Moving Portraits

Hogwarts Portrait Gallery (Photo: Universal)

One of the stops within the queue is the Portrait Gallery. There are over 100 portraits on display, many of which are animated and even interact with one another. This hall features all four founders of Hogwarts: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw. This is the first time they’ve ever been seen. The design team actually went to London, cast four actors to play the roles and then ran them by J. K. Rowling for approval. The paintings come to life through a method that was actually patended by the design team. It involves layers of material to reduce light emitted from the screen while adding the texture of paint stokes on top. While seemingly simple, a lot of work went into making these appear like real paintings, and not just TV screens.

10. Characters in Musion

Musion effect in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom (Photo: Universal)

In two of the rooms of the queue we get to see some of the characters from the series in the flesh, or rather, in hologram form. Professor Dumbledore can be seen in his office and Harry, Ron, and Hermione talk to us in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. To accomplish this, the “musion” effect is used, a technique similar to the Pepper’s Ghost effect, where something is projected onto an angled piece of glass. Unlike the Pepper’s Ghost effect, used in rides like The Haunted Mansion, musion can create effects that appear opaque, and not semi-transparent like a ghost. This technology was previously used in the now-closed “Disaster: A Major Motion Picture Starring You” and has since been used in the preshow for “Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts.”

If you’re looking to visit Universal Orlando be sure to request your free vacation quote from Destinations in Florida. These travel planning experts can help you plan your dream vacation with the best deals on theme park tickets and on-site hotels. The best part is, their service is completely FREE when you book through them!

That’s all for now! Stay tuned for more theme park facts articles coming soon. Be sure to subscribe to the news feed to never miss an update, or enter your email below to be notified each time a new article is posted. Photos by Alicia Stella (unless otherwise specified)

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