Universal Orlando Resorts’ newest attraction, the VelociCoaster opened on 10 June 2021 at Islands of Adventure, changing the resort’s skyline and offering visitors a new thrilling experience.
Blooloop speaks with Shelby Honea, Show Producer at Universal Creative on the creation of the record-breaking new attraction.
Having studied entertainment engineering at the University of Nevada, Honea has had a variety of positions across themed entertainment.
Starting out in creative roles for Las Vegas casinos in her home town, Honea was in technical show support at Cirque du Soleil before working as an Assistant Producer for Walt Disney Imagineering on projects such as Pandora and Galaxy’s Edge alongside Imagineer Joe Rohde.
Now leading her team at Universal Creative, Honea is celebrating the launch of the park’s newest attraction the VelociCoaster.
Theme park designers, designing in a theme park setting
The new attraction is themed as an operating rollercoaster set within the theme park environment of Jurassic World, the more recent blockbuster series in the Jurassic Park franchise.
“In the first Jurassic World film, it included attractions like the Gyrosphere, the Gentle Giants Petting Zoo and the Mosasaurus Arena. We really wanted the VelociCoaster to feel like an offering amongst those that maybe existed on the island just offscreen slightly” says Honea.
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“Being theme park designers and getting to play in a theme park setting was awesome. We worked with the filmmakers to define this new little piece of the canon.”
The story of the attraction allows guests to get up close and personal with the dinosaurs. “We are sending guests on an ultimate quasi-view of the velociraptors, really feeling what it is like to be on their hunt or what they are hunting in the safety of an InGen vehicle in the raptor paddock,” says Honea.
“The story gave us a lot of opportunities to play with theme park tropes and deliver a really compelling, immersive story.”
The VelociCoaster: big teeth, big thrills
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Jurassic attraction without big teeth. This was one of the main parameters that guided the project’s design throughout the initial phases.
“We needed to deliver an authentic dinosaur and Jurassic World attraction,” says Honea. “Plus, we also wanted to make sure it was first and foremost a thrill attraction, we never wanted to take away from that. We wanted to create an immersive environment. One that you would expect at Islands of Adventure as well as anything from Jurassic Park/World.”
The team worked with Universal Pictures who were still working on the current films. “It was a really organic and wonderful process working closely with the filmmakers and the park. Those early design phases were such a joy.
Raptors and Blue
“Once we locked arms and agreed on the perfect little slice of the Jurassic Park canon, the raptors became the obvious choice.
“Everyone loves the raptors, they are the star, everyone loves Blue. Greg Hall (the Art Director on the attraction) and I often say that at some point the attraction almost felt like it was designing itself. But that speaks to when you set really good parameters and it’s clear” says Honea.
Actors from the Jurassic World movies reprised their roles for the VelociCoaster attraction, also talking to guests in the pre-shows of the ride.
This includes Bryce Dallas Howard as Clare Dearing, the park’s Operation Director; Chris Pratt as Owen Grady the Velociraptor trainer; and Bradley Darryl Wong as Dr Henry Wu the geneticist. Even Mr DNA, the animated cartoon returned to explain how InGen created the dinosaurs.
A dual personality roller coaster
The ‘new species of roller coaster’ towers above the Islands of Adventure skyline. In fact, it now holds the record for the tallest and fastest launch coaster in Florida.
“We call it a dual personality coaster- there are two sections with really different elements. In the first part, you are out in the raptor paddock, going over and under the track. It is very disorienting. Through beautiful rock work, near misses and you never know where you are going next” says Honea.
“The second portion is the insane airtime and inversions.”
The VelociCoaster has a big bite, with a 155 ft top hat and an 80-degree drop, 4 inversions including an inverted stall of over 100ft of linear track, as well as a ’mosasaurus roll’ over the water as a finale. There are two launches, first accelerating guests from 0-50 mph in two seconds, then boosting them from 40 mph to 70 mph in 2.4 seconds. In total, the ride has 12 seconds of airtime.
“We wanted to capture the blitzy moments that Universal Orlando Resort didn’t have until this point. Really before many of the details, we were already thinking about these iconic coaster elements” says Honea.
Keith Mcveen, the layout designer on the project, planned the 4,700 ft of track to evoke certain feelings on the attraction, to maximise airtime and ejector moments and fit the mix of attraction offerings already at the resort.
“He definitely had the menu and then worked on the choreography to make sure we hit all those really iconic moments,” says Honea.
Hatching the VelociCoaster
The ride is the second coaster to be built at the park in as many years. Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure opened in 2019. This family-orientated launch coaster is located where the Duelling Dragons coasters sat before. It has a record-breaking seven launches and is the longest roller coaster in Florida at 5,053 feet.
Billed as a ‘story-coaster’, guests ride either a motorbike or sidecar. They then twist and turn through the Hogwarts grounds meeting a variety of magical creatures along the way.
“For VelociCoaster, we were looking at the thrill-seekers, the people mourning Dragon’s Challenge, and the Jurassic fans. We look at who we are trying to serve and we make every decision around the guests” says Honea.
Once the team knew the target guest and the story outline for the ride, it was onto initial design:
“We go very quickly into animatics. We want to understand what the guest is going to see. So, we have to move quickly. We use every tool in our toolkit to show what the guest experience will be. 3D animatics and pre-visualisation play a big part in that.”
The first teaser for the VelociCoaster (the artists conceptual rendering) was actually the real animatics that the team were working from and using many years ago to tune the experience.
Lighting is key
Greg Hall, Art Director on the project was in charge of the coaster’s train design. Having worked on the reinvention of the Hulk Coaster previously, Honea describes him as an ‘exceptional’ 3D designer in vehicle design:
“He knows how to deliver something truly epic.”
Lighting on the VelociCoaster was particularly important to look as good by day as by night says Honea:
“It is definitely two attractions, we had to make sure it looked like the beautiful nighttime render!” The lighting is a vital part of the story. This is what is keeping guests on the ride safe from the jaws of the raptors. “Greg worked closely on the integration. Every little bolt, every little bit of space that made the vehicle come to life was accounted for.”
When designing the vehicles, the team knew it had to stand alongside iconic ‘rides’ in the films like the Gyrosphere. “How do you create something that looks like it could be next to and just as iconic as that? And has the presence to go up against raptors? It was no small challenge there,” says Honea.
The train can hold 24 riders and uses a lap bar instead of an over-the-shoulder restraint. This delivers a comfortable ride as well as a more immersive experience for those near misses. On the inverted stall, the lack of shoulder restraints allows guests to be upside down with a feeling of weightlessness out of their seats for the entire duration.
VelociCoaster includes breathing, scented animatronic raptors
“Something I love about Universal Creative is we are always asking ourselves how can we innovate? How can we bring something new to the guests?” says Honea.
The attraction’s queue line introduces the story to guests through clever effects. Visitors can see the launch of the coaster through windows. This is also followed by layered media of the raptors chasing the train as it goes past.
Two animatronic raptors Delta and Echo are in their ‘grooming stations’ in the VelociCoaster queue. Here, guests can get close and see the incredible detail. “You are getting all their emotion, the eye-to-eye moments, you can feel the raptors breath and you can also smell their breath. You can tell when they are riling each other up or playing off each other.”
Challenges of construction
The location of the attraction on the edge of the central lagoon meant that throughout construction there was an operating theme park on every side. This, of course, presented logistical challenges. There also is a significant part of the ride over the water and the surrounding area.
“We knew how we wanted to integrate this attraction with the environment and lagoon. We worked very closely with our construction team for a logical cadence” says Honea.
“These logical challenges are what presents the coolest opportunity for us. We knew going in it was going to be hard but it was going to be worth it”.
Like the rest of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic did stop construction but only for a few weeks. It was a time for the team to adjust and an opportunity to change how the team collaborated.
“How do we communicate more effectively? We found new ways to get things done, collaborate and move the project forward,” says Honea.
Another challenge was to improve the guest experience in the VelociCoaster queue line:
“We make these really beautiful queues and attractions. And it’s a great compliment that people want to share their experience with their families and friends,” says Honea. By observing and through guest feedback, the park worked with its operations partners to introduce the resorts first double-sided lockers. These allow guests to be with their phones for longer and leave valuables safely whilst on the ride.
Jurassic World ongoing IP
Universal’s Islands of Adventure has had a Jurassic Park themed land since its opening in 1999. Offerings in the area include The Jurassic Park River Adventure, Pteranodon Flyers, Camp Jurassic and the interactive Raptor Encounter.
With the recent 3 seasons of kids animated series Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous, the feature film Jurassic World: Dominion set to be released in 2022 and rumours of more Jurassic films in the works, the IP is as popular as ever. Perhaps the ride may even do a 360 like Pirates of the Caribbean and also make it into future films?
“It’s so cool watching another generation of kids fall in love with the Jurassic World franchise. The brand is about man vs nature, something going wrong, but we also see this call to action and adventure. What is more a call to action that stepping up to 155ft tall top hat?” says Honea.
The reaction to the VelociCoaster from the public and industry has been very positive with lines reaching over 4 hours in the early opening:
“Everyone wanted something to look forward to over the last year. So, it was really amazing we were able to live up to that for the community. Following a really challenging year, we are so excited that more people are being able to come to visit us and scream it off!”