With Minions nearly stealing the show in 2010’s Despicable Me, it was no surprise that Universal Studios wanted to feature the little yellow troublemakers in a new theme park ride for Universal Orlando’s 2012 “Year to Be Here.” Based on the breakout animated film by Universal and Illumination Entertainment, Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem 3D is designed as a motion simulator ride, using a high-def 3D projector system and featuring characters from the movie.
Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem also marked the first of many collaborations between Universal Creative, the design division of Universal Parks and Resorts, and The Third Floor. Universal Creative approached TTF to previs the 4-minute video that would be projected on the ride’s massive screen, simulating the experience. Previs Supervisor Albert Cheng (The Martian, Smurfs, Iron Man 2) helmed the TTF team.
The playful attraction “minionizes” the audience and takes them on a wild adventure through Gru’s factory, where Minions are hard at work. Two clumsy Minions tumble through the assembly line, and the audience follows as part of the story.
TTF used the concept art provided by Illumination and Universal to build the 3D environments and other virtual assets. Working from the client’s story beats and inspiration from the film, TTF artists blocked and animated the shots, in an iterative three-way review process with Illumination and Universal Orlando.
Capturing the frenzied fun and Minion shenanigans was a must for TTF animators. “The Minions are one of the most appealing character designs in recent memory,” said Albert. “They’re silly. It’s fun to work with.”
But there is such a thing as too much fun. “You have four minutes,” Albert said, “and there’s so much you have to cram in.” Timing is crucial. The ride feels like a continuous shot, transitioning from set-piece to set-piece. Part of the team’s task was hiding the ride’s “cuts” between locations, and giving each sequence a unique twist while fitting into the whole experience.
But perhaps the greatest challenge came in technical planning. “The ride has a lot of seating positions,” Albert explained, “We find the sweet spot, the ideal spot with least amount of distortion and use that as a base line to block the action.” From the beginning, The Third Floor team had to conform the stereo previs to the shape and size of Universal’s custom screen. Albert noted, “we perceive stereo very differently on a 3D TV than on a ride. That makes it difficult to review work. We would watch the previs on the biggest screen we had. We even projected it at a movie theater.”
“It was our first major ride,” said Albert. It kicked off TTF’s relationship with Universal Creative, which has spanned multiple projects.
For Albert, ultimately, “just being able to be a part of the ride’s development was the most rewarding.”