What the Magic of Universal Studios Wizardry Taught Me

The best use of technology, however, happens right on the streets with the use of your magic wand. For a fee (upwards of $40) new witches and wizards can select an interactive magic wand (the “wand chooses the wizard” is what we are told). From designated locations on the street, one can cast a spell, and with a wave of the wand — poof — lights turn on and off, rain starts to fall, window displays react, and skeletons dance. Magic!
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The details are exquisite, and you are unable to see the rest of the park for within the village. 

Once upon a time in the early 1900s, a time plagued by unhealthy working conditions, child labor, and no modern health care, Thomas Edison wowed audiences when he produced the first narrative film called, The Great Train Robbery. Its immediate popularity led to the construction of permanent movie theaters around the country and the birth of the film industry. For only one nickel, you were privy to this groundbreaking movie, which was only 12 minutes long.


Why did people flock to the Nickelodeon back then? For the same reason, we do today: to escape the stress and pressure of everyday life. The world is a scary place, and technology provided an escape.

Last week my family and I went to Universal Studios, where we experienced The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. My daughter, who just turned nine, read the seven novels in just a few months from cover to cover, so we decided to take the Universal plunge as some do for Disney.

(Warning: Below contains Universal Studios spoilers)

Instead of focusing on just a ride or multiple rides, Universal built two villages in its two parks: Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure, and Diagon Alley in Universal Studios. Within these parks a few rides can be found, but the true adventure was in the “villages,” which are connected using a park-to-park ticket by a train called, The Hogwarts Express. The ride each way is a different experience and possibly my favorite “ride” of all.

A party of eight boarded a train car where a TV screen became the window. Shadows and a story line are projected onto the closed frosted class of the cabin doors, completely immersing us in the experience. These simple acts created an awe-inspiring experience and smiles all around. We were part of the action.

The best use of technology, however, happens right on the streets with the use of your magic wand. For a fee (upwards of $40) new witches and wizards can select an interactive magic wand (the “wand chooses the wizard” is what we are told). From designated locations on the street, one can cast a spell, and with a wave of the wand — poof — lights turn on and off, rain starts to fall, window displays react, and skeletons dance. Magic!

The way this is truly done is hidden cameras see a sensor on the wand, and that triggers a switch. What you see is your child’s face light up with delight. Instead of waiting in line for hours for a one-minute ride, you wander and discover things throughout these areas. It was the best use of technology I have seen in a long time. Mature witches and wizards (a.k.a. adults) are around in the case one may need help performing a spell.

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Hidden cameras see a sensor on the wand, and that triggers a switch. 

The construction of these parks within parks is also brilliant. Not only are the details exquisite, but you are unable to see the rest of the park for anywhere within the village. From of the rest of the park, you also can’t see any part of these villages either, again creating mystery and magic. This isolation creates a world where one can truly escape from life and all its troubles — just like that first time one fell off a chair watching The Great Train Robbery.

So-called 4D was still the go-to technology at the park in 2015 — the fourth dimension being heat from fire-breathing dragons and wetness from water spectacles. These “show-coasters” combined moving tracks (think roller-coaster), 3D video (with glasses), and multiple screens throughout the adventure to truly trick your mind. On the best rides, you did not know when you were moving on a real track versus falling from the video only.

While we may need more today to move our mind and souls, I will tell you first hand, it is still possible. We, as integrators, can take this desire for immersion to the living room with larger screen sizes (the biggest sellers these days!), better resolution, and great audio. We can make sure that when we demonstrate these technologies, that we are immersing our clients into the demo. Turn off other TVs, turn down the audio in the showroom, and let them feel the thrill of the movie clip.

The Universal Studio’s adventure may cost you quite a few nickels for the life-escaping effect, but the experience will last a lifetime. It was technology more than a 100 years ago, and it was technology one week ago that created the illusion. It was great to be reacquainted and reminded about why we are here and what we have the ability to create in our grand tech lives.

What a cool job we have.

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