A few weeks ago, Inside Universal had the great fortune of taking a hard hat tour of The Walking Dead Attraction with Universal Studios Hollywood’s Creative Director, John Murdy. While there is still construction occurring within the attraction, the year-round walkthrough is already looking fantastic. Featuring a unique blend of live actors with sophisticated animatronics, The Walking Dead Attraction will include fan favorite scenes spanning through all six seasons of the show to create a terrifying experience that is sure to please any Walking Dead fan.
This article will discuss come particulars of the attraction along with some slight spoilers regarding the first couple of scenes without the use of images, so you won’t see any visuals that might prematurely give away the attraction before it debuts. Seeing how the attraction has yet to officially open, it’d be a shame to ruin the surprise. Treat this as a special glimpse of what to expect on July 4!
We start our tour outside the doors to Harrison Memorial Hospital – the very same hospital that everyone’s favorite sheriff Rick Grimes finds himself in at the beginning of the television series. The queue for the attraction is set in the employee break room after a dramatic walker outbreak has occurred. Littered with bullet-stained walls, stacked vending machines and chairs stacked against doorways, the first scene focuses namely on the infamous “Don’t Open / Dead Inside” doors that have becoming synonymous with the television show. Behind these doors lie sophisticated sets of animatronic hands that will be activated by sensors to push the doors and grasp at nearby guests. Murdy is quick to point out that this animatronic gag is one of the primary differences between this attraction and a typical maze featured in the park’s yearly Halloween event, Halloween Horror Nights. While the same effect was used in 2012’s iteration of Halloween Horror Nights, it was merely a puppeteer standing behind the door operating the infamous effect. With the permanence of this attraction, Universal is now able to introduce to refine and otherwise rudimentary visual.
This break room will also be the first time we come in contact with a survivor over a radio who promises safety if we follow his advice. The survivors will play a big role in the walkthrough and – just like the show – you’ll be questioning if you should trust your fellow man.
As we step into the actual attraction portion of the walkthrough it’s clear to see how The Walking Dead Attraction really differentiates itself from a standard Halloween Horror Nights maze. The rooms are expansive with a level of realism not typically achieved with a temporary event. Instead of cramped spaces and plywood walls, we now have steel, concrete, and even trees that stretch up twenty feet into the air. Murdy makes it a point to note that the first iterations of the attraction featured as many tiny scenes in as possible – something that the creative team aims to do in most temporary mazes. However, the creative team quickly realized that the construction and development of Universal Boulevard (the park’s new entrance structure) allowed Universal designers to scenes that were expansive and grand.
They also realized that smaller groups were the way to go in terms of operations. Gone are large Congo-lines of guests trying to funnel through a maze, and in its place, a small team of guests fighting for survival. Around twelve guests at a time will experience the attraction in small groups, ensuring an intimate and complete experience for all guests who wish to enter the attraction.
As guests continue to traverse through the attraction, they’ll encounter the “Bicycle Girl” walker that many fans should be familiar with. She is a sad but grotesque walker that has lost the lower half of her body. Dragging herself with her arms, she is one of the first walkers that Rick Grimes comes into contact with in the television series. In the attraction itself, she is a fully animated figure that will be able to sense where guests are in the room and actually look at them and reach out. Murdy tells us he is working closely with series Producer Greg Nicotero to bring the series to life, and in that vein, the mold for the Bicycle Girl figure is the exact same one they used for the show.
As we walk around the corner, we’ll come across the cabin that Daryl Dixon and Beth Greene set on fire in season four. Murdy is especially proud of this scene and points out that there will be an amazing faux fire effect that will use steam and lighting to create the illusion that the cabin is burning down. He mentions there is no actual heat produced from the effect, so the creative team hung space heaters above the guests to create heat (think of the fireball effect used in Transformers: The Ride – 3D). Murdy says the effect should be similar to the effect used in the original finale of Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride before its changeover to the “scarier than ever” theme that saw an extensive remodel of the finale. The scene will also be accompanied by the smell of smoke and a burning walker that will feature actual smoke emanating from his body.
With the initial introductory scenes of the attraction aside, Murdy tells us that the goal is to bring The Walking Dead to life. Halloween Horror Nights fans rejoice – there are no black rooms, reset points, or drastic scene changes without a highly themed transition. He stresses that this is a daytime experience that has a different audience with different expectations. Although scares are a big part of the attraction, the real star is the theming and spectacle. The Walking Dead Attraction needs to stand on-par with the rest of Universal Studios Hollywood’s attraction roster, which means immersive environments that don’t resemble temporary fixtures.
As we walk through the remainder of the attraction, it’s clear to see that this year-round walkthrough will be a step above anything we’ve ever seen at Halloween Horror Nights – as it should be. Guests will be treated to projection effects, strobe lights representing bullet ricochets, multiple scenes that can play out differently from one walkthrough to another, and of course tons of easter eggs for true fans to discover. Murdy even noted that around one third of the maze could be changed depending on what happens in future episodes of the television show in order to keep the attraction fresh and up to date.
The Walking Dead Attraction is set to open to the public on July 4, 2016.