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The Insider

Mike West of Universal Creative

Mike West started his career in radio.

JOHN VITTI/GLOBE STAFF

Mike West started his career in radio.

ORLANDO — Mike West has done it all in his 30-plus years in the theme park business, from live-action stunt shows to roller coasters to multimillion-dollar motion-simulator rides. As executive producer of Universal Creative, he was the lead person on such rides as “The Simpsons,” “Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem,” and “Transformers: The Ride — 3-D,” which opened here last summer at Universal Studios Florida. West, who started in radio and whose words still come out voice-over ready, sat in an empty office on a Universal back lot and talked about Megatron and Homer Simpson’s underpants.

Q. The “Transformers” ride has opened in Universal parks in Singapore and Hollywood. How different is it in Orlando?

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A. We adjusted some of the space in the preshow because of the facility, but the show itself and all the media and the animatronics are exactly the same as Singapore and Universal Studios Hollywood, and it’s been a huge success in those parks. With “Transformers,” we worked very closely with [movie director] Michael Bay in the development of the story. It’s got a brand-new story, same great classic characters. We have this intergalactic battle between the Decepticons and the Autobots. So you come face to face with 25-foot Optimus Prime and battle alongside with Bumblebee and all the other Autobots and you come up agains Megatron and his 35-foot size. . . . I know how we did all of it, but I forget how we did it as I go through it because I get so caught up in it. And that’s the fun. You want to keep the technology in the background, you don’t want the guests thinking about the 3-D system or sets or special effects.

Q. For the guest who has been here before, which ride is most similar to “Transformers”?

A. It’s closest in ride experience to “Spider-Man,” in the kind of ride and the ride system. It’s similar in the vehicles and the ride system, but the scale of this is far beyond anything that we’ve done before simply because of the scale of the characters that we’re dealing with. These are larger than life-size robots in “Transformers,” so we had to create that environment.

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Q. It must be risky to marry a movie or TV show with a ride, because if the movie bombs at the box office, for example, it seems like your plans would be sunk.

A. It’s a fine line because you want to make sure that film or TV show is a success. Usually with an attraction like this, you need a two-year lead time, from the time you start developing it and when we get it open. You want to make sure that anything you put into the park is a hit. In the case of “Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem,” it was a natural for us, for a number of reasons: No. 1 because it became one of the top 10 CG animated films. It also happened to be the very first Universal full-length CG film that we did. Plus, the characters in the story.

‘I know how we did all of it, but I forget how we did it as I go through it because I get so caught up in it.’

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Q. You are executive producer of Universal Creative. What does that entail?

A. My role as executive producer is to oversee the team — artists, writers, video editors, ride control, system developers — on the creative side of things as we’re going through the concept and design, and then the production and installation of the attraction. It’s so much fun to do, you don’t think of it as a job.

Q. It is easier to get guests to laugh or scream?

A. I think we try to do a little of both. “The Simpsons” ride was one of my projects and that’s one I think we really touched on all the emotions, because obviously it’s a very funny piece and, again, we worked closely with the folks at Gracie Films and Jim Brooks and Matt Groening to produce a very authentic experience, so it’s very funny. You get guests who are afraid of roller coasters and they get on that and they realize that part of the simulation is a roller coaster and they’re like, “Oh my gosh!” So they’re screaming heavily. But what we also try to do is build in a lot of things into an attraction that makes it repeatable. I probably rode [“The Simpsons”] a hundred-plus times before I realized there is a pair of Homer’s underwear flying on one of the flagpoles at the top of the roller coaster. So there’s a lot of those little things.

Interview was edited and condensed. John Vitti can be reached at john.vitti@globe
.com
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