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Cleverest uses of illusions within theme parks?

Matt N

TS Member
Favourite Ride
Mako (SeaWorld Orlando)
Hi guys. When designing attractions, particularly dark rides, showmanship and theatrical design skills are a big part of the design process. Designing a dark ride is almost like designing a show; you want your guests to be constantly wowed and immersed in a unique adventure. One mechanism that is often used to do that is illusionism, or putting illusions into rides. It's often a really cool technique in my opinion; there's nothing quite like riding a new ride for the first time and coming across an illusion that makes you think "how the hell did they do that?" and makes you question your own perception of what was really happening. So my question to you today is; what are some of the cleverest uses of illusions within theme parks, in your opinion? What illusions have blown your mind and made you think "how the hell did they do that"?

I'll get the ball rolling with my answers.

I can think of a fair few illusions that have impressed me:
  • Spinning Room (Various Madhouses) - I know the Spinning Room illusion used by Madhouses is very common and quite simple by today's standards, but I must say that it always rather impresses me! Even though you never actually go upside down at all, Madhouse rides very cleverly trick you into thinking you are, and it's actually a very convincing illusion, in my view; it still gets plenty of first time riders going, and I must admit that I was pretty stunned when I first discovered that Hex at Alton Towers (my first ever Madhouse) didn't actually go upside down!
  • Simulated Freefall (Various Simulators) - This effect is now used on various simulator rides across the globe, but I must admit that the freefall effect on The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man at Islands of Adventure properly impressed me the first time I rode it! When I first rode Spider-Man, I was genuinely convinced that the freefall on the ride was a genuine drop, and even now, I must admit that I'm still not sure quite how it's done! I think the way that Oceaneering were able to simulate a convincing gravity-driven freefall within the car in unison with the rider experiencing a huge freefall on the ride film is absolutely spell-binding, and still one of the most clever illusions out there, in my opinion!
  • Simulated Inversion (Flight of Passage & Flight of the Sky Lion) - Flight of Passage at Disney's Animal Kingdom and Flight of the Sky Lion at Legoland Windsor may be two very different rides, but one similarity they share is a very cool section where the ride simulates a barrel roll-type inversion. This is stunningly executed, and incredibly convincing, in my opinion; even though you never once go upside down, it looks like you're going upside down and it feels like you're going upside down! It's so clever, in my opinion!
But what are some of your favourite uses of illusions within theme parks?
The boulder scene on Indiana Jones Adventure (my personal favourite ride to date!) It genuinely feels as if the Jeep stops then reverses as the boulder approaches, however the sensation is manufactured by the walls on either side moving forwards instead (as the EMV's are unable to move backwards on the ride system). A truly fantastic effect and one I never tire of (or fail to be fooled by)!

As an aside, the EMV's on that ride in general are incredible things. They only travel at a max speed of 14mph through the circuit yet the motion achieved makes it feel like triple that at points.
I have absolutely no idea how they do it, but I've always been really impressed with Alton Tower's invisible giga coaster. It's probably my favourite ride there.
Loads of specific examples, and Disney are clearly the masters, but I love how forced perspective can trick your mind. Even when you know its being done you can't tell your brain the truth.
All Merlin parks.

Your sold the dream they are second to Disney, when I fact they are second to Brighton Pier.

And the best part....they somehow make you think your getting value for money with the BOGOF tickets available
This post if going to contain a few spoilers, as I'm going to name my illusions and then say how I think they're done.

Giving a slightly more serious answer than my last post, I do think it's clever how Spider Man and Transformers keep the cars out of each other's sightlines. And on Transformers you've got the elevator that takes the cars between the levels. If it I didn't know it was there, I wouldn't notice it. They're not exactly illusions, but I do get a sense of 'how did they do that?'. To get 2000 people an hour through a ride in relatively small vehicles without you ever really seeing the other cars takes a lot of working out. One of the 'game changers' was making the sides of the cars higher than on a standard dark ride, so you're only ever really looking forward.

With Test Track it looks really clever how the cars are so close together without crashing. I'm guess it's just done using block sections like on most other tracked rides. But the cars do go a lot faster than on a normal dark ride, and it's not obvious where the block sections are like on a standard roller coaster. Just watching it I get that sense of wonder. Because the ride's got a kind of false track with the main track hidden under it, the proximity sensors are also hidden.

On Stampida the transition from racing to duelling is really clever. It's really obvious how it works from an aerial photo, but when I rode it I got that feeling of 'how did that happen'.

The bit on Winjas where the track splits as a car's moving along it. I think it's done partly using an anti roll back, but again, I had to Google it to find out how it worked.