Universal Studios Hollywood
Special Effects Stages

King Kong takes over the Special Effects Stage
Latest update:
Clips from the new King Kong movie have been inserted into the special effects shows. April 2006

Section 1: The Virtual Studio

Photo by MR, January 2006

A demonstration of camera tricks and compositing techniques, featuring back projection of a monster cat outside a window, split screen combining of a model of a sphinx and a small live-action set, and a greenscreen re-running of the dinner table sequence from The Nutty Professor.

Click on photo to enlarge
Many of the props that appear on the shelves at the far left of the first stage are authentic.
The guns are from Waterworld, Skateboard is from Back to the Future 2, Shrek maquettes are early character studies from the film, early Hulk maquette from Universal film in 1998 that didn't happen, Statue is from The Mummy, DeLoreon a Back to the Future prop which appeared in the old version of Special Effects Stages (see below).
Finally, the gorilla's head is a calling card that creative director John Murdy leaves in every attraction he works on.

Section 2: The Creature Shop

Photo by MR, January 2006

Showcasing special effects make-up and robotic and animatronic creatures with an unforgettable climax featuring the eight-foot tall robotic "Fluffy".

Click on photos to enlarge
Bookshelf - The bust on the top is a life-cast of The Rock from Mummy Returns, the Phantom of the Opera and Frankenstein are on the next shelf down, and the plaster head on the bookshelf just below Frankenstein is a cast of creative director John Murdy from a college play (he played Penthius who gets beheaded in "The Bacchae") and the figure on the bottom right is a wooden monkey, appearing as a cameo courtesy of the creative director..

Busts from left to right, life masks are...
Top Row: Boris Karloff, Tor Johnson, Ice Cube, Alfred Hitchcock, Michael Burnett (make up artist who worked on the show) and WC Fields.
Bottom Row: Bela Lugosi, Roddy McDowell (Planet of the Apes), Clu Gulager (Return of the Living Dead), John Williams (character actor from 40's/50's), David Bowie (The Hunger) and Danny DeVito.
The green head on the make-up table shelf is a sculpture by Rick Baker, legendary make-up artist who designed the make-ups in The Grinch.
Frighteningly life- (or death-) like model of Lon Chaney as The Phantom of the Opera.
Model of Boris Karloff as The Monster, from Frankenstein.
Archway of skulls which takes centre stage.
Creative Director John Murdy with the cast of movie monsters.

Section 3: Sound Stage

Photo by MR, January 2006

Sound stage
Creating sound effects for Shrek at the Special Effects Stage
Photo © Universal Studios Hollywood

What is Foley?
Named after Jack Foley, a foley artist is responsible for all of the sounds that happen in the film which aren’t spoken. This can include footsteps, rattling teacups etc. Although very often these sounds are present whilst the movie is being shot, the sounds picked up may not be appropriate (for example, an actor walking on a “rocky island” set mayactually be walking on a polystyrene block in a studio). The sounds of footsteps on rock are added by the foley artist. Also, ambient noise in a studio may make any recorded sound unusable.

What is ADR?
Automated Dialogue Replacement. This process involves the actor re-voicing dialogue recorded on set. It was previously known as "looping" because every take was on one "loop" of film, which was replayed and re-recorded over and over until the actor got a perfect delivery of the line, and a perfect match to the timing of the original film. Very often the dialogue recorded live (known as "wild" sound) is not able to be used in the final movie, either because of external influences like an aircraft flying overhead or a dog barking at the wrong time, or because of noise from machinery used on set (e.g. wind machines or other special effects equipment). ADR is a time-consuming process of repeating the line over and over again to get an exact match with the visual performance.
Sometimes different actors are brought in to do ADR work, either due to the unavailability of the big star, or because the star isn't able to do the performance. The singing voice of some stars is replaced in musicals, for example.

Walla What?
Background vocals are often called walla because when the background actor's work is mixed into the film it sounds like "walla, walla, walla" etc. But when recording the actors need to actually make real conversation so the sound mixers have actual dialogue in case they need to raise the level of it in the final soundtrack. The best ADR actors are trained in improvisation because often for walla there is no script. You might have a 1 - 5 minute scene which needs ambient background conversation. It could be a hospital or a police precinct etc. So you need to be able to "talk" your way through any situation.

There's been a demonstration of the behind the scenes secrets of movie-making from the very early days of the studio tour.
1977? - Six Million Dollar Man Bionic Testing Center World of Cinemagic logo, 1991
1980? - World of Cinemagic
1983 - Landmark Entertainment started work on the 2010 Special Effects Stage
1983 - Special Effects Stage updated to include effects used in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.
1984? - 2010 Special Effects Stage opened
Harry & The Hendersons Sound Effects Show poster (from USH Guide, 1991)1991 - World of Cinemagic - Stages 30 and 32 are part of the Lower Lot expansion, where the stages become a stand-alone attraction rather than being part of the tram tour. One of the stages features The Magic of Hitchcock, one is The Back to the Future Special Effects stage housing props from Back to the Future II, and the other features the Harry and the Hendersons Sound Effects Show
July 26 2001 - Back to the Future Special Effects Stage closes
January 2002 - Special Effects Stages opens


Special Effects bluescreen demonstration in 1981 (photo courtesy Dean Mardon)

2010 Effects Stage, 1988
The 2010 Special Effects stage in 1988 (photo courtesy Cathie O'Dea, London UK)

Films featured in the presentations over the years:
Harry & The Hendersons
The Nutty Professor
The Scorpion King
The Mummy
Back to the Future

See also The Six Million Dollar Man & Bionic Woman Testing Center and the World of Cinemagic.

New 'Special Effects Stages' at Universal Studios - 7 January 2002

Universal Studios Hollywood exposes the entertainment industry’s greatest movie making illusions in the “Special Effects Stages,” a new attraction showcasing the sleight-of-sight effects featured in such Universal blockbusters as “Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” “The Mummy Returns,” “Gladiator,” “Jurassic Park” and the highly anticipated feature, “The Scorpion King,” starring The Rock, in March 2002.

Designed to introduce the entire family to the world of Hollywood magic, “Special Effects Stages” is a half-hour innovative and interactive attraction configured into three separate stages focusing on behind-the-scenes filmmaking and cutting edge technology used over the course of Universal Pictures’ 80-year history.

Within each of the uniquely themed stages, guests will also enjoy a series of hands-on demonstrations that literally transports volunteering audience members from passive observer to actor seamlessly starring in a variety of Universal’s award-winning films profiled on all three stages. The attraction will also showcase the secrets behind some of Hollywood’s greatest effects techniques: make-up, computer animation, mechanical monsters, as well as practical and sound effects production.

Located in Stage 1, guests will be introduced to a “virtual studio” showcasing a series of green screen compositing techniques and CGI, Computer Generated Imagery, used to bring the “Jurassic Park” dinosaurs back from extinction, to resurrect “The Mummy Returns” four thousand-year-old mummy, and recreate the glory of Ancient Rome for “Gladiator.” Highlights will also include the use of such practical effects as miniatures and rock boulders composed of light weight foam.

Stage 2 will showcase Universal’s historical “creature factory” introducing guests to the madness behind the creation of Hollywood’s most notable cinematic monsters, from comical—“Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” and “The Nutty Professor”—to frightening—"The Mummy" and “Chucky”—to contemporary—“Jurassic Park”—to classic—“Frankenstein” and “The Phantom of the Opera.”

Guests will be treated to rare, behind-the-scenes footage of the effects pioneered by makeup artist Jack Pierce used in “Frankenstein,” Dracula” and “The Mummy,” and a special behind-the-scenes video montage chronicling Rick Baker’s award-winning makeup techniques used to transform Jim Carrey into the Grinch. Highlights will also include a look at innovative make-up special effects employed to create the cast of Whos from the town of Whoville.

The attraction concludes in Stage 3 featuring the art of Foley sound effects production, a technique pioneered by Universal’s legendary sound man, Jack Donovan Foley in the 1920s. Sound effects from three films—“U-571,” “Shrek” and the upcoming “Scorpion King” starring The Rock—will take center stage as guests participate and learn about this classic technique through a series of humorous demonstrations and participate in recreating their own sound effects tracks.

See Stage 32 page for a list of the productions filmed on this stage before it was used for the Special Effects Demonstration.

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