1991 saw Universal Studios Hollywood undergo its most significant expansion at the time, reconfiguring the famed backlot and finally allowing guests to come down the hill and experience new attractions. For that purpose, a giant set of escalators called the Starway was built on the hillside and lead to an area where attractions, a museum, a shop, and a food court were constructed. The attractions were: a clone of the ET Experience from Universal Florida, a “how is it done?” Special Effects Stage, new loading station for the famous Studio Tour, and what concern us: Backdraft.
A look at the Starway from the Lower Lot.
Opening in 1992 and based on the hit film that premiered the previous year, Backdraft was housed in a custom fireproof soundstage that was composed of three rooms: one video room, where the director of the movie, Ron Howard, talks to us about the challenges of making the film. The next one elaborates on the theme, along with the main actors mentioning their experience with the demanding shoot. That segment ends with a small fire in front of us going wild and blowing up toward the ceiling.
Backdraft entrance sign at Universal Studios Hollywood.
We then enter a chemical warehouse, similar to the one in the climax of the movie. The premise is this: “There is a fire in a center office. It burned everything in the room until it ran out of oxygen. Oh, it may look quiet now, but that is its deception… for hiding inside unburned natural gases. Waiting… for a breath of fresh air.” As the announcer says the last sentence, we see the windows to the office glowing red, and then the doors blow away, releasing a huge fireball toward the ceiling. It starts a catastrophic series of events, where all kinds of spark, mechanical and water effects are used to accentuate the out of control inferno. The guests themselves stand on a small platform against the wall and to keep them at a reasonable temperature, fresh air blown toward the platform. The platform itself drops during the final blast. For safety, the whole show is monitored by a ride operator who sits in a booth overlooking the stage, and he can stop the show at any moment.
The Studio Tour provided us with those photos of the main show of Backdraft at Universal Studios Hollywood.
The show is impressive, with the most significant number of fire nozzles, flamethrowers and hidden blasts ever used on an attraction. Fire can sprout out of an ordinary steel staircase, barrels and other everyday objects. It was also the first time “Brain Fire” was used on an attraction. Brain Fire is a special kind of fire effect invented by Technifex. Technifex is based out of Valencia, California and since 1984, has been one of the top producers of fire effects for casinos, museums and all kinds of attractions. Brain Fire is created by pumping natural gas on a stone or metal ceiling and then setting it on fire. The result is incredible, burning at 3200F near the ceiling and you still feel the heat from your point of view. This attraction closed down in April 2010 and replaced by Transformers: The Ride.
A larger version of the show still operates since 2001 at Universal Studios Japan. The second pre-show room is different and features a fire truck, smoke, and visual effects. It also concludes with a fireball. The attraction facade here is a San Francisco fire station.
The outdoor facade and entrance of Backdraft at Universal Studios Japan.
A look at the outdoor waiting line of Backdraft at Universal Studios Japan.
The second preshow at Universal Studios Japan.
Backdraft at Universal Studios Japan main room.