Feel the flow, here we go,
through the Universe of Energy.
Feel it grow, see it glow,
it’s the Universe of Energy.
Universe of Energy was once the showcase of EPCOT Center, boasting the largest computer generated film of its time. Crowds lined up to get a seat to this marvel. Today it’s a lighthearted attraction with Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Nye the Science Guy. Phrases like “boring,” “extremely long” and “best place to nap” are often thrown around to describe it. The renamed Ellen’s Energy Adventure is now the place is you want to get out of the Florida sun and take a 40 minute break. So what happened to this ride? Let’s take a look back to the history of the Universe of Energy.
The original design was influenced by the 1964 World’s Fair which had an exhibit which featured traveling theater cars. In 1978, Imagineers debuted the very first plans for the Energy Pavilion. The attraction kept most of it design from 1978 but today’s concept is very different from what was original imagined. WED Enterprises wanted to make a “Sun Catcher” the showpiece of the Pavilion. This structure would have used the energy from the photovoltaic cells on the roof to demonstrate the force of the solar power. The original ride idea was not to have the long moving theater cars like the current incarnation but rather a series of short train rides and walk through areas.
The location of the pavilion has always remained the same though. WED studied the path of the Orlando sun for over year before deciding on the building’s location. In order to harness the full potential of solar energy, the pavilion needed to face south at a 30 degrees tilt. This was to ensure that the 2156 panels with 80,000 photovoltaic solar cells would capture enough energy to power the ride vehicles through the primeval diorama. Each cell could capture about 70 kilowatts of power. This energy in turn had to be converted to AC power which would recharge the batteries for the theater cars in the primeval diorama. The vehicles carried 8 lead batteries on-board and power was transferred via an electromagnetic field.
Besides being functional, the pavilion needed to look aesthetically pleasing as well, not to mention convey the concept of energy. The Imagineers decided on a square building with a sloping roof that would showcase the photovoltaic roof. The colors of red, orange and yellow would go to signify the kinetic energy of the earth. The Energy Pavilion was one of the biggest buildings on EPCOT property, measuring at 400 feet across its widest part and 290 feet from the front to back. Under the 60 foot roof, there were approximately 105,000 square feet of attractions space. The outside was landscaped with various plants and dinosaurs topiaries giving a nod to the primeval world that awaited inside.
The Energy Pavilion featured a VIP lounge to the right of the entrance. The lounge had an upstairs area where guest could view the primeval diorama.
Eventually WDI narrowed down the concept to include a ride through a primeval forest and feature film. Since the pavilion was sponsored by Exxon, the focus shifted from the solar energy concept to a more fossil fuel energy driven attraction. Theater cars would travel through whole building from theater to diorama and back to the series of theaters again.
The final concept had the attraction divided into several parts: The Pre-Show, Theater I, Primeval World, Theater II and the return to Theater I.
Czech filmmaker Emile Radok designed what was called a “kinetic mosaic.” Narrated by Vic Perrin, the film was presented on 14 by 90 foot screen with 100 black and white turning prisms. Images were synchronized on the screen through a computer and 5 different projectors to give the film to give a 3D effect. The film touched upon the fact that energy is never created or destroyed but has existed through many different forms of energy such as water, fire, coal and wind. The show concluded with the song “Energy (You Make the World Go ‘Round)”
Guests then moved into one of the six moving theater cars which could hold 97 passengers. This “traveling theater” would be remain the ride vehicle for which the guests would be transformed into the universe of energy. The cars sat on a turntable-like device and were capable of moving around 180 degree (courtesy of a bed of air). Here another film was viewed on a 157 by 32 foot screen, making this the world’s largest multi-plane and animated projected film at that time. The 4 minute animated presentation (narrated by Peter Thomas) introduced guests to the origins of coal, oil and fossil fuels. The audience would learn that all of the energy of today was the result of the plant and sea life created and then decomposing over the millennia. The film would slowly fade from right to left. The curtains would slowly rise, a wall would lower into the floor and each vehicle would break apart to form a train. Guests were then moved into the next phase of the attraction the Primeval World.
At the conclusion of the first film, guest were transported back 300 million years. Fog filled the room and guests were greeted with the smell of sulfur in the air as the proceeded into this prehistoric world. In this 7 minute diorama, guests are moved through the Carboniferous, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods. The first visual of this section was the herd of brontosauruses grazing. Off to the side, giant millepedes and an edaphosaurus lurked in the forest.
The most famous scene of the whole ride was the allosaurus and stegosaurus fight up on a cliff. Guests moved past the two battling dinosaurs as they perched precariously on a shaking rock. The terrain became rockier and the sounds of volcanoes could be heard. A family of ornithomimus watched helplessly as one of their own struggled in the boiling pit of lava.
The “scariest” dinosaur of the ride was the elasmosaurus, which lunged out at guests as the vehicle passed by. A group of pteranodons perched nearby as well. The serene entrance of the primeval world has been replaced by the chaos of the final scene of the diorama.
Theater II (AKA EPCOT Energy Information Center):
Once guests left the primeval world, they moved into Theater II. The cars reformed back into their original theater design and another film was screened. The three 210 foot screens wrapped around 220 degrees of the theater. This film focused on the present-day energy resources and how current demands were being met. Modern wind turbines, fusion power and Universe of Energy’s own solar panels were offered as a solution as future energy solutions. The final image of a rocket taking off concluded the film. The screens would lift into the ceiling and the theater cars moved back into the original theater.
(Return to) Theater I:
The vehicles made one more stop, this time back into their original location. The curtains lining the walls would be raised to reveal a wall of mirrors. The mirrors would reflect the laser generated images and gave the theater the effect of 3D imagery. Now the focus was on a main screen and the rest of the theater filled with mirrors. A two minute laser show was presented. The show concluded with the song “Universe of Energy.”
Guest were directed into Communicore East and filed into Exxon’s Energy Exchange which showcased the latest products with a look into the future. For awhile, guest were also receiving a comic book that featured Mickey Mouse and Goofy exploring the Universe of Energy. The Energy Exchange featured interactive exhibits that had separate displays for wind and solar power, nuclear energy, oil and gas exploration, oil and gas and synthetics. Many of the exhibits were hands-on and interactive including 28 energy access touchscreens.
The ride in the original form continued until January 1996 when it was re-imagined as Ellen’s Energy Adventure. It featured Ellen Degeneres and Bill Nye the Science Guy. Today most of the original special effects are all inoperable or removed due to the refurbishment. The pre and post shows were re-shot and rolled into a storyline featuring the TV show, Jeopardy. Even the most popular dinosaur scenes received a makeover. Gone were the muted colors and bubbling pit of dino-eating lava, instead that has been replaced by prehistoric grass, Ellen fending off the elasmosaurus and the reptiles received a very ’90s paint job.
– Grand opening: October 1, 1982 (Opened with EPCOT Center)
– Grand re-opening: September 15, 1996 (Re-branded as Ellen’s Energy Adventure)
– Designer: WED Enterprises (Universe of Energy)
– Show Duration (Ellen’s Energy Adventure): 45 minutes (new shows every 17 minutes)
– Preshow length: 8 minutes
– Seating capacity: 1100+, Six 97-passenger vehicles per show, two concurrent shows
– Number of audio-animatronics: 36
– Former Sponsor: Exxon (Universe of Energy) / ExxonMobil (Ellen’s Energy Adventure)
– Ride system: Traveling Theatre
– Track: 1/8-inch embedded guide-wire
Concept Art Gallery: