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High-tech nighttime lagoon show coming to Universal Orlando this summer

A gliding, wraith-like figure of a Dementor from the Harry Potter films enters Central Park, and the exteriors of the surrounding buildings immediately are covered in a layer of ice, a sign of their power to drain happiness out of the air around them.

That may sound like a movie, but visitors to Universal Studios will be in the middle of that scene when a new high-tech, nighttime lagoon show comes to the theme park this summer. It will bring pyrotechnics, lasers, digital projections, dancing fountains and moments from its most popular film franchises to end the day at the theme park.

Projectors and sophisticated software can now make it look like a T. rex is running through the New York section of the theme park. More than 120 fountains in a grid formation will dance to a movie score, and images from the Harry Potter, Jurassic World, Fast and Furious and Despicable Me franchises will be projected onto 40-foot wide "water screens."

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Now all we need to know is when.

In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times before Thursday’s announcement, Michael Aiello, senior director of entertainment and creative development at Universal Orlando Resort, said he was happy to finally be able to talk about the show he’s been developing for the past 18 months.

"It’s pretty hard to keep a fountain show secret when you start installing fountains," Aiello quipped.

But in its typical style, Universal will only say the show will begin on select nights "this summer." He wouldn’t clarify mid summer or late summer or next week, when summer officially begins.

"We aren’t communicating a specific date at this time," he said.

What he could talk about, however, are the moments in the 19-minute show that he as an overgrown fanboy is happy to have pulled off. Like when they recreate the scene from E.T. where the kids and the alien ride bicycles across the face of the moon. Or the Dementor swooping into a Harry Potter scene.

"There’s a moment where a Dementor enters the sequence, and during that projection, we are going to freeze the buildings of New York. You will see ice form on all those building facades as the Dementors take their place in the lagoon," Aiello said. "Then of course Harry is going to show up and you get that amazing ‘expecto patronum’ moment and all is well. Then we drop banners of each of the Hogwarts houses onto the facades through our media."

Both Disney and Universal have been making greater use lately of digital projection mapping tools, like the ones utilized in the Hogwarts Castle nighttime show that send ghosts flying across the castle towers or make the turrets of Cinderella’s Castle spin and change colors.

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At Universal Studios, the theme park’s Central Park area is being overhauled to add a three-tiered viewing area allowing 650 people a better view of the show at no additional charge, Aiello said.

The previous Universal lagoon show was a salute to 100 years of cinema and featured classic movie clips and sound bytes with pyrotechnics and fountain effects.

The storyline this time, Aiello said, is on the movie franchises that the guests just visited that day in rides in the park, and they’ll hear Justin Timberlake belting out Can’t Stop the Feeling from the movie Trolls.

"The entire show’s story is a culmination of the experiences the guests have had throughout their day, rather than being montage based," Aiello said. "It’s like a last kiss goodnight."

Aiello was particularly proud to work E.T. into the show "because I wanted something rooted in Universal Orlando history."

The E.T. Adventure ride is one of the park’s original rides when it opened in Orlando in 1990 and was later replicated in other Universal parks in California and Japan. But in 2003, the Hollywood version closed, and Japan followed in 2009. The Orlando version was also slated to be removed as well, but Steven Spielberg, who directed the film and already angered by the removal of other versions, threatened to end cooperation with Universal Studios.

As a result, the Orlando version is still operating and even got a refurbishment in 2017.

Since the park opened on June 7, 1990, the long lagoon in the center of Universal Studios has been a stage for a splashy show. Back then it was a Miami Vice-themed stunt show stuffed with pyrotechnics. It featured 20 minutes of boat chases, gunfights and explosions set to music from the popular television series.

The show was discontinued in 2000, and six years passed before "Universal 360: A Cinesphere Spectacular" opened with nightly fireworks and movie magic from director John Landis, enhanced with water effects and lasers. That show closed in 2011 and was followed by "Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular: 100 Years of Movie Magic," which Aiello also created, and it was narrated by Morgan Freeman. It ended its five-year run on Oct. 10, 2017.

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at swynne@tampabay.com. Follow @SharonKWn.

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