Last year, I spoke with the folks at Hershey’s Chocolate World about their new attraction, Hershey’s Great Chocolate Factory Mystery in 4D. On a recent trip to Pennsylvania, I got a chance to stop by and got a behind-the-scenes tour!
In addition to the shows and tours, they also have a fairly large food court that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. I got a chance to check out their bakery where they make treats that are made with Hershey products, naturally. The idea is to get customers to not only buy Hershey candies, but to use them in their kitchens at home. Most of the recipes used in the bakery at Hershey’s Chocolate World can be recreated are available at www.hersheys.com/recipes/
I was told their signature treat was this chocolate chip cookie with a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup in the middle and just a touch of white icing drizzled on the top. As promised, it was the best chocolate chip cookie I have ever had in my life. Seriously, if there is one treat you need to try when you are in Hershey, Pennsylvania, it is this cookie. You can thank me later.
I was also taken on a brief tour backstage at the Hershey’s Great American Chocolate Tour ride. It’s basically an omni-mover style ride system that transports roughly 2,400 guests an hour through a 10-minute journey on how chocolate is made.
Underneath the ride system, it looks very much like a standard built Arrow roller coaster, with a wheel assembly under each individual vehicle. For every three vehicles, there is a drive motor providing the acceleration along the track. Also, to the left hand side under the track there is an orange busbar system providing the power for the vehicles and the audio.
The picture above is the “roasting tunnel” from the Hershey’s Chocolate Tour where your ride vehicles experience what it’s like to be a cocoa bean going through one of the first stages of the chocolate making process.
Electrosonic created these show control cabinets for Hershey’s Great American Chocolate Tour during its last refurbishment.
From these computers, maintenance can monitor video feeds that are on a constant loop in the ride, mostly shots of the actual chocolate factory processes. If necessary, they can alter or change the video feed or even adjust the audio. Something most guests don’t realize is that Hershey’s Chocolate World runs on roughly 10% solar energy. Thanks to photovoltaic panels that line the roof of the bus stop just outside the building, they harness the sun’s energy and use this converter to help power the Hershey’s Great American Chocolate Tour ride.
Without question, the highlight for me was getting a peek behind the curtain at Hershey’s Great Chocolate Factory Mystery in 4D. Even though it debuted last year, this is still the most technologically advanced show of its kind in the world.
In the pre-show waiting area, audience members share bits of information with an attractions host. On the surface, it seems like they are sharing skills and hobbies that could help them “solve the mystery” of what’s going on in the Hershey Chocolate Factory. In reality, the digital puppeteer for the show quietly sits in the corner of the room listening for guest names and information to use later once the audience is seated inside the 4D theater.
Once the information is gathered, the audience watches a brief video starring the Hershey characters that has been pre-recorded by Hollywood voice actors. Meanwhile, the live performer heads off to a secret room just behind the theater to get prepared for the show.
The room is equipped with monitors that provide live video feed of the same audience members that were in the pre-show the performer was just taking notes in. He can not only see audience members (though, they can’t see him), he can hear them as well.
This interactivity level means performers need to have a unique skill set: actor, improviser and digital puppeteer. I interviewed one of these triple threats who has been at Hershey’s Great Chocolate Factory Mystery in 4D from the beginning. He told me they constantly have to stay on their toes playing characters like Reese, Hershey and Kiss. For better or worse, kids are pretty unfiltered and will say just about anything from “I’m gonna eat you!” to questions like “Do you have blood?” Luckily, as the show has evolved, the performers have heard a lot and most of it they are prepared for with what has become “standard” answers.
Before each show, the performer tells the computer who they are and what character they will be playing: Reese, Hershey, or Kiss. While every performer uses the same puppeteering rig, the digital controls can be customized to an individual’s preferences. The computer can also assign certain rig movements as “shortcuts” that allow a certain expression to be made quicker than doing it manually.
The right hand controls the mouth movement. Imagine putting your hand into a traditional foam puppet and you’ve got the basic idea. However, what a foam puppet cannot do is create specific mouth movements like hard consonants and vowels. This digital puppeteering can do those specific mouth movements.
Considering that kids these days are used to seeing movies like “Cars” and “Shrek” with multi-million dollar budgets, it’s important that the movement of these characters be believable. The difference is a Pixar movie can take years to perfect and the live portions of Hershey’s Great Chocolate Factory Mystery is being rendered in real time. There is no time to edit the finished product, what you see on the screen is exactly what the performer is creating using the rig live.
The puppeteer’s left hand grips a joystick that moves the body of the character. It allows them to lean in or bend their torso, left or right. Meanwhile the performer’s left thumb sits in a separate guide wheel that controls eye movement. So let’s say Hershey wants to look and see what’s above him: you would push the left joystick back to bend his “body” back and then pull the thumb wheel up to focus his eyes upwards. I filmed a brief clip of the beginning of the show, just so you could see what the finished result looks like. Click the video below to see Hershey interacting with audience members.
The folks at Hershey Chocolate World actually let me take the puppeteering rig out for a test spin. After getting a very basic training for a few minutes, you do get the hang of talking with your right hand and moving the body with the joystick in your left. However, combining it all together is not an easy task and it can take several weeks of training to get the hang of it before performers start doing live shows on their own.
On the day of my visit, there was a new puppeteer in training who will be playing Kiss for Hershey’s Great Chocolate Factory Mystery. It was her first week and she was working with a performance coach on an identical rig used just a few steps away from the one used for the show.
Considering that the show combines live moments with characters interacting with the audience in addition to pre-taped segments where the audience gets to decide what happens next in the story, no two shows will ever be identical. This means there is a lot of room for repeat viewings and the show has already grown its own small following.
It’s hard to express the importance of this show to the Hershey Company. Prior to Hershey’s Great Chocolate Factory Mystery in 4D premiering, these were static characters that were only used for advertising purposes, as characters in Hersheypark or sold as a plush in gift shops. Now they have been given their own unique voices, personality and quirks thanks to this show.
In addition, this puppeteering rig can be used to have Hershey, Reese and Kiss digitally interact with audiences anywhere in the world as long as they have a camera and a microphone set up in the location they are talking to. It was recently tested at an internal Hershey employee awards ceremony where the characters acted as MC’s for the event in real time.
So next time you visit Hershey’s Chocolate World, located just outside the gates of Hersheypark, you’ll have a better idea of what goes on behind the scenes to make it so unique! For more stories on themed entertainment, make sure to like Theme Park University on Facebook and follow TPUJosh on Twitter!