TPU Exclusive: Behind the Scenes at Hershey’s Great Chocolate Factory Mystery

At first glance, Hershey’s new Great Chocolate Factory Mystery 4D is just a small change from their previous Really Big 3D Show that ran for nearly 10 years. In reality, this new 4D experience has been in development for a little over two years. A lot had changed in the industry when it comes to 3D technology since Really Big 3D debuted and they wanted to take the experience to an entirely new level.

3D Movie

Courtesy Hershey’s Chocolate World

What makes the Great Chocolate Factory Mystery stand out is it’s the first interactive 3D show that uses digital puppeteering to create over one hundred different variations. For example, if you have ever seen Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor at the Magic Kingdom, you know it’s a show that is done with several performers, is only a 2D production, and features no action sequences. This show takes the live performer piece and layers in a 3D movie with over 100 variations complete with unique special effects.

For example the opening sequence of the show is a standard 3D movie and it arrives at a plot point that could go in several directions. Next, a live performer who is digitally puppeteering a Hershey’s character, turns to the audience and asks what should happen next in the adventure by giving them several choices. Based on audience feedback, the story moves along accordingly. To create such a complex system, Hershey turned to the best of the best, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.

Creature Shop Logo

Copyright Jim Henson’s Creature Shop

First, Hershey and Henson decided on various plot points that can branch out to form different versions of the story. The folks at Henson created all the digital characters for the new show, including three new ones that had not been seen before: Icebreaker, Jolly Rancher and Twizzler. However, the most challenging creation was the three already existing characters: Hershey, Reese and Kiss, who are the new interactive stars of the show.

For this new interactive 4D extravaganza, a live performer is digitally puppeteering one of those main characters from a control room just outside of guest view. Henson’s Creature Shop created a rig that allows the performers to control one of the primary character’s movements on screen using a two-handed control system.

Henson Digital Studio

Copyright Jim Henson Creature Shop

Assuming the performer is right-handed, the armature uses the right grip to control the character’s mouth movement and mouth shape and also allows the head to move left or right while talking. Think of the right hand as if it were puppeteering an actual cloth puppet, as the exact same set of skills are used. The left grip is sort of like a joystick and allows the performer to move the character around on screen: stage left to stage right, downstage and upstage. In addition, there is a thumbwheel on the left grip that directs where the figure’s eyes are focused. If the performer is a lefty, the entire rig can be reversed to better suit that puppeteer. Another beauty of the system is that performers can pre-program a lot of the most common sets of movements so the show can flow a little smoother.

Digital Puppeteering

Copyright Jim Henson Creature Shop

Hershey knew that it wasn’t going to be easy finding people in Pennsylvania for this unique line of work. So they put out a casting call, looking for anyone who has done professional and/or digital puppeteering and actually found seven performers with experience. Henson’s Creature Shop then flew several members of their team out from California to start a six-week intensive training class with the new crew in Pennsylvania.

However, the show’s main characters are not performed 100% live from the offstage rig. There are several key moments in the show where Hershey, Reese or Kiss will turn to the audience and ask what they think should happen next. One audience member, a family or even the entire theater can be asked how they want things to progress and the story moves along accordingly. The interesting part is the next story arc is a pre-programmed sequence that last two or three minutes. Even though it may feature one of the main interactive characters – it is not being voiced or puppeteered live by a performer.

Great Chocolate Factory Mystery Screen Shot

Courtesy Hershey’s Chocolate World

So let’s say I am a puppeteer that plays Reese. Even though Reese may have a somewhat distinct sounding voice – my version of Reese and another performer’s can be clearly different. To make the show seamless, each performer went through and recorded their own version of each of the main character’s pre-recorded story lines for the canned sections of the show. It’s this type of attention to detail that makes this show stand out from similar ones in the industry.

Nearly every character driven interactive digital show in theme parks features a character on a digital stage that rarely changes, if at all. Hershey’s Great Chocolate Factory Mystery combines the interactive element of shows like Turtle Talk with Crush, with an action packed 4D movie complete with in-theater effects that can differ, depending on the show. For example, depending on if the audience chooses Twizzler, Jolly Rancher or Icebreaker to help out in a particular point in the movie, in theater smell cannons will release a scent of either strawberry, grape or mint accordingly.

Great Chocolate Factory Mystery

Courtesy Hershey’s Chocolate World

As a matter of fact, Hershey took three months to renovate their theater in order to fit the theme of the new 4D experience. In the old version, the space was designed to look like a grand movie house. For the Great Chocolate Factory Mystery,the audience is sits inside a security room in the Hershey’s Chocolate Factory complete with surveillance monitors lining the walls. At one moment in the show, the villain, Victor Von Sour, looks into a security camera to see if the coast is clear. The audience is then given a POV shot of what Victor sees – a live feed of the audience inside the theater! To my knowledge (and Hershey’s at the time of my interview), this is the first time an audience has ever been able to see a live shot of themselves on a big screen in 3D. Pretty cool.

One of the great triumphs of the Hershey’s Great Chocolate Factory Mystery is how they are using the technology beyond the theater. Using the same rig that is backstage, puppeteers can welcome guests waiting in the lobby. In addition, Hershey plans to use this technology in its stores around the world.

Hershey Digital Character

Courtesy Hershey’s Chocolate World

Let’s say the Hershey retail store in New York City has a special event where they are unveiling a brand new type of Hershey bar. With a little extra planning, the store can set up a screen in the middle of the store complete with speakers, microphones and a hidden camera. With the power of the internet, the exact same Hershey character that is being puppeteered in Pennsylvania’s 4D show can be beamed live to the store in Times Square and interact with the crowd from hundreds of miles away.

Hershey’s Great Chocolate Factory Mystery 4D is open daily at Hershey’s Chocolate World, which is adjacent to the famous Hershey Park. Adults 13+ are $6.95 and children under 12 are $5.95.

Hershey Characters

Courtesy Hershey’s Chocolate World

So what do you think of this new show now that you know a little more about it? Do you think that they made a wise investment working with Jim Henson’s Creature Shop or is this new level of interactivity with characters just a passing fad?

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