Now more than ever, no trip to Hershey, PA is complete without a stop at the Hershey Chocolate World Attraction for a ride on The Great American Chocolate Tour. This 10-minute ride through a simulated Hershey's chocolate factory begins in a tropical rainforest where the cocoa beans grow. Then, visitors follow the progress of the beans from harvest until they are made into milk chocolate, along the way encountering singing cows, whizzing machinery, mouth-watering smells, thousands of Kisses, and a spectacular finale as the chocolate makes its way across America. If you have been to Hershey before, this may not sound like the ride you remember; it's not. This is the newly opened, re-imagined Great American Chocolate Tour, designed by Gary Goddard and his team at Gary Goddard Entertainment.

The Great American Chocolate Tour is essentially a dark ride that has been part of the Hershey experience for over three decades. However, in that time, it never really stayed current. It was obvious to Hershey that a complete retooling would be necessary to offer the experience they wanted their guests to have, according to Don Papson, recently retired vice president of the Hershey Experience. “While the tour — opened in 1973 — has been changed a couple of times with little modifications for updates, it was never really repositioned in such a way that it stayed current with technology. In 2006, we needed to create an atmosphere in this tour that was engaging, immersive, experiential, and reached out in ways that allowed people to smell, breathe, touch, and experience Hershey's in an enveloping way. The idea was to contemporize it, to create this connection to the brand while maintaining the main goal of the tour, which is to teach people about making chocolate. That was Gary's goal, and he certainly met it.”

Goddard once again brought in Mark Thomas of On Track Themes as producer for the project. (Mark and Gary also worked together on the recently opened Georgia Aquarium covered in the May 2006 issue of Live Design). Thomas points out that, though the ride just opened, the seeds of its success took root years ago. “Gary and I started with Don three years ago in a conference room, saying, ‘Okay, this ride needs a face lift; it needs to be brought forward in time in terms of its quality; it needs to be updated.’ From the beginning, we realized that we needed to make a major update to this attraction, but have it closed as little time as possible. Normally, you would need about six months onsite; we did it in 10 weeks. We approached the design and the procurement of all the equipment early on differently because we knew that we were going to work in a modular way.” This unconventional schedule led Thomas to bring in Adirondack Studios for the scenic elements, “They were selected because they understood the complexity of trying to install in 10-weeks and trying to manufacture ahead.”

Goddard re-imagined the ride from beginning to end, realizing that one of the central points to teach the audience was the value of the milk. “We changed the opening of the ride. We added three cows, who are more Muppet-style than Disney animatronic style; that addition was about answering, ‘What message does Hershey want to get across to the audience?’ They would like to get across that Hershey bars are more nutritious because they use milk chocolate. I said, ‘It's all about the milk,' and they said ‘yes,’ so who better to talk about the milk than the cows themselves? We came up with three singing cows, somewhere between the Andrew Sisters and Destiny's Child. They open the thing up, putting people in a good mood, and then go into the factory, and you see how the chocolate gets made.”

The sound throughout the ride was one of the major changes and most important elements that affected the success of this reinvention for the tour ride. Thomas explains, “I will say that, from an overall production point of view, I think that the greatest change that we made was that we greatly enhanced the sound system of the ride. Gary and his team created superb music for the ride, and it was very cleverly laid in so that it seamlessly evolved from room to room. Basically, the entire ride runs to the same backbeat. So as you go from room to room, the beat never changes, but the melodies change, and that is very cleverly done. I think that really makes an enormous change, because on the old ride, you could hear the squeaking of the wheels of the ride conveyance.”

Goddard and Thomas turned to Electrosonic Design Consulting Group to provide the entire AV system and equipment from design through installation. Bryan Hinckley, business manager for Electrosonic lays out how they kept the backbeat consistent: “They added background music throughout the whole facility, so we designed an audio system that could work and play throughout. There were multiple zones for different scenes, but because there is no acoustical separation between these various zones, we worked with the audio creators to create a system that could all playback in sync and have a common backbeat throughout the whole facility.”

Hinckley pointed out that Electrosonic also helped get the entire ride to move to centralized control. “Prior to this upgrade, a maintenance person would have to walk around the whole track turning different systems on and off,” he explains. “Now, it's all run from a single common control room right in the center. We are using Medialon Manager show control system running the whole facility, controlling the audio playback, the Watchout system, and the lighting; it's turning on and off a lot of physical effects like conveyor belts, as well as the flat panel displays and projectors throughout the ride. The great thing with that show control system is that we set it up so that we have remote access for any maintenance problems. It's a really powerful system, and it brings the Hershey Factory tour up to a state-of-the-art system.”

One element that Goddard felt was essential to add to the ride was an actual finale. “For some reason, in the original tour, you never saw the candy bars wrapped, finished, done. I always thought that was a big missed element. Now in the packaging finale, you see all the products, thousands and thousands of Kisses and chocolate bars. It is to a chocolate factory what the treasure scene in Pirates of the Caribbean is to pirates. The idea is that, when kids and adults go through, they are right there; we even use chocolate scents in the air also so you really smell all this chocolate.”

Papson agrees wholeheartedly on the success of this addition. “You have gone through the process, and now you hit that packaging scene where the music, the sounds of the factory, the actual product — a cacophony of all those things come together perfectly.”

Goddard was not satisfied with adding just one finale, so after the factory packaging finale, he has one final surprise. “When you think it is all over, you come into this next chamber that uses projections that Jerome Sirlin designed with us. We brought him in to bring a fresh look, a fresh approach to things, and he really came through for us.” Projection designer Sirlin, best known for his work in opera and theatre, helped bring to life the projected journey of the chocolate throughout the United States. Sirlin enjoyed the change of venue. “This style work is very different. There are no lights, no actors onstage; it is really more pure design. You really can just focus on the images, on the projection. It was a lot of fun.”

Sirlin goes on to explain the approach to the grand finale. “We talked about the potential to wrap this projection on the walls as the audience goes through this portion of the ride. One of the main considerations was picking out the sight angles, trying to make sure that the important elements would be seen as the ride went along and considering the arrangement of these long strips of movies. There is one part of the curved screen that you see as you enter, which is the name of the city, and then things are happening around that, like the Reese's pieces blowing out of a saxophone and the Hershey Kisses raining across the city. It was all about elements, not trying to create a cityscape but taking some of the best elements and heightening the experience. The idea was to get the candy moving in an inventive way.”

Goddard and Sirlin identified six cities or regions to focus on: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Memphis/Nashville, San Antonio, and Hawaii. Sirlin explains their approach. “We created a city montage with each one featuring a particular candy. For example, New York featured Kisses, and San Antonio was the Twizzler City. Then it was a question of what represents each city in this collage. What is the essence of each city? San Antonio has Route 66, cowboys, oil wells, and hot air balloons. So I started putting the elements together over eight screens that were connected horizontally, creating a movie that was like 140' long, essentially just collaging the mariachis and the dancing cowboys together.”

Sirlin used Dataton's Watchout for the flexibility he needed to bring all the individual elements together and yet still be able to animate them independently. “We worked with Dataton Watchout, which I just love,” he says. “We worked on making each element of the final movies into its own little movie. If you want to change the candy in a particular city you can, because it is an isolated element in the larger image. It is one of the great things, especially for this kind of project, because they can change things as the company's products change.” Thomas is particularly proud that the team was able to give Hershey this flexibility. “The cool thing about that scene is that, as products evolve for the Hershey company, that scene can be changed without too much complexity, because it is all a digital environment and yet, it's immersive.”

Hinckley described how Electrosonics made sure that the audience was indeed immersed in the environment. “We did a complete 3D projection study to project on the multiple curved-wall surfaces that the finale consists of. We are using nine Watchout computers connected to nine Panasonic projectors; some of these projectors have image-warping associated with them, because of the curved surfaces. We added Silicon Optix Image AnyPlace image-warpers to help with the keystoning and the scalloping that you would get on a highly curved surface. This product allows you to do massive, multi-directional keystone correction and image morphing. The screens were curved in two dimensions; they were straight up and down, but there was a lot of curvature left to right. Not only did we have these curved surfaces, but there were some existing structural columns, and we had to figure out how to project around them. There was one main steel column that was right in the center of the finale, which created a huge challenge. Using 3D CADD studies, we finally found a position where we could have the right number of projectors edge-blended together so that it gave the impression of one single projection surface on both sides of the ride.”

Goddard feels that he and his team accomplished the goal. “We added a whole level of entertainment that wasn't there without losing the core message. In the two weeks after this ride reopened, Hershey surveyed guests and got over 90% positive reaction. They never thought it was possible. In fact, they kept doing the surveys after the first few days because at first, they thought it was a strange fluke, but it always stayed up over 90%. It was beyond any of our expectations.”

Hershey could not have been better served from Papson's point of view. “We now have a tour that has given the highest level of customer satisfaction by far. I am most proud of the overall balance, the connectedness. The music reinforces the main message; you have fun; you learn the process, and, at the same time, you get this feeling that the Hershey brands are more important. They are Americana; that it is the great American chocolate; it all feels right.”

The Creative Team

The Hershey Company:
Don Papson, Vice President, The Hershey Experience

Lael Moynihan, Director, Hershey's
Retail Attractions

Todd Kohr, Marketing
Manager, Hershey's
Retail Attractions

Rick Conta, Manager, Facilities and Maintenance, Hershey's Chocolate World

Executive Producer & Creative Director:
Gary Goddard, Gary Goddard Entertainment

Producer: Mark Thomas, On Track Themes

Art Director:
Bob Baranick

Assistant Director:
Taylor Jeffs

Character Design:
Phil Mendez

Finale Projection:
Designer:
Jerome Sirlin

Production Manager/Senior Tech Director:
William Grayson

Technical Directors:
Chris Manson, John Dunne

Load Platform Mural Designer: Phil Phillipson

Staff Designers for GGE:
Chuck Cancilier & Larry Nelson

Finale Producer:
Pat Mackay

Musical Director:
Ted King

Sound Engineer: Jon Baker

Composers: Chip Smith & Gary Guttman

Lighting Design:
Ted Ferreira & Sue Polay

Video Editor:
Sharon Jackson

Effects Design:
Sawyer Cohen

Audio, Video, Control:
Electrosonic Systems IncChris Conte, Brian Hinckley, & Steve Calver

Figure Animation:
Advanced Animations IncRobert Crean & Tom Ring

Scenic:
Adirondack Scenic StudiosLouis Allen, Louis Alfieri, & Gerard Kelty

Graphics: Stoner Graphix Kurt Stoner & Bob Giland