- You may be surprised to learn that it is the country's most popular corporate visitor center with more than 2.7 million visitors annually. You see, Hershey's Chocolate World located in Hershey, Penn., has what most theme parks and entertainment facilities do not: Milk chocolate. Dark chocolate. White chocolate. Chocolate with almonds. And now you can add to the list the kind that comes to life — literally.
- As part of the center's multi-million dollar expansion, a groundbreaking computer grahic / three-dimensional attraction called the "Hershey's Really Big! 3D Show" opened in April 2002, delivering a fun, sensory-stimulating 30-minute presentation of the chocolate manufacturer's history. The show takes 3D images and computer graphics well beyond your traditional blue and red tinted paper glasses. An automated environment, which relies on AMX NetLinx control to manage prefectly timed events, awakens the 250-seat theater by blowing wind, releasing confetti, shaking the the seats, sprinkling water, generating smells, and orchestrating other special effects gags on unsuspecting audience members.
Delivering Exponential Service
- For the project's designers and developers called in by Hershey, the blueprint to create this type of automated environment posed a number of complexities. Enter Clair Brothers Systems, a long-time AMX Dealer based in Lititz, Penn., about 50 miles from the vistor center.
- "The concept designers initially thought they would need a separate automation company, a separate lighting company and a separate audio company," explained Dean Wiltsie, a Designer at Clair Brothers Systems who managed this particular project. "We told them that we could do everything to make the show work. We took their spec and engineered the sound and lighting and video. They were extremely happy because we gave them one-stop shopping and a single point of accountability."
One Theater With Three PartsOne
- To accommodate the influx of visitors, especially during peak tourism months, the full scale theater was constructed to include a queue area and preshow area. Three venues in one that keep people moving in line and, more importantly, their attention on the numerous video screens that play popular Hershey commercials and tease the company's heritage before taking a seat for the full-length 3D feature. This idea originated in early 2001.By June, Clair Brother had come on board. The installation started in October. Six months later, in efforts to meet the strict deadline in place, the integration was completed and the "Hershey's Really Big! 3D Show" opened its doors to the public.
- "Once Hershey knew we were interested in doing this, they loved the idea because we were located so close and had done a few other systems for them before," Wiltsie said. "In developing a project like this in which time is of the essence, you have to let the designers call the shots and then work to get everyone on the same page in regards to the integration. We made a conscious decision to use NetLinx. In fact, this was our first application of NetLinx."
NetLinx In The Director's Chair
- With NetLinx, all three rooms are wired together for seamless control and automation in order to run in tandem, yet they are also programmed for stand-alone operation. NetLinx monitors and executes all time sensitive actions performed by different electronics in each of the areas. As the audience sits through the 3D show, the queue area is welcoming more visitors in and also advancing a previous group of people into the preshow area. This results in a constant flow of visitors that greatly decreases the wait in line. At any given moment, however, any one of these stages can be halted without affecting the automation of the other rooms already in process. In some instances, for example, a piece of equipment may need servicing or an excited child has left its seat in the theater.
- "This was the toughest thing to accomplish," Wiltsie said. "We had to design and program it so that when a certain part of the 3D show is reached, this notifies the preshow area that it is okay to let more people in and to begin running mutlimedia from there. Yet, we had to make sure that any one of the venues can stop what it is doing while the venue in front of it continues to roll. The time sensitive issues are cricital to keep it all flowing together. We would have never been able to do it without NetLinx."
Touch Panels Set The Scene
- In each venue, an AMX 5.5" Touch Panel acts as the central point of control. In the queue area, the panel automates the playback device for four television monitors situated in each of the room's four corners, as well as overhead house lighting, a wireless microphone used by Hershey staff, the background music and the automatic doors. In the preshow area, the second panel controls a 10-foot diagonal plasma screen, more background music, lights that dim and twinkle, a short video and another set of automatic doors. In the theater, the third 5.5" panel activates the 3D show that is projected onto the massive 36-foot screen. A wireless AMX ViewPoint Touch Panel is used to test connected devices and automated sequences throughout the theater. Hershey staff have the freedom to walk from room to room with the panel in hand, and also climb up onto the catwalk for direct access to all integrated components anywhere in the theater.
Achieving 3D On First Try
- So far, so good. On to the next obstacle, which was to get the digital video projectors in the theater to effectively display the high-quality 3D images. A tall order considering that Wiltsie and his crew had yet to see more than 30 seconds worth of 3D, even after completing more than 90 percent of the planned integration.
- "This was the first time we attempted to do this," Wiltsie said. "It's not like there are a gazillion companies out there that have done this. We couldn't go to them and learn from their mistakes. We had to gather information from as many sources as we could. And there were many different viewpoints about how to do 3D."
- The only feasible solution: To mock up a series of projectors on site at the Clair Brothers offices and practice achieving 3D through video.
- "3D had been done before with film, but we were doing it with video," Wiltsie said. "We had to put polarized lenses in front of the projectors and other really neat things."
- Guess you could call it "sweet" success.