When Hershey's Chocolate World, the year-round visitors center, asked Clair Brothers Audio Systems to refurbish the AV and control systems for its popular Hershey's Really Big 3-D Showâ„¢, the systems designers and engineers called on Smart Monkeys to handle show control programming for the 3D-animated musical adventure.
In Hershey's Really Big 3-D Show product characters come to life as resident chocolate historian, Professor D.P. Quigley, takes visitors on a magical journey through the company's history. The show is screened in a 250-seat theater and features many special effects, such as seat ticklers, butt kickers, fog, bubbles, snow, spritzers, confetti air cannons and a chocolate smell. The show was designed by Landmark Entertainment Group and installed by Manheim, Pennsylvania-based Clair Brothers in 2002 using a combination of AMX and Alcorn McBride gear for show control.
Smart Monkeys was charged with AMX and Alcorn reverse engineering, DMX recording and reverse engineering, providing GUI design for all four control panels, performing complete system programming identical to the show playback of the previous control system, and creating an Presentation Mode Interface.
“The big challenge was that the show had to remain the same while all the equipment was changed out,” says Smart Monkeys' Alan Anderson. “A lot of the equipment was at the end of its life cycle and maintenance had become complicated. So they wanted to build a system that would handle the current show and allow for future developments and expansions,
“We had to reprogram the system to match what was done before. Even the film was reproduced in full HD with different frame rates,” he reports. “So a lot of calculations had to be done to sync everything up. A lot of that could be done offline, in advance, which got us 90 percent of the way there, and that was very helpful.”
Smart Monkeys was able to record the two DMX universes and play them back, keeping in sync with the video. “For everything else, we had to go into the code, read the timing for all the contact closers and fades, and reprogram all of it,” says Anderson. “That includes the sequencing of the shows, all the timings, the pre-show. Everything had to be identical so the staff was not thrown off by it.”
Smart Monkeys also made some improvements, adapting control panels and front-end interfaces to match the show's needs since “the original GUI no longer corresponded to their needs,” he explains.
The company designs its control system panels to be single programmed and maintain one code, unlike the previous system that featured two or three different codes. “Each physical touch panel holds the same program, but you can go into the maintenance of the panel to show different front ends,” says Anderson. “We show a different front end depending where and who you are; every panel has a complete program in it but is different for each user.”
Such a system is much easier to maintain. “If there are maintenance issues with one of the panels, any of the other panels can replace it,” he points out. “The maintenance panel, for example, can be used as an operational panel immediately. That's the way we always approach our panels. It demands a certain amount of skill to program and achieve that.”
Smart Monkeys was working with equipment that was not designed to be controlled by a show-control system, and that posed another challenge. Anderson notes that “the projectors are actually cinema projectors and the Doremi players are as well. QSC's Q-Sys audio matrix was brand new, so we had to design a driver as the product was developed. We also spent a lot of time with Dean Wiltsie, Clair Brothers' senior system integrator, to create the Medialon MXM. We wanted the driver to be in control for the redundancy of the Q-sys, which is automatic. Medialon has to know if the Q-Sys is switching over because it is seen as one system.”
Smart Monkeys also created a Presentation Mode Interface for Medialon control when the theater is used for other events, presentations or movie playback.
“I've worked with Smart Monkeys for years and know their reputation and expertise,” notes Dean Wiltsie. “Their reprogramming and Medialon work was excellent, as always. Programming is a key component of the show – it's the GUI for the system itself. This time we also implemented an error-reporting feature that emails our techs if any problems are detected.”
About Smart Monkeys
Smart Monkeys, Inc. specializes in providing advice, project management and programming for show control offering a reliable, high-quality alternative to inhouse resources for project-based consulting, control systems development and project specific system programming.