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The Rock-afire Explosion

The Rock-afire Explosion was an animatronic robot band that played in Showbiz Pizza Place restaurants from 1980 to 1991. The show was created and manufactured exclusively for Showbiz by Creative Engineering, Inc. in Orlando, Florida. In later years, the show was sold to other restaurants and entertainment centers. The characters in The Rock-afire Explosion were various animals ranging from a dog to a gorilla. They would perform medleys of classic rock, pop, and country music, as well as original compositions.

The stage was designed to be life-sized. Unlike many small novelty animatronic shows, the Rock-afire was designed to take up the entire length of the showroom. The stage was split into three sections, with the band in the center section and other characters on the two side sections each with separate curtains. Differing from their main competitor (Chuck E. Cheese's), the characters could mimic playing real instruments and had realistic facial expressions due to the use of latex masks (as used in Disney animatronics) as opposed to fabric and foam. The show also used a large amount of props and stage lighting effects which heightened the amount of perceived movement on the stage.

The Band

Voice Actors
The following voice actors portrayed the characters of the The Rock-Afire Explosion.

Billy Bob Brockali - Bass Guitar. Located on stage left. He was the mascot for ShowBiz Pizza Place throughout its existence, and his image was on most of the merchandise. Billy Bob is a bear who wears a red and yellow-striped pair of overalls. Sweet and naive, Billy Bob was usually a mediator to the band's minor on-stage quabbles.

Looney Bird - Vocals. Looney Bird shares Billy Bob's stage. His head is the only thing ever seen, the rest of him supposedly hiding in an oil drum. Some shows featured a segment where Looney Bird would answer fan mail; for this, the robot was retrofitted to include a pair of hands which popped up holding a piece of paper for him to read. Looney Bird was originally portrayed as a drunk, but went on to become a tech nerd

Dook LaRue - Drums / Vocals. Dook is a dog who wore a silver space suit. A bit of a dimwit, Dook would often lose focus during shows and miss his cues. He would respond to questions with a caustic "What?" The character is unique in that when setup properly, he has the ability to actually play a 4 piece drum kit in time with the music.

Fatz Geronimo - Keyboard / Vocals. Fatz is a giant gorilla who wears a gold tuxedo. He is a parody of real-life entertainer Fats Domino. Unoffical band front man, Fatz had a tendency to ramble. He introduced the most shows and ordered other band members around, leading him and Rolfe into many arguements. Originally playing just a regular keyboard, Fatz upgraded to the marvelous "Tune Machine" capable of making every sound in the world.

Beach Bear - Electric Guitar / Vocals. Beach Bear is a "surfer" polar bear who wears beach shorts, although he was originally loud and zany. Beach Bear would usually make sarcastic comments or ask other characters questions to throw off their act, but never in mean spirits. In the early days of Showbiz Pizza, Beach Bear was set up so he could tap Fatz on the shoulder; however, as this tended to wear a hole in the jacket, the practice was discontinued.

Mitzi Mozzarella - Vocals. Mitzi was a mouse and a cheerleader. Wears a white and green cheerleader uniform. A typical teenager, Mitzi was obsessed with gossip, boyfriends, pop music, and (appropriate for the time) Michael Jackson. While Dook and Beach Bear liked to tease her, Fatz and Billy Bob stood up for her and helped her to introduce her first show.

Rolfe deWolfe - Located on stage right. Rolfe is a wolf, but less of a musician, and more of a stand up comedian and ventriloquist (providing Earl's voice), although he did sing and had a cymbal. Using an over-the-top "announcer" voice, Rolfe provided self-depriciating comic relief and a constant source of grief for Fatz. Replaced temporarily by Uncle Klunk.

Earl Schemerle - Earl is Rolfe's hand puppet, although he has a personality of his own. Earl's favorite activity was picking on Rolfe, but he often got the lead in songs (even if he didn't remember the words). The other band members acknowledge him both as Rolfe's puppet and as a character by himself.

Uncle Klunk - This character was only placed in around 30 stores for a limited period of time, and would replace Rolfe & Earl on stage right. Uncle Klunk was the only human character ever placed in the show. He performed talk show type skits along with his bird "Click" (Later renamed to "Murray D. Bird"). A signature phrase of his was, "Kids, don't smoke Crayolas!" He would also be retrofitted with a Santa Claus costume and stage set for the holidays.

Others - The show also has several smaller prop characters. These characters have only one or two movements and do not usually have speaking roles. All of these characters are located on the center portion of the stage. The "Sun" located behind the trees on the left, the "Moon" located behind the trees on the right, "Antioch" the spider, who drops from the ceiling and "Choo-Choo" the baby bear who hides in a small tree stump.

Production of the Show

Production of the programming and audio for the show was done in-house by Creative Engineering, Inc. in Orlando, Florida. Not only did they provide the voices, but they also wrote, recorded and produced the shows as well. Several of the voice/musical talents for the show have gone on to later fame. Shalisa James is currently a member of the a cappella group Toxic Audio, while Burt Wilson is now better know as Bubba "Whoop-Ass" Wilson, a member of the "Monsters in the Morning" radio show - which is now syndicated as well as being available on XM satellite radio. Both Rick Bailey and Jeff Howell are still active as musicians in the Orlando area.

The "Break-up"

ShowBiz Pizza Place was similar to (and competed with) Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre, another restaurant chain that was popular in other parts of the United States. When "Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre" filed for bankruptcy in 1984, ShowBiz Pizza bought the company.

The corporation maintained the two restaurant chains simultaneously for a few years. Each continued their own stage shows and merchandise. However, relations between the company that owned and programmed The Rock-afire Explosion, Creative Engineering, and ShowBiz soon began to take a dive. In fact, ShowBiz began toying with the idea of replacing The Rock-afire Explosion with licensed characters, such as Spider-Man or Garfield, and three locations actually retrofitted the robots at stage left into Yogi Bear and Boo Boo (it is unknown what, if anything, was done to the other two stages at the aforementioned locations although it had been witnessed that Yogi and Boo Boo interacted with the band members on the center stage).

The company ultimately retrofitted the Rock-afire Explosion robots into a new show called Munch's Make Believe Band (featuring the Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre characters), and reverse-engineered the programming of the robots themselves. Eventually, the ShowBiz restaurants themselves were converted to Chuck E. Cheese's locations, in a process called "Concept Unification". The company had decided to shift its focus away from animatronics and more towards video games, food, and quality of service.

Current Status

The removal of the show from Showbiz Pizza was not completely the end for The Rock-afire Explosion. Today, the animatronic band still exists in a few locations across the country. Billy Bob's Super Wonderland in Barboursville, West Virginia has a complete Rock-afire Explosion band which received a renovation as recently as 2004. There is also Rock-afire Pizza operating in Indio, California- however, is no longer operating the animatronic show as of July, 31th 2008- and there is Rock-afire Explosion operating at Fun Zone in Farmingdale, New York.

The band also maintains a small cult following; Rock-afire records and merchandise originally sold at Showbiz periodically show up on eBay. Fans of the show have also begun to collect and restore the original animatronic shows. In 2007, several videos from various fans who have programmed the animatronics to current popular music began appearing on YouTube and were popularized through social networking sites such as Digg. The band also made a brief appearance in the MGMT music video for Electric Feel.

Technical Information

The original show as designed in 1979, was run from reel-to-reel audio tapes with 4 tracks of audio. Two tracks would be of the actual show music, and two tracks contained the data that controlled the characters movements. The reel would play entirely through unattended, pausing at breaks specified by the show data. At the end of a reel, the system would rewind itself to start the process again.

In 1986, a device called Interactive Animation was installed in several Showbiz restaurants that allowed an employee to control the Billy Bob character with the use of a joystick type interface. The operator would be watching from the back of the showroom in a mirrored booth. This allowed them to speak and interact with patrons as if the character were real.

In the late 80s-early 90s, the show switched to the Cyberstar system, along with the Chuck E. Cheese system. This system used VHS tapes to run the show, and added a video element to the shows.

The show as it could be found in the 1990s at locations other than Showbiz Pizza, would use a system called the "Show Selector" which added a modified Apple II to the control system. This allowed patrons to press one of several buttons located on a panel near the stage, and select the exact song they wanted to see performed.there are some in the uk in gullivers theme parks

In the few current installations of the show, the system is controlled using a modified TiVo DVR unit.

Documentary

In 2008, a documentary about the remaining Rock-afire Explosion fan base was announced. Currently, there is only a website for the movie with links to a trailer and a MySpace page. The trailer states that the movie will be released in Fall of 2008.

References

External links

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