As of writing this I’m supposed to be asleep, but that’s not working out so I’m gonna write some nonsense instead. Sorry Cammy <:3c
Something that interests me quite a bit but I never seem to talk about is animatronics. Just a fascinating thing, the illusion of life right there in front of you. And they can be creepy, for sure, but I think that adds to the charm. They’re imperfect, it adds character.
Now, just like anyone else who has any interest in animatronics, the Chuck E Cheese and Showbiz Pizza animatronics are kinda fascinating. There’s a very long history there, a lot of characters and a lot of footage. Specifically though, I’m gonna focus on Showbiz Pizza. And even more specifically, the guy behind the animatronics, Aaron Fechter. Because it’s not just Showbiz Pizza, this dude has had one hell of a career.
Gonna start by urging you to check out this video because that’s where I started. It’s 40 minutes long but it’s an interesting watch. It shows the workshop of Fechter’s company, Creative Engineering in all it’s jumbled, curious glory. Also a lot of good footage of animatronics both in working order and not, plus plenty of stories from the guy himself.
The uh, website is a similar story of confusion, and can be seen here. There’s two about pages which are exactly the same and the company timeline starts in 1972 with “Fuel Efficient Car Development” and no further explanation. He’s also very proud for having invented Whac-A-Mole.
The “Fuel Efficient Car Development” is explained more in this here video. He came out of college planning to help solve the world’s fuel crisis and developed a car that could go further with less fuel. It was, kindly put, a go-kart with a plastic roof.
Stuff happened and he and his company were responsible for The Rock-afire Explosion, an animatronic act which I cannot possibly do justice. If you like animatronics they’re great and if you don’t then uh, big spooky. I recommend checking this site out. I’ve directed you straight to the Rock-afire Explosion section but they’ve got information about Chuck E Cheese too. Lots to look at.
This started in 1980, 3 years after Chuck E Cheese Pizza Time Theatre opened. Then in 1984 Pizza Time Theatre filed for bankruptcy, caused by the video game crash in 1983, Showbiz Pizza snatched them up, merging as Showbiz Pizza Time. (Pizza, pizza, pizza…)
Now, the Showbiz Pizza company owned the Chuck E Cheese characters, but they didn’t own the Rock-afire Explosion. Those lads were still owned by Creative Engineering. Fechter was given a proposition, they either wanted to buy the Rock-afire Explosion, or the Rock-afire explosion was going to be replaced by Chuck E Cheese characters. Fechter declined, and by the early 90s, the Rock-afire Explosion had been totally replaced by Chuck E Cheese and co.
This left Fechter without his biggest customer, and his business all but collapsed. It was employing 300 people in the early 80s, but eventually was just him. It really was a pity, they had big aspirations for their technology, with plans for more realistic and detailed animatronics in future, but all had to be pretty much cancelled at that point.
Most people at that point would close up shop, but Fechter is what you could describe as a character, very dedicated to his craft. So he kept going, all by his lonesome. Very, very slowly building it back up to a modest size.
There was still some interest in the animatronics, mostly from people who were kids when the animatronics were in their prime. Old, rebuild and fixed animatronics could be found in some establishments, plus with collectors. The popularity of Five Nights at Freddy’s was actually a good thing, as it caused a growth in interest for animatronics in kids again. The Rock-afire Explosion ended up introduced to a new generation. (Teehee bear animatronic so spooky)
Also, his (absolutely tiny) wikipedia page lists him as an inventor, engineer, entrepreneur, manufacturer, voice actor, and singer-songwriter. The dude also works on other things that interest him, such as inventing an emailing machine (named the “Antigravity Freedom Machine” of all things) just in time for the internet to become widely available, rendering his invention useless, and also creating a new kind of gas. Hydrillium.
…Which led to his workshop exploding in 2013.
A scuba tank containing 200 cubic feet of Hydrillium ripped open and blew a hole in the exterior wall, destroying a large portion of the building. Luckily, for the most part, he was able to rebuild. It took years but the man’s a trooper and an utter mad lad.
If you only peek at one thing from all of this, I recommend this Monkees medley in dedication to Davy Jones. It pleases me greatly.
Also this here 2008 documentary about Rock-afire Explosion’s fans and Fechter’s work to keep the characters going 30 years after they were discontinued from Showbiz Pizza. It’s an hour or so long but well worth a watch. You also get to see people who look like if the word “nerd” manifested as humans.
This ramble doesn’t have an end to it because the guy’s still going and the Rock-afire explosion is still going. I do recommend looking into all of this. It’s quite the rabbit hole. I might ramble about how animatronics work at some point but that’s a thing all of it’s own. Fascinating stuff. I really do suggest you check all the stuff I’ve linked here out.
Apologies if this is unreadable, it’s currently almost 7am over here, and I have not gone to bed yet. Too busy watching robots pretend to play guitar.