Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Chris Thrash's Rock-A-Fire Explosion

Back in the 1980s, there was a pizza chain called Showbiz Pizza that eventually went bankrupt and merged with Chuck E. Cheese.

The centerpiece of the restaurants was an animatronic band, the Rock-A-Fire Explosion, designed by a company in Florida. The display, which would take up one whole side of the restaurant, was similar to the animatronic robot displays that Disney used in their theme parks.

As these displays have been removed from installations in recent years, a small group of enthusiasts have tried to preserve them. Chris Thrash owns one and does something a little more interesting with it.

Originally, the displays would put on shows of pop songs for kids; Thrash and other enthusiasts reprogram them to play current popular songs.

The videos are funny, but also admirable for the technical skill of the original designers of the Rock-A-Fire and for the new programmers. The Rock-A-Fire, by the way, was originally controlled by a four track reel to reel tape machine and later by VCRs or Apple II computers; those preserving and reprogramming the displays now use a modified Tivo.

First up is a video from YouTube showing what one of the original Rock-A-Fire shows looked like:

Here's a couple of reprogramming efforts. The first is Usher's "Love in This Club". Note: This song contains explicit lyrics that may be offensive to some viewers.

The second example I found is the Madonna/Justin Timberlake song, "4 Minutes". It's not quite as creatively programmed as the Usher track and doesn't use all of the characters in the display.

Each week, Chris Thrash takes bids from Internet viewers on what song they should program next. The funds from the auctions go towards upkeep and preservation of the Rock-A-Fire installation.

There's also several videos by Thrash and others located here:

I could see Chris Thrash's Rock-A-Fire Explosion being a musical guest on "Saturday Night Live" or as an opening act for The Gorillaz. (In fact, why not get them to perform Gorillaz songs like this?)


Anonymous said...

Why do I keep expecting to see Topo Gigio making a guest appearance in that video? We've only got 4 minutes to kiss Eddie goodnight.

John Hunt said...

I just want to see the thrash dongle and associated programming software be available to the public again.