The Shelf was the original animation format used at Pizza Time Theatre. It is commonly referred to as the "Portrait Show", as the animatronic characters were situated along the wall, hanging out of large 4-foot tall gilt portrait frames. It is believed to be called the Shelf, because the portraits are usually located along a decorated shelf which ran between the characters (also with the introduction of the Balcony Stage
, it became important to distinguish this original set-up from the updated show which included a proper stage).
The animatronic characters used in this show are considered to be "first generation"
and were quite different both mechanically and in appearance than the animatronics that followed. It is important to note that the Shelf show really didn’t incorporate a true "stage" set-up, however, as it evolved over the early years, it moved closer to grouping the characters together into a consolidated show.
The original layout from the first Pizza Time Theatre (Winchester Blvd, San Jose, CA) had the portraits spread out around the main theatre in a 360-degree show. Pasqually was placed above the kitchen and would pop out from behind a set of doors and could call out the orders, Jasper was placed on the wall to the left of him, Crusty and Chuck E, were along the back wall, the special guest and applause board were placed on the wall to the right of Pasqually. The Warblettes sat on an elevated platform which hung from the ceiling (their curtains would raise up to reveal them).
By the time the second store opened (Kooser Rd, San Jose, CA) the portraits were grouped closer together and placed along two adjacent walls
. Crusty was replaced by Mr. Munch (who was placed behind a set of doors similar to Pasqually), and the Warblettes were replaced by the Mopsey Sisters – at least temporarily.
Due to the scarcity of documentation from the early years of Pizza Time Theatre, we don't know a great deal about the technical operation of the Shelf. But based on the accounts of former employees, and what we’ve been able to figure out from early reels, we do have some knowledge of the show mechanics.
The show was very similar to the operation of the Balcony Stage - the show is animated by pneumatic valve banks which are controlled by means of 2-track synchronized audio. One track carries the show audio (mono), while the other carries the data signals. The signals used to animate the Shelf characters are the same used to control the Balcony Stage characters – several showtapes made during the transitional period were labeled for use on both "Stage + Shelf"
There are a few points where the show operation differed. The Cyberamics rack used to control the Balcony Stage was most likely created specifically for the Balcony. It was a consolidation of the several systems needed to run the original Shelf setup. According to one of Pizza Time’s first employees, the Shelf characters each had a mini computer onboard (which used either an Intel 8080 or MOS Technology 6502). This made servicing them a hassle, as the employees either had to work on the animatronics from the front, or in some cases they crawled through the soffit to get to the electronics behind the characters.
It should be noted that earliest show reels are said to have contained the entire show and background audio (on the same reel). So the original system design might have had some significant differences from the later Cyberamics system.
The Shelf was quite an interesting design, and was probably more interactive than most of the later stage incarnations when you consider it was originally intended to be a 360-degree entertainment experience. Plus the idea of portraits coming to life was a neat concept in-and-of-itself.
The first generation characters were more realistic in appearance, being sculpted out of latex and fur – as opposed to the cloth material used later down the line. Although they suffered from very limited animation there were still some neat surprises, such as Chuck E’s moving derby, that have not been seen since.
Although the Shelf was discontinued after the first few years of Pizza Time Theatre, it was probably more the result of a very innovative Pizza Time, rather than the shortcomings of the Shelf show. In its few short years, the Shelf became the launching platform for many different characters and guest stars. By 1981 the Shelf was all but dead - the Harmony I showtape
was the first tape to discontinue programming certain signals needed for the Shelf operation (such as Munch's and Pasqually's doors). But despite the early discontinuation, there is documented proof of the Shelf lasting as late as 1991
(albeit with second generation characters).
The information posted on this page is the culmination of what is known about this show. Thanks to Dbenjami for much of the information. If you happen to have any further information on the Shelf - either documents, photos, or videos to share please contact us