Classic Rock-afire Explosion

The Rock-afire Explosion is considered by many to be the greatest animatronic rock band of all time. In the 1980s it was synonymous with ShowBiz Pizza Place restaurants. Its combination of three full stages, incredible music talent, amazing cast of characters, and sophisticated animation have left an endearing mark on the hearts of its fans - despite the fact that the Rock-afire has been relatively absent from the public's view for nearly two decades.

Description of the Stages

The Rock-afire Explosion used a combination of three separate stages which gave it a unique range of flexibility in the presentation of shows. One of the side stages might perform an individual show, or maybe just the center stage depending on which characters were required for the particular show.

Center Stage - this was the largest and main stage that was used. Located on center stage were Dook LaRue, Fatz Geronimo, Beach Bear, and Mitzi Mozzarela. Also to be found were the "prop-characters" - Baby Bear Choo-choo, Antioch, Frog, Sun, and Moon (and the Owl in the very earliest stages). Surrounding the characters was a forest scene, complete with assorted types of trees, grass, rocks, stumps, and a background sky. At the heart of center stage is the Rock-afire Explosion lighted sign behind Fatz. His keyboard, the Magical Tune Machine, also has the words "Rock-afire" printed across it. It was quite a brilliant design, as the rest of the show appears to radiate out from this focal center point.

Stage Left - this was Billy Bob's stage, and included with him was his sidekick the Looney Bird and the "prop-character" Birthday Bird who was seated atop Billy Bob's guitar. Smitty's Super Service Station was the stage setting, and everything took place outside of Smitty's. The scene was that of a distilling operation - aside from moonshine jugs scattered about, there was a campfire that heated a still, which had a winding tube leading to Looney Bird's economy-sized Easy-Flow Oil barrel. In the late 1980s, ShowBiz altered the Smitty's backdrop to become the "ShowBiz Pizza Campground".

Stage Right - this was Rolfe and Earl's stage. It was quite difference in appearance from the other two stages, as this one looked to be inside a lounge or club. The ground was carpeted, and there were only a few decorations, a multicolored rain curtain, a half-rainbow in the background, an applause sign, and a cymbal that Rolfe was able to hit to accentuate a bad joke.

Design / Additional Development

The initial Rock-afire Explosion stage design was based on two of Creative Engineering Inc.'s earlier shows - The Wolf Pack 5 and the Hard Luck Bears (for more on this please check out the History/Evolution section). The Rock-afire however, was designed to be more versatile than these previous stages. Aside from second-generation character upgrades, like a Mitzi who could actually dance, a Dook who could play a full set of drums, and a Beach Bear that had the ability to stand up, the addition of new characters was also planned. Using funds supplied by ShowBiz for research and development, CEI produced the character Uncle Klunk, who replaced Rolfe and Earl for a brief period, and CEI was also working on a Paul McCartney animatronic that would interact with the Rock-afire.

Unfortunately the R&D funds disappeared once ShowBiz began facing difficult financial times. The second-generation characters and Paul McCartney never made it past the prototype/design stages, and Uncle Klunk saw only limited exposure. It wasn't until the mid-1980s that ShowBiz began introducing additional characters such as the Statue of Liberty, and Yogi Bear (who was present only in selected test-markets). ShowBiz also made some additional alterations to the Rock-afire Stage in the late 1980s, including video monitors between the stages with the Cyberstar upgrade, and changing the backdrops to represent the new ShowBiz Pizza Campground.

Technical Info

The show is animated by pneumatic valve banks which are controlled by means of 4-track synchronized audio. The audio originally came from dual reel-to-reel players, one that held the main showtape, and one that had a birthday/special shows reel. When Cyberstar was added, the audio and video was contained on S-VHS tapes.

Two of the tracks go to the sound system for stereo sound (left and right speakers), and the other two audio tracks contain the programming signals. These signal tracks are fed into the computer (a custom designed set of driver boards contained within a gray file cabinet and affectionately known as the "graybox"). One signal track travels to the top drawer of the cabinet and the other signal track goes to the bottom drawer, and that controls the two sides of the show.

The signals tracks are also passed through a DBX box that converts the analog audio into a square wave that the graybox can understand. The signals are routed inside the graybox by the playback boards, and sent to each character driver board, which then sends the signals to the individual valve banks telling them when to pneumatically fire off each movement.

Stage Lights

One thing the Rock-afire excelled at was the show lighting. Aside from the yellow, blue, red, amber, and green ceiling and ground flood lights, the Rock-afire had several special effects lighting including Rolfe's applause sign, Dook's bass drum, and Billy Bob's campfire and gas pump. Perhaps the most impressive of all lighting was the Rock-afire Explosion sign, and Fatz's Tune Machine. Both included a series of lights in assorted colors that could keep time with the music and create dazzling displays of light - it also didn't hurt that both were equipped with a special strobe light to really intensify things.

Spotlights were also an important aspect of the lighting. Each character in the Rock-afire had an individual spot. There were also some special spots that accentuated other stage elements, like the Sun, Moon, Antioch, and even Beach Bear's guitar.

History / Legacy

Although the Rock-afire Explosion has taken on new life after the conversion of ShowBiz Pizza Place to Chuck E. Cheese's, it is important to remember that the Rock-afire Explosion was designed specifically for ShowBiz. Much work and thought was put into the design and structuring of the stage which explains why many elements of the Rock-afire Explosion are still present nearly 30 years after its creation.

Concept Unification removed both the Rock-afire and ShowBiz Pizza name in 1990, and the Rock-afire Explosion was converted to the CEC 3-stage Munch's Make Believe Band - many of which still exist in Chuck E. Cheese restaurants today. And in that show, elements of the Rock-afire can still be seen such as the sign, organ, and overall layout of the stage. A concept retrofit of the Rock-afire was attempted prior to the Munch's Band layout, which was rejected on the basis that it didn't contain enough of the desired elements contained within the Rock-afire Explosion.

There exists a set of photos of the Concept Unification design team attempting to destroy the old Rock-afire Explosion sign face after one of the first successful Munch's Band installations. Yet despite their best efforts (which included running it over with a van) they couldn't get the sign to break. Oddly enough, that scene is a nice analogy to the soul of the Rock-afire which has lived on despite the demise of ShowBiz Pizza Place. Even to this day, the Rock-afire is experiencing a renaissance of sorts - gaining new attention from the public's eye and working its way to becoming the cultural icon that it truly deserves to be.