Monday, April 25, 2011
Stage lights flickered on and Aaron Fechter introduced us to "The Rock-afire Explosion." He was in the midst of programming all the characters moves on the computer but he showed us a run through of what he had blocked out. The Rock-afire band sprang to life. Aaron's girlfriend, Karry, fell in love with Rock-afire when she first saw the band back in the 80s. Athena, Aaron's white doberman pincer, trotted back and forth watching the show with animated interest..
The factory had cutting edge technology when they were manufacturing hundreds of animatronics to be used in Showbiz Pizza Places. At the height of the creative endeavor two hundred Showbiz Pizza Places needed this animatronic band. They were fast paced times and the factory buzzed with activity and excitement. Truckloads of animatronics went out all across the country. For a generation of kids, The Rock-afire Explosion was their first influence in music. Then the executives stepped in and said there would be no more Showbiz Pizza Places. They tried to get Aaron to sell all the rights to the characters he had created. He refused to give them the rights. In response the fur and rubber flesh was peeled off of the existing characters and a cheap rug-like replacement in the form of a mouse was slipped over the inner structure. Chuck-E-Cheese was born.
Manufacturing at Creative Engineering slowed to a crawl and then stopped all together. Around the factory tools lay where they had been placed 30 years before. I picked up a tool and could see an outline on the table where it lay because of the dust. A phalanx of computers, which seem quaint by today's standards shut down. Aaron used to say to the staff, "A byte saved is a bite earned." Each machine had just 64 Kilobytes of memory so the code had to be streamlined. In different spots around the factory there were smaller machines that look like courtroom stenography stations. He explained to me that these were called "1996 Freedom Machines." Essentially they were internet stations before there even was internet. They were used so Aaron could leave quick notes for people on the factory floor, and so they could leave notes in return. At one point 325 employees worked at Creative Engineering. By 2006 there were only three. Now Aaron works alone, keeping the characters alive by programing them to perform on You Tube.