BOOTING UP “The Golden ROM”
The Golden ROM is more than just a golden Read Only Memory chip from a computer. To Grandmother Chipmunk and the three chipmunk children it’s a valuable heirloom—a musical instrument given to Grandmother by Grandfather Chipmunk as an anniversary gift. “The Golden ROM,” Grandmother, Emily, Chester, Myron, and Fitch were all booted to life in the Animation Department of Unusual Films. The department was created in 1973 to provide animated openings and closings for Bob Jones University’s promotional films. The success of these short animations prompted a school representative to request a fully animated film that could be used to promote BJU to younger audiences.
Three scriptwriters teamed up to create a story that takes place on the campus of Bob Jones University and is populated by four chipmunks and a mole. The principal lesson in the story is best stated in Proverbs 15:27 – “He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house.”
The animation process began with the collection and creation of backgrounds from the University campus. Photographs were taken of chipmunk locations on campus. These photographs were then scanned into a computer, made to look like watercolor paintings in an early digital paint program, printed out as color prints, and then made ready to be filmed on a twelve foot high Acme animation stand. However, before the filming began, changes in computer technology made the animation stand obsolete. Better quality control, quicker inking and painting of the characters, and more elaborate camera moves could now be accomplished in the new digital animation world. The Unusual Films Animation Department had already begun the ink and paint process using the old laborious method of painting on the backs of the cels (short for “celluloid”). All that was scrapped as the new digital computer process was adopted. One ink and paint artist by the name of Chris Hartwick was affected by this change more than the other artists in the department.
SPECIAL TALENTS WITH SPECIAL CHALLENGES
Chris Hartwick is a specially gifted artist who was born with a muscle disease called arthrogryposis. Because of this disease, he is unable to use his hands and arms. Chris had painted numerous scenes with a brush gripped between his teeth using animation paint applied to the back of the cels. With the change to digital, now Chris had to digitally repaint all those same scenes in the computer using a mouse guided by his foot. All told, Chris painted by mouth or by foot over 15,000 cels.
FACTS AND FIGURES
Over 26,000 penciled images were drawn for this 19-minute film. Unlike a large animation studio manned by numerous animators, this mountain of drawings was created by three main animators and a handful of animation assistants. The Golden ROM, being a backburner project, was squeezed in between the other feature films and promotional films created by Unusual Films. The numerous years needed to complete the project was a true labor of love—and of endurance.
HOW DO CHIPMUNKS TALK?
Not only did four chipmunks need voices, but a nasty old mole needed to wheel and deal, while two birds looked on and laughed. Where did the voices come from? All were found on the campus of Bob Jones University. With the exception of one, all the main voice actors were professors in the University’s Drama Department with both stage and film experience—but this would be the first time that any of the actors had voiced a small rodent. When the recording was finished, the chipmunk voices were pitched up while the nasty voice of Fitch was pitched down, and the laughing birds—voiced by a jolly artist at the University—were pitched up. Truly it was the Lord’s blessing that there was no need to import talent to make the film possible.
MUSIC TO LIVE BY
The talent necessary to create an animated film music track requires special ability, and Joan Pinkston, the film’s composer, was certainly up to the challenge. Joan had already composed music for two other Unusual Films productions, The Treasure Map and Project Dinosaur. For The Golden ROM, Joan was not only tasked with composing the music, but she also had to create the unique, lilting sound the golden ROM made when Grandmother Chipmunk plucked it like a harp. When it was all said and done, the music she created gave life to the world of Bell Junction and communicated the emotions and drama of the scenes throughout the film.
3D PRIOR TO 3D
During the infancy of 3D, when only large animation houses with huge Cray supercomputers were creating 3D, Unusual Films ventured into this new technology with some of the early desktop computers and programs that were available. Crude as they were, using Silicon Graphics machines running Alias Wavefront software, Unusual Films created Fitch’s classic miniature sports car in 3D. The film’s opening credit sequence was also a venture into the new 3D art form. As always, Unusual Films was on the cutting edge.