June/July '09

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Steve Moore     Ron Price    Todd Cronin    Dan Scanlon    Dan Root    Beth Albright    Marty Fuller

In the center of the rectangle that is the state of Ohio, just above the city of Columbus, in the town of Powell, an animation studio called Character Builders sat at the end of a cul-de-sac where, on a very hot, humid afternoon in June of 1999, a tricycle race took place. The race was called "The Herb Cup" after Herb, the studio's fictitious mascot.

Director Steve Moore:  
That year, I had been working on two projects at Character Builders, a "Fractured Fairy Tale" theatrical short for Universal, and my independent short "The Indescribable Nth".   Driving to and from the studio required going around a loop not unlike the World's smallest race track.    It made me think of high school, where there had been a yearly tricycle race.   Students would chop up bikes and Frankenstein together strange and often hilarious tricyles to race.  

It was sometime in April, during the weekly production meeting, that I proposed such a race for the studio.   The artists laughed, until they realized I was serious.   Then they looked to each other with nervous   grins, like I'd proposed we all go skinny dipping.     Someone said "Let's do it!"   and the others dove in.  

We hashed out specifics.   Teams of two would create tricycles and costumes of their own design. We defined a tricycle as having three wheels, two of which shared an axle.   Single gear, no derailleurs.   Riders must ride on all three wheels. The first team to complete twenty laps would be the winner.   Espionage and dirty tricks, while frowned upon, were greatly encouraged.    We would call this event   "The Herb Cup", after the studio's fictitious mascot, Herb.   A date was set for June.   

We enlisted the parents of studio co-founder Jim Kammerud to officiate as King and Queen of the Cup.   Their role would be to oversee the race, dropping the white and checkered flags.   The p.a.'s were tasked to create their crowns using cardboard, pasta, glue, and gold spray paint in the spirit of a first grade art project..   I made the Herb Cup itself, out of Super Sculpey.  

Editor Ron Price recalls the weeks leading up to the race:
Studio productivity declined until the employees ceased to even pretend to do any work. Teammates sneaked out of the building in search of used bicycle parts, scrap metal, and welding equipment, often returning after dark to find other racers still at work, trying to make a tricycle that could be ridden by an adult, convey the team's unique style, and had the engineering to stay together for twenty laps around the cul-de-sac.

Animator Todd Cronin, on the creation of his trike:
"Little Angel" was her name.   She was sitting alone in a corner of the yard, away from the shiny things available for garage sailors that warm Saturday morning.   The set of naked lady shot glasses, the hat made from Budwiser cans, even the backgammon set missing half its chips got preferential treatment over her.

Once I got her home and cleaned up, I began to assess what modifications would need to be done to Little Angel. She was raw with potential, and I would see her to it - but for selfish reasons.   In return for my investment, she would help me - help me cross the finish line ahead of others and win the coveted Herb Cup.

There would need to be a major adjustment to her frame to accommodate the two-wheel axel and accompanying tires I had lifted from our baby jogger.   These were my ace in the hole.   The others would be on tricycles made for a child, with tiny wheels, where as I would be on a bike with a larger sprocket and larger wheel radius.   The shortsighted fools had no idea what lay in store....muh ha ha ( evil laugh )!

Looking for a sprocket was another matter. After going to what seemed every bike shop in the Columbus metro area, I had to make due with the one Little Angel had.   No matter, it would work -   I would just have to pedal faster.

Ed the Welder tried to explain: what I was asking for most likely wouldn't work.   The frame was not made of strong enough metal for the modifications and would most likely fracture at the weld site at some point, as would the new seat post I was having welded to the frame.

Physics be damned! A few hours later, my design became reality.    I just needed it to hold long enough... the Herb Cup was mine.

Then night before the race proved to be hectic. The parts to Little Angel didn't quite fit together as I'd hoped.   After a long and arduous night,   I took Little Angel for her first test run, just a few hours before the race. She held and pressed forward as I turned the pedals - not as smooth as I'd have liked, but she was mobile,   and mobile was all that mattered.

Finally the race was upon us. I took Little Angel from the back of my Blazer, still needing a few slight adjustments.   The other racers were taking their tricycles around the oval on test runs before the start, but not Little Angel.   I was saving her for an explosive start.

When the time came, I rolled her up to the line, ready to take off like bottled lightning. When the white flag came, I thrust down on the pedal.   Little Angel, raw with kinetic energy, surged forward one tire rotation and snapped apart - in exactly the two places -   as Ed the Welder predicted they would.   And like that, Little Angel was no more.

Todd Cronin, seated, tells his hard luck tale to "Bone" cartoonist Jeff Smith.

Steve Moore:
The construction of the tricycles had always been a question mark.   We could draw up monster trikes, but, as is often the case with animators, reality was beyond our grasp.    Our engineering skills - Wile E. Coyote school.   Our construction skills - the Red Green school.  

The day before the race, many teams (including mine) still had no trike.   We hit the thrift shops, buying up child-size bicycles.   We hit the hardware store for stray parts and duct tape, and the party store for decorations.   After work, we turned the parking lot into a mini chop shop.   Being June, the sun set at nine o'clock, but we went on well after dark, well after the time when it ceased to be a fun project.  

Todd Cronin was seen as our biggest threat.   He knew how to weld!   He had been working on his trike for weeks in a top secret garage, and here we were with duct tape and Bubble Yum.    But to his credit, Todd hung around that night, helping us with our trikes. 

Above: the after hours tricycle chop shop. From left, Ron Price, Todd Cronin, Nicole Ankowski, Steve Moore. In the dark, indeed.

Below: Charlie Warren attempting reassembly.
photos by Beth Albright

Studio partner Dan Root on his enrty:
I was one-half of team "Pamplemousse Bastards " .   I was partnered with Jimmy "Pedal-toes"   Kammerud. We chose a team name that reflected our gritty, working class values, forged on the mean streets and manicured lawns of suburban Ohio. The name was intended to impart a sense of sophisticated ruthlessness and a "take-no-prisoners" philosophy of trike racing ... er ... um ... we were kinda misinformed of the actual translation.

Dan Root, con't:
Oh the plans we had ...   My initial idea was to create a marauding behemoth of a trike, made totally of found objects -- I figured if you can't out race the competition,   at least you can run them over. There was a lot of construction going on in the area and I found a big wooden spool (the kind that holds electrical cable)   and knew that it was the perfect solution.   All of my engineering acumen comes from watching The Little Rascals, Gilligan's Island, and, of course, Wile E. Coyote so I knew I was on to something brilliant. I rushed back to the studio, pulled Jim away from whatever paying work he was doing and hurried him back to the spool. By Jumping around and gesticulating wildly, I excitedly explained that with just some PVC pipe, a few assorted hinges and an "Ab Roller" -- we WOULD   create the winning entry,   we would DOMINATE,   we would be FEARED!

Jim stared at the wooden spool that was five feet across with two thick wooden "wheels"   nearly six feet in diameter.   Then he squinted, as if in pain, and quietly asked, "Dan, can you even move that thing with your legs?"

I was winded and still struggling to get the spool moving before I realized Jim had wandered back to the studio to get his work done.

We ended up just buying an off-the-shelf tricycle and fitted it with a blow up rubber raft modeled to look like a Star Wars Landspeeder   -- you know,   so we'd be more aerodynamic and stuff.

Jim Kammeud, seated, and Dan Root: The Pamplemousse Bastards.

Ron Price on the trikes:
There seemed to be a pretty even split between two lame designs. The first was essentially a small, second-hand bicycle with the rear axle modified to take a second wheel. In every case the second wheel was smaller than the main one, so in essence, these were bikes with a training wheel.

The other tricycle "design" was a blatant affront to the rules of the Herb Cup--teams just went out and bought a kid's tricycle. Safe, yes. Dependable, yes; but entirely lacking in speed or even any real drivability by a full-sized adult.

Above: Andy Friz and Brian Smith of "Nodah X", with their modified bike design.

Below: Brian Fee and Dan Scanlon, "Apricot & Peach" with an actual child's size tricycle.

I was half of "The Rolling Monkeys". My partner was Steve Moore. Our trike sported monkey fur and a fuzzy tail. It was my original intention to race in a full gorilla suit, but I allowed myself to be talked out of it when temperatures ran into the eighties. Steve wore a gas station attendant's uniform and a set of Billy-Bob teeth.

Everyone sported some sort of get-up - tights and capes being predominant. Dan Scanlon and Brian Fee stole the show as "Apricot and Peach", never uttering a word throughout the entire race but performing a choreographed dance routine, all while wearing black and gold lamé Mexican wrestlers' outfits.

Storyboard artist Dan Scanlon:
Brian Fee and I saw people taking a lot of time actually building a tricycle out of a bicycle, and we knew that nether of us had any ability to build something like that, so we figured our efforts would have to be in the showmanship arena.   Plus we already had those outfits lying around.

Actually we just went down to Big Bear, bought a kids big wheel, spray painted it gold, then bought opaque black ladies nylons and some creepy masks.   We were going for a disturbing, mysterious, harlequin look.   Our names where Apricot and Peach.

"Apricot and Peach", foreground. Samantha Burg, Kristen Kummer, and Ron Price, background.

Art director Beth Albright, on the grand entrance of "Apricot and Peach":
We were all getting lined up to begin the race, when a loud siren began echoing through the parking lot. We all turned to find two costumed racers striding out with some sort of siren/bullhorn thing held aloft between them. But these weren't just any costumes.... black tights, yellow briefs coated in gold sequins, white painted masks... and I think capes too? They marched over to the starting line and performed a choreographed routine, without saying a word or breaking character in any way, then proceeded directly to the starting line, leaving the assembled crew agape in their wake.

Steve   Moore:
For race day, neighboring businesses were alerted as to what was going on, and asked please not to run over the animators.   Some actually came out to watch.   A start/finish line was marked out with chalk, and a pit stop area designated with chips and beer - racing fuel.   

Teams got into costumes, and rolled out onto the starting line. For the record, the eight teams consisted of:

The Pamplemousse Bastards - Jim Kammerud and Dan Root

Rolling Monkeys - Ron Price and Steve Moore

Nodah X - Andy Friz and Brian Smith

Taunting Muffins - Nicole Ankowski and Beth Albright

Apricot and Peach - Dan Scanlon and Brian Fee

Rahal - Fuller - Marty Fuller and his stepson, Kevin

Atomic Bull and Brie - Charlie Warren and Brie Buyaky

And one unofficial entry: eight year-old Jessie Kammerud and his friend Parker.

Continued on Page P....

Top photo L to R: Brian Fee, Marty Fuller, Kevin Rahal, Dan Scanlon, Marshall Kammerud, Marianne Kammerud, Ron Price, Todd Cronin, Steve Moore (arms up), Jessie Kammerud (front), Nicole Ankowski, Dan Root, Beth Albright, Brian Smith, Jim Kammerud, Andy Friz, Brie Buyaky, Charlie Warren

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