The making of the worst Christmas special of all time
On Dec. 2, 2002, My_Fault-1, a consumer on the 3D animation forum CGTalk, sat down together with his household to observe a soccer game. During one industrial break, he flipped channels to The WB, the place as an alternative of the same old fare of juvenile dramas was Rapsittie Street Kids: Believe in Santa, an animated Christmas film in contrast to something he had ever seen.
The heartwarming story, festive music, and cute animation had been nowhere to be discovered. This was a surreal vision of the Christmas special on par with Plan 9 from Outer House or The Room. In Rapsittie Street Kids, characters’ our bodies had the blocky stature of an upright juice field. Their faces barely registered as human, in a queasy distinction with their realistically flesh-colored lips. The soulless world round them was manufactured from muddy, repeating textures painted onto 3D objects, just like the Matrix by the use of a GeoCities web page.
By his personal account, My_Fault-1 and his household shortly forgot concerning the large game. They had been now transfixed on the story of a budding rapper named Ricky educating his snooty classmate and crush Nicole a lesson about vacation spirit. From the various rap interludes to excessively lengthy photographs of characters walking to the staler-than-stale jokes, one factor was clear: They had been now witnessing historical past. This was the Worst Christmas special Ever Made.
Rapsittie Street Kids was destined for a cult following. The solid included Paige O’Hara, Belle from Magnificence and the Beast, as Nicole; Walter Emanuel Jones, greatest referred to as the Black Ranger on Energy Rangers, as Ricky; Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson, because the bully Todd; Jodi Benson, Ariel from The Little Mermaid, as Lenee, a younger woman who’s questioning her perception in Santa; and none apart from Mark Hamill as the daddy that convinces her of Santa’s powers. The music was much more phenomenal. Not solely did the 2 Disney princesses lend their voices to the unique soundtrack, but the credit theme paired O’Hara with the legendary Peabo Bryson, who sang the title theme of Magnificence and the Beast with Celine Dion and “A Complete New World” with Regina Belle.
Rapsittie Street Kids was by no means bStreetcast once more after that vacation season, and it has by no means acquired a house video or streaming launch. The few traces that proved it wasn’t a terrifying mass hallucination had been some TV listings, an IMDb solid record, and promotional materials. The movie was destined to grow to be one more Z-movie consigned to the trash heap of historical past. but like so many compelling and mysterious failures, it took on a second life on the web. 13 years after its bStreetcast on The WB, Dycaite, founder of The Misplaced Media Wiki, tracked down Rapsittie Street Kids director Colin Slater, who demanded a number of funds of accelerating quantities for a duplicate of the special, then ghosted the web archivist partway by means of negotiations. Although Dycaite labeled the protracted and acrimonious course of a “rip-off,” he efficiently brokered a deal to acquire Slater’s copy of the movie, and uploaded Rapsittie Street Kids to each Misplaced Media Wiki and Vimeo in full in 2015.
Dycaite’s discovery marked a brand new chapter within the special’s memetic afterlife, beginning new rumors linking the movie to conspiracies and scamming. there were theories — Slater had referenced Xenu in a few of his old tweets, main some to Believe there was a Scientology connection — but as I found investigating the film and chatting with eight solid and crew members, the actual story behind Rapsittie Street Kids is one thing so convoluted that not even the web might suppose it up. It’s the story of two Lengthy Island guys watching their dream flip right into a nightmare, a software firm’s bid to revolutionize the animation trade, and a bunch of gifted artists caught with a director seeking to strike gold — and it’s all tied up with a Christmas bow.
There’s an web gossip-fueled mythos that has grown round Colin Slater. His IMDb web page claims that he produced virtually “2,000 hours of tv and movie” and labored on virtually “4,000 hours of movie and tv scores.” We could by no means know the reality from the person himself, as Slater died in 2019 of a stroke, but his collaborators have stuffed in some blanks. Slater’s Rapsittie Street Kids crew remembers him as a Hollywood energy participant and workhorse, and a person of incredible tenacity and charisma. He got here to America from his native England within the ’60s, During the British Invasion, and managed British bands as they toured within the States. Within the many years after that growth petered out, he dabbled in each side of Los Angeles’ artistic trade, from music publishing to movie production to, in fact, animation.
Two tasks Slater labored on planted the seeds for what would grow to be Rapsittie Street Kids. Within the ’80s and early ’90s, Slater helped out with the production of direct-to-video animation movies like Pals Are Eternally: Tales of The Little Princess, Denver: The Final Dinosaur, and the Troll doll-inspired Norfin Adventures sequence. The costly means of working with outsourced, abStreet animation studios on the movies annoyed him, and his hustler senses informed him that there should be a method to do that sooner, and cheaper, with at-home expertise. Slater, probably because of his time as a math main in faculty, had purchased a private laptop very early, in 1978, and he started to marvel if the ability of the pc held the key to his dilemma. He dreamed of opening his personal laptop animation studio, the place he might gamble on his hunch. All he wanted was a staff.
Within the early 1990s, J.R. Horsting was a stage actor at Common Studios’ Beetlejuice’s Rock and Roll Graveyard Revue who freelanced on the facet as a industrial illustrator. During one efficiency, Slater ran into him backstage and mentioned his different ambitions. “He requested me to return do some paintings at his place,” Horsting remembers. He began off drawing pen-and-paper illustrations and logos for Slater. Ultimately, Slater inquired if he might draw on “this laptop stuff and web.” Horsting stated he might study.
Horsting turned Slater’s right-hand man and witness to the challenge that will later evolve into Wolf Tracer Studios, the production home behind Rapsittie Street Kids. As Horsting tells it, Slater’s vision was to make animation “centrally positioned” once more, so he might put “the best artwork, the best musicians, and the best story concepts together into one place to create a narrative that everybody can take pleasure in” — and at an reasonably priced worth. Wolf Tracer Studios simply wanted the proper software to make that dream a actuality.
In Slater’s thoughts, the answer to his downside was a program known as 3D Choreographer. Launched in 1994 for Windows 3.1 as an “animation program designed for non-artists,” the software was lauded by shops like Windows Journal, which wrote on the time, “Animation of the Walt Disney sort takes inventive talent and painstaking effort, but 3D Choreographer allows you to create eye-catching animations with out breaking a sweat.”
With 3D Choreographer, filled with preset animations and point-and-click design options, the numbers lastly added up for Slater. The software’s low barrier of entry might drastically minimize the price of expert labor, and it was lightning-fast — 5 seconds of display time took 20 minutes to render, at a time when conventional 3D animation software would take hours to do the identical.
Horsting was no fan of 3D Choreographer, complaining to Slater that it made for ugly animations and lacked a real 3D engine. but Slater couldn’t be satisfied. “It was such a Moby Dick factor for Colin,” Horsting says. “It was positively his white whale.”
And like Captain Ahab, Slater wasn’t going to surrender anytime quickly. He simply needed to anticipate the proper alternative.
Within the early 2000s, dyed-in-the-wool Lengthy Islander James DeLuca labored at his household’s air con firm by day, but at night time pursued his actual ardour: gigging as a lyricist, a band supervisor, and a drummer for his personal band. On the clock During one home go to, DeLuca struck up a dialog together with his songwriter consumer and wound up jamming in an at-home recording studio. DeLuca emerged with two songs that will ultimately grow to be Rapsittie Street Kids’ “Best Kid within the World” and “Believe in Santa.” The air con man thought the songs had been sensible, but on the time, he set them apart to deal with work and his household.
Listening to them once more, DeLuca determined to discover a residence for what he thought had been the perfect songs of his profession. “I’m sitting down taking a look at these songs and go: Why the hell did I do that?” he says. “What was the aim of this? This could’t be the top of the story. And so I’m trying on the lyrics of all of the tales and going, ‘God rattling, it’s a narrative.’ That is kind of like a transcript simply needing to be professionally put together.”
DeLuca known as up a author buddy (who would go unnamed in our interviews and within the credit of the completed movie) to pen a automobile for his songs. His authentic vision was a delicate, low-stakes story “about how dad and mom had been ruining Christmas by shopping for all this stuff for the Kids, and there were Kids that didn’t have something, and so on the finish of the story all the Kids [that had presents] helped the Kids that didn’t, and the dad and mom realized a lesson.” This was the avenue for his long-held artistic ambitions that he’d been on the lookout for. DeLuca christened the film Believe in Santa, after one among his tracks. All he wanted was an animation studio to carry it to life.
James Abner, one other Hollywood hopeful taken underneath Slater’s wing, and the credited music supervisor on Rapsittie Street Kids, says DeLuca known as the Wolf Tracer Studios workplace within the spring of 2002 hoping to provide a Christmas special. Abner remembers him being annoyed: He needed to provide the film on a low funds, and everybody in animation informed him it will price thousands and thousands to appreciate his vision.
Slater known as DeLuca again with a quantity he needed to listen to: $650,000. DeLuca flew out to Los Angeles’ Studio Metropolis neighborhood to seal the take care of Slater and tour the Wolf Tracer workplace, which was an orderly two-story bungalow filled with buzzing computer systems. DeLuca was a bit of cautious about Slater’s method; he had imagined his film with the cutesy hand-drawn artwork of a Charlie Brown cartoon, not laptop animation. but Slater claimed that solely 3D animation might ship Rapsittie Street Kids on funds and, on prime of that, animate all the film in time for the 2002 vacation season.
DeLuca was glad with the deal, but wanted the cash. Confiding his cash troubles to an in depth household buddy, Chris Rose, ended up being a lucky choice. Rose was in his late 20s on the time, round half DeLuca’s age, but the two had a kinship as born-and-bred Lengthy Islanders working for his or her household companies who dreamed of creating a reputation for themselves outdoors their clans. Rose was going by means of a troublesome time, as he had simply divorced, and was feeling a bit of misplaced in life. He needed to do one thing large outdoors of his household’s profitable beer distribution enterprise. When DeLuca defined his state of affairs, his buddy jumped on the likelihood to assist out. Rose requested his father, who cherished animation, for the cash to fund the production, and received the inexperienced gentle. DeLuca says that solely a half hour elapsed between his proposal and Rose calling again with the excellent news. They fashioned a production firm with elements of their names, J. Rose Productions. Two abnormal Lengthy Island guys had been going Hollywood.
With money in hand, Slater started assembling Rapsittie Street Kids’ incredible solid. He had nothing but a script and idea artwork, and but he simply satisfied the largest names within the enterprise to lend their voices to his small animated movie. There was nothing sinister about it, because the web has imagined — Slater was actually simply that good.
Horsting describes his former boss’ star-schmoozing philosophy as “treating them proper.” The artist says Slater despatched a limo to shuttle Mark Hamill to and from the voice-over studio. “That’s why I feel everybody ever labored for him,” Horsting says, “as a result of he treats the expertise like: ‘There’s received to be a diffusion, there’s received to be folks selecting them up. They’ve received to be picked up and dropped off when they need. In the event that they need to take a break, they will do something they need. They’re answerable for their time after they’re with us.’” Slater had additionally spent years working with Warner Bros. as a producer. If he needed to achieve special expertise, he had many levers to tug.
Mad TV star Debra Wilson was one of many names Slater managed to rope in. She doesn’t keep in mind any unusually sycophantic habits During her work on Rapsittie Street Kids; in actual fact, she barely remembers the movie in any respect. On the web, although, her weird, glitchy efficiency as Ricky’s great-grandma has grow to be probably the most infamous characteristic of all the movie. Some folks speculate that her audio recordsdata had been corrupted, but Wilson remembers that she was requested to provide that voice. “They had been like, ‘Nice-grandma is raveled; she will be able to’t get her phrases together,’” says Wilson. “In order that needed to be within the script. That’s not audio. That’s me. I can inform the distinction. That’s me.”
As Slater labored his connections, DeLuca made the transfer from New York to Los Angeles, whereas Rose remained in Lengthy Island, the place he might elevate his six youngsters. DeLuca was the cash faucet, incomes him a spot on the desk in artistic selections, but he additionally proved to be Slater’s match within the smooth-talking division. DeLuca says it was he who satisfied The WB to offer Rapsittie Street Kids an airdate. His pitch was, “Have a look at all these nice Disney artists which can be showing on this. It might probably’t suck!” And it labored: The WB agreed to air the movie on 181 of its native associates that winter.
DeLuca and Slater needed their movie to grow to be a brand new Christmas basic, they usually warred over the script within the boardroom of the Wolf Tracer bungalow. Slater took DeLuca’s light vision and punched it up, in response to DeLuca, who remembers that Slater informed him there was “no rigidity” in his authentic script. “And he stated that you simply couldn’t have a profitable animation until you had this horror sort of rigidity, the place Kids had been chasing one another and making an attempt to beat one another up and do all these things.”
Slater additionally gave the movie a brand new, snappier title, “Bash Street Kids: Believe in Santa.” Sadly, that shared a reputation with the favored British comedian Bash Street Kids, and when the strip’s rights holders received wind of the American challenge, they threatened authorized motion. Somebody on the staff proposed switching out “Bash” for “Rhapsody,” but that was taken, too. Lastly, somebody rearranged the letters and got here up with the title that received them out of authorized limbo: Rapsittie Street Kids.
In the meantime, the animators shortly realized what that they had signed up for. The core of the animation staff was composed of Horsting, lead animator Damon Knight, and editor Dave Edison. All three of them had been working in skilled animation for a number of years by then, but that they had by no means confronted the problem of pumping out a 40-minute animated special in 4 months. The deadline was so tight that there was no time for storyboarding; they received to the studio, put in 3D Choreographer, and started working as greatest as they might with the unfamiliar program. “Colin gave us some fast directions,” Edison says. “but he wasn’t an knowledgeable, and he didn’t actually fully know function it. And there was nobody else to ask.”
The primary signal of bother got here when the animators found that they couldn’t truly mannequin something inside this system, the method being too superior for the software’s goal layperson viewers. So Horsting despatched his idea artwork to the builders of 3D Choreographer, who would then mannequin the requested characters and ship them again over, for a price.
Edison remembers the shock of seeing the Rapsittie Street Kids character fashions: “They checked out greatest like ’80s or ’70s computer-generated photographs: blocky, hideous.” Horsting agreed, though he was extra optimistic about their prospects. “None of them had been gonna look good,” says Horsting. “But when we might gown them up sufficient, we nonetheless had one thing we might work with.”
Sadly, 3D Choreographer lacked a complete host of options that skilled animators wanted to provide a good movie. The software restricted the staff to “one design for every character,” Edison remembers, “so the Kids stroll by means of the snow or skate briefly sleeves with out skates. They undergo rubbish they usually couldn’t ever get soiled.”
Different specials like surroundings, props, and backgrounds had been tough to create within the software as properly. 3D Choreographer got here packaged with a couple of dozen inventory fashions, which, together with the customized ones despatched over by the corporate, had been the one 3D shapes the staff might use to assemble the film. Anything — bushes, toys, snowflakes — had been mocked up in Photoshop, after which Frankensteined along with the 3D Choreographer fashions in After Results. 3D Choreographer’s pre-programmed animations had been additionally limiting, as there was no method to truncate or change the trajectory of character motion. All of the unusual cuts and continuity errors within the movie had been intentional: Edison had no selection but to chop across the inappropriate bits of every animation cycle.
Although Slater was the credited director, Edison says that “there was no actual course.” Often, “Slater can be out on the walkway on the highest of the steps having a smoke whereas we had been working,” says Edison. For stretches, he would disappear. Essentially the most Slater would do, in response to Edison, was “simply look over our shoulder each every so often and say, ‘Good work, maintain going.’” As an in-joke, the animation staff made a snowman within the background wink within the credit when “Directed by Colin Slater” seems on display.
Knight ultimately reached his boiling level with the chaos. “He was terribly good with a pencil,” Edison says, “but this wasn’t that; this was clunky animation software. […] Damon’s a superb man, but he was annoyed.” In Horsting’s opinion, Knight “was temperamental and knew that software was crap.” He was fuming, and shortly he would blow the whistle.
Slater assured his cash males that the animation they had been seeing was transitional. The director was so assured that he even received Rose to place down one other $200,000 to jump-start the production of a deliberate Easter-themed sequel, subtitled A Bunny’s Story. but because the airdate neared, and the animation didn’t enhance, DeLuca requested Rose to pay a go to in an effort to put strain on Slater. They demanded to see a clip of the completed animation to reassure themselves that their funding was paying off. The 2 left the assembly with out seeing any of the movie.
Proper after that, Rose and DeLuca met Knight, and the animator spilled the beans. “He tried to stroll proper as much as me out within the parking zone,” Rose remembers. “He stated, ‘Oh, I hear you’re one of many traders.’ And I laughed. So he was like, ‘Yeah, you’re getting ripped off. You must get out of right here and get out of this challenge as quickly as you may.’”
Knight informed Rose concerning the animation software’s points, the pre-made fashions, and the way the film was certainly going to be a catastrophe. Each DeLuca and Rose had been dumbstruck. They believed Knight. Rose known as his father to inform him the information: Their funding was in peril, and even with the printed take care of The WB, they may find yourself with a lack of almost $1 million. When the Believeations got here to Slater’s Believeation, the director “put two and two together and realized Damon was the one one who might have stated this stuff,” DeLuca says. Quickly afterward, Knight was fired.
Rapsittie Street Kids now had solely two full-time animators and simply days left to go till the finished movie needed to be turned over to The WB. Edison and Horsting went sleepless for 3 days to get the film completed. Extremely, they managed to finish and ship the movie on time — and underneath funds, too. Horsting likened the expertise of their inconceivable, come-from-behind victory to “the bizarre numbness you get after the massive game the place you win and also you’re like, I can’t Believe I received.”
Their victory was additionally the triumph of Slater and 3D Choreographer. “Frankly,” Edison admits, “if we had crafted this correctly in Lightwave, or Maya, or no matter was obtainable on the time, it will have taken too lengthy; we might have by no means gotten it completed. At the very least 3D Choreographer was capable of crank it out, as tough because it was.”
“Slater was certain that Rapsittie can be a hit,” Horsting remembers. And Horsting began believing it too. “I believed folks would love it, like they like watching a puppet present,” he says. “Although that’s not the best know-how ever.”
Slater paid everybody at Wolf Tracer a modest bonus for getting the film completed, and no crew member I spoke to felt shorted on the work they did for the challenge. Quickly afterward, he requested Horsting and Edison to put in writing up a screenplay for the Rapsittie Street Kids Easter sequel, to be made in 3D Choreographer. Slater noticed the daybreak of his animation revolution coming.
The week after Thanksgiving, Rose hosted a get-together at his residence to observe the debut bStreetcast of his special. In attendance was his father, whom Rose says he all the time had a tough relationship with. This was solely the second time his father had ever visited his home. Rose knew he had a dud on his palms, but what was proven on the tv that night time exceeded his worst nightmare.
The entire household gathered across the TV as two-dimensional snowflakes fell over a squat, ugly-looking city. Everybody’s smiles pale. They began making an attempt laborious not to take a look at one another. Rose lasted about 15 minutes, turned crimson, and retreated to his bed room. The household shut off the TV after half an hour. From his bed room window, he watched the headlights of his father’s automobile because it sung out of his driveway and screeched into the night time.
DeLuca had been invited to the occasion, too, but chose to not attend — Slater had delivered a VHS copy of Rapsittie Street Kids to him the night time earlier than, and that was sufficient. “I noticed my dad and mom die, and I’m unsure this wasn’t as emotionally devastating as that,” he says. That night time, he promised himself that he would spend the following few years of his life finding some method to pay the Rose household again.
DeLuca and Rose ended up incomes $40,000 in income from the movie’s bStreetcast on The WB. They entertained suing Wolf Tracer for breach of contract, but neither DeLuca nor Rose needed to spend much more cash preventing an uphill authorized battle. Nonetheless, although, each of the lads really feel like they had been on the shedding finish of a rip-off operation. DeLuca says that Slater paid himself handsomely whereas minimizing the movie’s funds, and alleges that Slater vacuumed up sufficient of their cash to purchase a classic Mercedes-Benz During production.
The crew members I spoke with stated that they had been paid pretty but not extravagantly, and preserve that Slater sincerely believed that Rapsittie Street Kids would achieve success. Horsting doesn’t dispute that Slater tried to chop prices, but has a distinct principle about the place all the cash saved on the funds went: to Slater’s subsequent movie, Dinosaur Island. That one, too, was made in 3D Choreographer, and Horsting says that it’s the software’s magnum opus, filled with barely much less ugly polygons and barely extra advanced animation. ”I might be stunned if anyone made something higher,” Edison agrees. Dinosaur Island was additionally the software’s swan track — 3D Choreographer’s maker folded and the software is taken into account misplaced, with no hint of its existence moreover Slater’s two movies.
As with all Christmas saga, the ethical of the story of Rapsittie Street Kids: Believe in Santa is that issues shouldn’t be valued for his or her industrial or aesthetic deserves. Actual worth is about sentimental that means, the attachments and experiences that the factor solely represents. Rapsittie Street Kids is the worst Christmas special ever made, palms down, but everybody who labored on it has been touched by it, in a small method.
Slater technically made good on the promise of 3D Choreographer. Horsting and Edison turned shut buddies after their time within the trenches, they usually nonetheless be in contact to at the present time. Rose is joyful that his largest embarrassment is now a cult hit, and he and his grown-up daughters now watch Rapsittie Street Kids YouTube response movies together. DeLuca by no means made sufficient dough to assuage his emotions of guilt concerning the Rose household, but nonetheless thinks the songs that he wrote for the film are stunning, and believes that “Via a Baby’s Eyes,” the special’s primary monitor, “could also be one of many prime 10 greatest Christmas songs ever recorded.”
And the web, in fact, loves the absurdity of Rapsittie Street Kids. Despite the backstory, it’s a present that retains on giving.