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Worst Christmas Film Ever: Inside Rapsittie Road Youngsters: Imagine in Santa

On Dec. 2, 2002, My_Fault-1, a consumer on the 3D animation discussion board CGTalk, sat down together with his household to observe a soccer sport. Throughout one business break, he flipped channels to The WB, the place as an alternative of the same old fare of juvenile dramas was Rapsittie Road Youngsters: Imagine 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 imaginative and prescient of the Christmas particular on par with Plan 9 from Outer House or The Room. In Rapsittie Road Youngsters, 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 means of a GeoCities web page.

By his personal account, My_Fault-1 and his household rapidly forgot in regards to the huge sport. 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 strolling to the staler-than-stale jokes, one factor was clear: They had been now witnessing historical past. This was the Worst Christmas Particular Ever Made.

Rapsittie Road Youngsters was destined for a cult following. The forged included Paige O’Hara, Belle from Magnificence and the Beast, as Nicole; Walter Emanuel Jones, greatest often known 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 aside 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, however 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 Road Youngsters was by no means broadcast once more after that vacation season, and it has by no means obtained 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 forged record, and promotional materials. The movie was destined to turn out to be yet one more Z-movie consigned to the trash heap of historical past. However like so many compelling and mysterious failures, it took on a second life on the web. 13 years after its broadcast on The WB, Dycaite, founding father of The Misplaced Media Wiki, tracked down Rapsittie Road Youngsters director Colin Slater, who demanded a number of funds of accelerating quantities for a replica of the particular, 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 Road Youngsters to each Misplaced Media Wiki and Vimeo in full in 2015.

Dycaite’s discovery marked a brand new chapter within the particular’s memetic afterlife, beginning new rumors linking the movie to conspiracies and scamming. There have been theories — Slater had referenced Xenu in a few of his previous tweets, main some to consider there was a Scientology connection — however as I found investigating the film and talking to eight forged and crew members, the true story behind Rapsittie Road Youngsters is one thing so convoluted that not even the web might assume it up. It’s the story of two Lengthy Island guys watching their dream flip right into a nightmare, a software program firm’s bid to revolutionize the animation trade, and a bunch of gifted artists caught with a director trying to strike gold — and it’s all tied up with a Christmas bow.

a clip of a boy lifting his head and handing a toy to a woman in Rapsittie Street Kids: Believe in Santa

Picture: Wolf Tracer Studios/J. Rose Productions

There may be an web gossip-fueled mythos that has grown round Colin Slater. His IMDb web page claims that he produced nearly “2,000 hours of tv and movie” and labored on nearly “4,000 hours of movie and tv scores.” We might by no means know the reality from the person himself, as Slater died in 2019 of a stroke, however his collaborators have crammed in some blanks. Slater’s Rapsittie Road Youngsters crew remembers him as a Hollywood energy participant and workhorse, and a person of unbelievable tenacity and charisma. He got here to America from his native England within the ’60s, in the course of the British Invasion, and managed British bands as they toured within the States. Within the many years after that increase petered out, he dabbled in each aspect of Los Angeles’ inventive trade, from music publishing to movie manufacturing to, in fact, animation.

Two initiatives Slater labored on planted the seeds for what would turn out to be Rapsittie Road Youngsters. Within the ’80s and early ’90s, Slater helped out with the manufacturing of direct-to-video animation movies like Mates Are Without end: Tales of The Little Princess, Denver: The Final Dinosaur, and the Troll doll-inspired Norfin Adventures collection. The costly technique of working with outsourced, abroad animation studios on the movies pissed off him, and his hustler senses advised him that there should be a manner to do that sooner, and cheaper, with at-home expertise. Slater, presumably 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 facility of the pc held the important thing 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 group.

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 business illustrator. Throughout one efficiency, Slater ran into him backstage and mentioned his different ambitions. “He requested me to return do some art work 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 mentioned he might study.

Horsting grew to become Slater’s right-hand man and witness to the mission that might later evolve into Wolf Tracer Studios, the manufacturing home behind Rapsittie Road Youngsters. As Horsting tells it, Slater’s imaginative and prescient was to make animation “centrally positioned” once more, so he might put “the best artwork, the best musicians, and the best story concepts collectively 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 precise software program to make that dream a actuality.

In Slater’s thoughts, the answer to his downside was a program referred to as 3D Choreographer. Launched in 1994 for Home windows 3.1 as an “animation program designed for non-artists,” the software program was lauded by retailers like Home windows Journal, which wrote on the time, “Animation of the Walt Disney variety takes inventive ability and painstaking effort, however 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 program’s low barrier of entry might drastically minimize the price of expert labor, and it was lightning-fast — 5 seconds of display screen time took 20 minutes to render, at a time when conventional 3D animation software program 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. However 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 watch for the precise alternative.

Character art for Rapsittie Street Kids

Character artwork for Rapsittie Road Youngsters
Picture: Wolf Tracer Studios/J. Rose Productions

Within the early 2000s, dyed-in-the-wool Lengthy Islander James DeLuca labored at his household’s air con firm by day, however at evening pursued his actual ardour: gigging as a lyricist, a band supervisor, and a drummer for his personal band. On the clock throughout 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 might ultimately turn out to be Rapsittie Road Youngsters’ “Finest Child within the World” and “Imagine in Santa.” The air con man thought the songs had been good, however on the time, he set them apart to give attention to work and his household.

Listening to them once more, DeLuca determined to discover a dwelling for what he thought had been the very best 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 may’t be the tip 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 type of like a transcript simply needing to be professionally put collectively.”

DeLuca referred to 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 unique imaginative and prescient was a mild, low-stakes story “about how dad and mom had been ruining Christmas by shopping for all these items for the children, and there have been children that didn’t have something, and so on the finish of the story all the children [that had presents] helped the children that didn’t, and the dad and mom realized a lesson.” This was the avenue for his long-held inventive ambitions that he’d been on the lookout for. DeLuca christened the film Imagine in Santa, after one in all his tracks. All he wanted was an animation studio to deliver it to life.

James Abner, one other Hollywood hopeful taken below Slater’s wing, and the credited music supervisor on Rapsittie Road Youngsters, says DeLuca referred to as the Wolf Tracer Studios workplace within the spring of 2002 hoping to supply a Christmas particular. Abner remembers him being pissed off: He needed to supply the film on a low price range, and everybody in animation advised him it could price tens of millions to understand his imaginative and prescient.

Slater referred to 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 cope with Slater and tour the Wolf Tracer workplace, which was an orderly two-story bungalow full of 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. However Slater claimed that solely 3D animation might ship Rapsittie Road Youngsters on price range and, on prime of that, animate the complete film in time for the 2002 vacation season.

DeLuca was glad with the deal, however wanted the cash. Confiding his cash troubles to a detailed household buddy, Chris Rose, ended up being a lucky choice. Rose was in his late 20s on the time, round half DeLuca’s age, however 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 exterior their clans. Rose was going by means of a tricky time, as he had simply divorced, and was feeling a bit of misplaced in life. He needed to do one thing huge exterior 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 manufacturing, and acquired 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 manufacturing firm with components of their names, J. Rose Productions. Two odd Lengthy Island guys had been going Hollywood.

three children and an old woman in Rapsittie Street Kids: Believe in Santa

Picture: Wolf Tracer Studios/J. Rose Productions

With money in hand, Slater started assembling Rapsittie Road Youngsters’ unbelievable forged. He had nothing however a script and idea artwork, and but he simply satisfied the most important 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 believe everybody ever labored for him,” Horsting says, “as a result of he treats the expertise like: ‘There’s acquired to be a selection, there’s acquired to be folks choosing them up. They’ve acquired to be picked up and dropped off when they need. In the event that they wish to take a break, they’ll do something they need. They’re answerable for their time once they’re with us.’” Slater had additionally spent years working with Warner Bros. as a producer. If he needed to achieve particular expertise, he had many levers to drag.

Mad TV star Debra Wilson was one of many names Slater managed to rope in. She doesn’t bear in mind any unusually sycophantic conduct throughout her work on Rapsittie Road Youngsters; the truth is, she barely remembers the movie in any respect. On the web, although, her weird, glitchy efficiency as Ricky’s great-grandma has turn out to be essentially the most infamous function of the complete movie. Some folks speculate that her audio information had been corrupted, however Wilson remembers that she was requested to supply that voice. “They had been like, ‘Nice-grandma is matted; she will’t get her phrases collectively,’” 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 increase his six kids. DeLuca was the cash faucet, incomes him a spot on the desk in inventive choices, however he additionally proved to be Slater’s match within the smooth-talking division. DeLuca says it was he who satisfied The WB to provide Rapsittie Road Youngsters an airdate. His pitch was, “Take a look at all these nice Disney artists which can be showing on this. It may possibly’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 turn out 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 imaginative and prescient and punched it up, in line with DeLuca, who remembers that Slater advised him there was “no pressure” in his unique script. “And he mentioned that you just couldn’t have a profitable animation except you had this horror kind of pressure, the place children had been chasing one another and making an attempt to beat one another up and do all these items.”

Slater additionally gave the movie a brand new, snappier title, “Bash Road Youngsters: Imagine in Santa.” Sadly, that shared a reputation with the favored British comedian Bash Road Youngsters, and when the strip’s rights holders acquired wind of the American mission, they threatened authorized motion. Somebody on the group proposed switching out “Bash” for “Rhapsody,” however that was taken, too. Lastly, somebody rearranged the letters and got here up with the title that acquired them out of authorized limbo: Rapsittie Road Youngsters.

In the meantime, the animators rapidly realized what that they had signed up for. The core of the animation group 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, however that they had by no means confronted the problem of pumping out a 40-minute animated particular in 4 months. The deadline was so tight that there was no time for storyboarding; they acquired 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. “However he wasn’t an skilled, and he didn’t actually fully know methods to function it. And there was nobody else to ask.”

Photographs: Wolf Tracer Studios/J. Rose Productions

The primary signal of bother got here when the animators found that they couldn’t truly mannequin something inside this system, the approach being too superior for the software program’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 Road Youngsters character fashions: “They checked out greatest like ’80s or ’70s computer-generated photos: 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 an entire host of options that skilled animators wanted to supply a good movie. The software program restricted the group to “one design for every character,” Edison remembers, “so the children stroll by means of the snow or skate in brief sleeves with out skates. They undergo rubbish they usually couldn’t ever get soiled.”

Different particulars like surroundings, props, and backgrounds had been tough to create within the software program 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 group 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 technique 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 alternative however to chop across the inappropriate bits of every animation cycle.

Although Slater was the credited director, Edison says that “there was no actual path.” Normally, “Slater could 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. Probably the most Slater would do, in line with Edison, was “simply look over our shoulder each on occasion and say, ‘Good work, preserve going.’” As an in-joke, the animation group made a snowman within the background wink within the credit when “Directed by Colin Slater” seems on display screen.

Knight ultimately reached his boiling level with the chaos. “He was terribly good with a pencil,” Edison says, “however this wasn’t that; this was clunky animation software program. […] Damon’s man, however he was pissed off.” In Horsting’s opinion, Knight “was temperamental and knew that software program 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 acquired Rose to place down one other $200,000 to jump-start the manufacturing of a deliberate Easter-themed sequel, subtitled A Bunny’s Story. However because the airdate neared, and the animation didn’t enhance, DeLuca requested Rose to pay a go to to be able 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 mentioned, ‘Oh, I hear you’re one of many buyers.’ And I laughed. So he was like, ‘Yeah, you’re getting ripped off. You need to get out of right here and get out of this mission as quickly as you’ll be able to.’”

Picture: Wolf Tracer Studios/J. Rose Productions

Knight advised Rose in regards to the animation software program’s points, the pre-made fashions, and the way the film was absolutely going to be a catastrophe. Each DeLuca and Rose had been dumbstruck. They believed Knight. Rose referred to as his father to inform him the information: Their funding was in peril, and even with the published cope with The WB, they could find yourself with a lack of almost $1 million. When the considerations got here to Slater’s consideration, the director “put two and two collectively and realized Damon was the one one who might have mentioned these items,” DeLuca says. Quickly afterward, Knight was fired.

Rapsittie Road Youngsters 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 performed. Extremely, they managed to finish and ship the movie on time — and below price range, too. Horsting likened the expertise of their inconceivable, come-from-behind victory to “the bizarre numbness you get after the large sport the place you win and also you’re like, I can’t consider I gained.”

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 could have taken too lengthy; we might have by no means gotten it performed. At the very least 3D Choreographer was capable of crank it out, as tough because it was.”

“Slater was certain that Rapsittie could be successful,” Horsting remembers. And Horsting began believing it too. “I assumed folks would really like it, like they like watching a puppet present,” he says. “Although that’s not the best expertise ever.”

Slater paid everybody at Wolf Tracer a modest bonus for getting the film performed, and no crew member I spoke to felt shorted on the work they did for the mission. Quickly afterward, he requested Horsting and Edison to write down up a screenplay for the Rapsittie Road Youngsters Easter sequel, to be made in 3D Choreographer. Slater noticed the daybreak of his animation revolution coming.

a cream-colored mug saying “I survived Believe in Santa”

A mug owned by Dave Edison.
Picture courtesy of Dave Edison

The week after Thanksgiving, Rose hosted a get-together at his dwelling to observe the debut broadcast of his particular. 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 fingers, however what was proven on the tv that evening 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 light. They began making an attempt onerous 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 evening.

DeLuca had been invited to the social gathering, too, however selected to not attend — Slater had delivered a VHS copy of Rapsittie Road Youngsters to him the evening earlier than, and that was sufficient. “I noticed my dad and mom die, and I’m undecided this wasn’t as emotionally devastating as that,” he says. That evening, he promised himself that he would spend the following few years of his life discovering some technique to pay the Rose household again.

DeLuca and Rose ended up incomes $40,000 in income from the movie’s broadcast on The WB. They entertained suing Wolf Tracer for breach of contract, however neither DeLuca nor Rose needed to spend much more cash preventing an uphill authorized battle. Nonetheless, although, each of the boys 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 price range, and alleges that Slater vacuumed up sufficient of their cash to purchase a classic Mercedes-Benz throughout manufacturing.

The crew members I spoke with mentioned that they had been paid pretty however not extravagantly, and preserve that Slater sincerely believed that Rapsittie Road Youngsters would achieve success. Horsting doesn’t dispute that Slater tried to chop prices, however has a special principle about the place all the cash saved on the price range went: to Slater’s subsequent movie, Dinosaur Island. That one, too, was made in 3D Choreographer, and Horsting says that it’s the software program’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 program’s swan track — 3D Choreographer’s maker folded and the software program is taken into account misplaced, with no hint of its existence in addition to Slater’s two movies.

Picture: Wolf Tracer Studios/J. Rose Productions

As with all Christmas saga, the ethical of the story of Rapsittie Road Youngsters: Imagine in Santa is that issues shouldn’t be valued for his or her business or aesthetic deserves. Actual worth is about sentimental that means, the attachments and experiences that the factor solely represents. Rapsittie Road Youngsters is the worst Christmas particular ever made, fingers down, however everybody who labored on it has been touched by it, in a small manner.

Slater technically made good on the promise of 3D Choreographer. Horsting and Edison grew to become shut pals after their time within the trenches, they usually nonetheless be in contact to at the present time. Rose is joyful that his greatest embarrassment is now a cult hit, and he and his grown-up daughters now watch Rapsittie Road Youngsters YouTube response movies collectively. DeLuca by no means made sufficient dough to assuage his emotions of guilt relating to the Rose household, however nonetheless thinks the songs that he wrote for the film are stunning, and believes that “Via a Baby’s Eyes,” the particular’s foremost observe, “could also be one of many prime 10 greatest Christmas songs ever recorded.”

And the web, in fact, loves the absurdity of Rapsittie Road Youngsters. Regardless of the backstory, it’s a present that retains on giving.

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