I needed work. There was a new animation studio opening in
San Diego. I packed up a bag and headed down from LA to create a promotional
film for Odyssey Productions. They were located in an office building in
One day I squeezed into the elevator, filled with Prudential
Insurance employees in suits, clutching an armful of Fisher Price toys I was
planning to stop-motion animate. One of the suits commented, “Aren’t you little
old to be playing with those?”
Just before the doors to my floor opened I replied, “I sold
insurance when I was six. I’m just trying to make up for lost time.” I exited quickly.
In the midst of working on the film I’d entitled Adventures
Of A Red Ball, I overheard the producer discussing a bid for an animated TV
commercial for a local radio station. There was some mention of a chicken
tie-in but I never understood what that was all about. After all, I was merely
eavesdropping. All I really knew was he had to submit a bid by the following
I suggested that I stop what I was doing and animate a
chicken that could accompany the bid. This would entail shooting the animation
in-house on 16mm black and white film and developing it in the men’s room down
the hall. When I got the okay I set to work.
In order to create a lot of animation in a short time I
employed a technique called crawls, whereby I would have my cartoon chicken
strike a series of ridiculous acrobatic poses and then hand trace them several
times. When shot in random order it would give the chicken a sense of aliveness
while holding the poses, as opposed to being a static drawing. In this way I
was able to create about 45 seconds of animation in one sitting. Once shot and
developed in the men’s room the film was stretched out to dry in a closet using
a series of paperclips. When dry it was rolled up on a yellow plastic core and
taken into the ad agency the following day.
Meanwhile, I had plans to fly to New York for a meeting.
This was not to be. The producer returned from the meeting and informed me that
my chicken had clinched the deal. I would have to delay my flight in order to
create some storyboarded ad ideas. At the same time, local animator/artists
would submit chicken designs. The artist whose chicken was selected by the
client would go on to animate it.
I came up with several ad ideas and spent more time creating
nice storyboard panels than I spent drawing inside them. With less than an hour
left I sketched in my ideas. They were laid out on a large table next to the
rapidly gathered submissions from the other artists.
In my mind I had one foot in New York by the time the folks
from Grant-Rogandino Advertising and KGB Radio showed up. I bit my lower lip as
they circled the table surveying all the offerings. Then they went into a
private huddle on the other side of the room. When they emerged they said which
ad idea they liked. Great. Then they announced that the chicken they liked was
the one in the storyboards. What?
Change of flight plans. I now had to stick around to direct
and animate the commercial. Which I did, adding my own signature “Ga-bawk!” to
the sound track.
As soon as I was finished I left for New York. When I
returned a week later I was backing out of a parking space in El Cajon. When I
looked back over my shoulder I nearly screamed. My back window was filled with my
cartoon chicken on the side of a municipal bus. My TV spot soon filled the
airwaves as my chicken gently clutched her glowing eggs in a rocking chair to the
sound of the Allman Brothers.
KGB Radio soon led in the ratings. By the next cycle the ad
agency circumnavigated the production house and brought me in write copy. From
this meeting came the immortal words, “KGB Radio…Rock Around The Cluck”. These
words soon appeared ala spray paint graffiti on billboards all over town. Next
to them stood the huge image of a chicken holding a paint can. This was the
first live incarnation of the KGB Chicken, inhabited by young Ted Giannoulas.
Hired at $2/hr initially, the radio station had no idea what
they’d done by putting Ted in that suit to hand out tickets and such. A much
more attractive suit would follow, later to evolve into the Famous Chicken when
the tight leash of KGB Radio was severed. That is Ted’s story and it’s epic.
As for me, on the next round KGB Radio approached me
directly and offered me the entire advertising account. I was in the process of
flying the coop at that time and turned them down. I would soon move to
northern California, once again writing as well as animating for Sesame Street,
then onward to a feature with Lucasfilm and everything else that has followed.
Due to Ted Giannoulas’ amazing creativity and energy I have
never been able to look over my shoulder and see the Chicken as a part of my
past. Because he had been at it all these years. Somewhere in the universe
there is this crazy chicken energy field that overtook me years ago and then
found Ted. It is an energy field that touched the likes of Harpo Marx and
Buster Keaton. It is bigger than Colonel Sanders. May it never die.