Bambi’s Revenge (1976) is an unofficial sequel to Marv Newland’s classic short film Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969). The 1976 cartoon was written and directed by Norman Gibson, produced by Frank Wetzel, animated by Ernest Geefay, and photographed by John Roope. Clocking in at about two minutes, the animated short picks up where Bambi Meets Godzilla leaves off and gives the audience a much happier ending than the original. In February 2022, Mr. Roope answered Brett Homenick’s questions about his life and contributions to Bambi’s Revenge.
Brett Homenick: Let’s start at the very beginning. When and where were you born?
John Roope: I was born and grew up in Worcester, MA, the son of a university physics professor and a loving mom.
BH: Where did you grow up? What were your hobbies at the time?
JR: Although I went to a “classical” high school, my interests were more in mechanical things. Took an evening course in gas welding at the trade high school — was not supposed to do this, but I think my dad pulled a few strings so that I could. Had a big Harley when I was old enough, and, in the years I had it, put more than 50k miles on it. I missed my high school graduation to go on a motorcycle trip.
My first job was with a tool manufacturing company in their sheet metal department — tool boxes. I then worked for a gun-manufacturing company. This was during the Korean War. Was not drafted because of a bone condition. I did not care for the cold and snow, so [I] came to Los Angeles and attended an aircraft mechanics school. Worked for Northrop [Corporation] on a modification detail on the Scorpion fighter. When all the planes that needed the modification were finished, the company kept me busy doing “busy work” — boring. Somehow found my way to a ranch job – a lot of fun.
BH: Did you go to university?
JR: Later went to Cal Poly [California Polytechnic State University] and earned a two-year technical certificate in animal husbandry! I liked the area around Paso Robles and Atascadero and eventually went to work in a local machine shop, mostly repairing engines and some farm equipment.
BH: How did you get involved with cameras and filmmaking?
JR: Found a nice lot and built my own house, with some help on the plumbing and foundation. When this job ended, and, as temporary work, I ended up as a movie projectionist in Morro Bay. I also reupholstered all the theater seats — I had a friend that was an upholsterer, and he taught me. I sort of fell in love with film and the entertainment business at this time, so [I] took a home school course to get my commercial broadcast license. Finally went to work for KSBY-TV. Worked a 10-hour day, four days a week, at the transmitter on the top of a hill.
At the start, my job was to watch the transmitter, load the 16mm film and slides for the commercials, and then run them at the appropriate times. We had a kitchen on site, but I found that trying to cook something was somehow bad luck – as something almost always went awry!
We had at the start one newsman, and he also did the announcing. When live announcing was called for, he came up to the transmitter site. The whole situation was a lot of fun. When the TV station was sold, the new company came in with lots of money, and a studio was built in the basement of the office building. I had fun drawing up the plans to be bid on. But the FCC allowed us at this time to control the transmitter remotely, and the tech crew moved to the new studio and control room. Somehow the fun left! I think improvising in the past was half of the fun.
I had purchased an Arriflex 16mm camera and sometimes went with one of the newsmen — on my time — for fun. Got to go a lot of places, like the opening upstairs in Hearst Castle — a private tour — and the bottom of a missile silo at Vandenberg Air [Force] Base — off-camera. He was an ex-serviceman, and the military trusted him. If he said something would be off the record, they knew it would be.
The official photographer at the station and I started a 16mm film lab. We did black and white reversal and Eastmancolor print film. The reversal film was very busy during Friday nights, as the football coaches from a lot of high schools up and down the coast sent us film of the games — Greyhound Bus at that time had a package express — and we would process their film and put it back on Greyhound so they would have it in the morning.
We also shot film on some local games – I even cobbled together a camera that would take a 1,200-foot magazine so that the whole game could be shot without changing magazines. The movement was from a Bell and Howell Filmo mounted in a new box with an electric motor drive. Many of the sprockets and some other parts were from a projector. Most of the Eastmancolor film was from Rex Fleming Productions in Santa Barbara.
During this time, a complete Mitchell 16mm camera outfit came up for sale at the University of Mississippi on a sealed bid, and I was the winner by $51! This started me on a rather new adventure. As it did not have an animation motor, I built one, then the complete animation stand with Fax [a company that manufactured animation stands and other such items] parts for the cels.
Film processing is not for the faint of heart! My partner’s wife left him, and he finally left his job at the TV station – this put running the lab on my shoulders along with my work at the station, and there were times that I almost had tears!
BH: What was the impetus behind Bambi’s Revenge?
JR: We finally sold the lab to Frank Wetzel, who had been shooting football film for many years. Frank also showed cartoons to kids with one of the service organizations and of course showed Bambi Meets Godzilla. This got him thinking about a sequel, and he recruited some fellows he knew to write the story and do the animation, knowing of course that I could do the photography. Since we all agreed that we could not leave poor Bambi under Godzilla’s foot, Bambi’s Revenge was born.
My great love was beautifully-crafted cameras, and of course the Mitchell camera is a beautifully-built machine with the finest machine work, as was the Arriflex. I get great pleasure from building things, and thus was the animation stand and motor for the Mitchell was born.
BH: What did you do on the animated short?
JR: I am not an artist, and the real credit for Bambi’s Revenge goes to Norman Gibson for the screenplay and Ernest Geefay for the artwork. My only contribution to the film was as a button-pusher. I have great admiration for Marv Newland, who created Bambi Meets Godzilla with only the basic tools. I had the luxury of having much of the camera work automated. [See the picture of the control panel.]
I did some odds and ends for the TV station, and a realtor in Arroyo Grande named Frances Beaver had signs with a picture of a beaver on one side. She wanted the beaver to come to life and jump off of the sign as an introduction to her speaking ad. The new photographer at the station was an artist and did the animation artwork for this. This was in color, and she was quite pleased. The first time we saw it on the air, we almost died laughing — she appeared wearing large round glasses to go with the beaver theme!
My friend the artist went on to work for [Ray] Mercer [& Company] in Hollywood, then finally Disney computer animation. I think he did mostly title work on some of the big films. His name appears in the credits, of course. He retired early when Disney sent all its computer animation to China. He and his wife now live in Flagstaff, AZ.
After I left the TV station, I took a year off and built a 46mm copy camera for a gentleman who was a hot air balloon enthusiast and had a lot of pictures taken with a Hasselblad [camera] – too large to run through a standard slide projector. The camera had two motors – one to advance the film, the second to run a registration pin. [The] camera had mirror reflex focus and used an electric shutter. Kodak made 46mm film for this purpose and made plastic slide mounts with pin registration. Many pictures were copied with this.
I went to work at this time for a salvage yard, and we salvaged much material from the government and phone companies. A lot of large mainframe computers and some material from Lawrence Livermore [National] Lab[oratory]. Going to the auctions was a lot of fun and sometimes rather amusing.
We went to an auction at Vandenberg Air [Force] Base, and on the floor on a palate was a collection of Mitchell 35mm cameras. When the lot came up for bid, the auctioneer had no idea what he had. Mitchell cameras were much in demand at this time, as several outfits in Hollywood converted them to run silently — self-blimped. The auction started with, “Who will bid $5?” There were several small bids, then as I recall, a man from a large Hollywood camera company stood up in back and said, “Let’s get this show on the road — $30,000!” The auctioneer I think almost had a heart attack. The government finally did away with the live auctions and went to a sealed bid system.
I wore many hats at the salvage company: office manager, disassembler, truck driver, electrician, builder, forklift driver and trainer, baler operator, excavator — with claw — operator, and a little of everything else that goes with a small business. I also managed to buy a Kenworth three-axle tractor and 45-foot flatbed trailer – hauled mostly scrap. Driving truck and trailer was a fun experience. Quit after a minor stroke.
BH: Would you like to make any closing remarks?
JR: I have a little flatnose bus — bought at one of the military auctions — that I converted with a lot of material from the scrapyard to a motor home and every so often go to Flagstaff for a visit. I am mostly involved with my church and have been treasurer for many years. It is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church. Right at the present time, I am redesigning the sound system. I am also an amateur radio operator – Ham — and licensed as an “Amateur Extra.”
I also have a machine shop in my garage, so I had the means to build equipment. Building was half the fun! I have included a few pictures of the animation stand and cameras that might be of interest.
God has given me a wonderful and interesting life, and I believe that Jesus Christ is my savior, and I have been forgiven of my sins, and I have a home in heaven.
[Above is] the animation motor control panel. The controls on the right for a projector were not used. This was for a projector to project on [the] aerial image lens to be mounted in the table in order to combine animation with live-action shots projected from underneath. I could never afford the large aerial image lens!
The animation motor was built around a Bodine gear head synchronous motor. The box contains some gears and micro switches. The main shaft has several cams to control the switches. The wires are terminated on the large rectangular plug. The unit originally had a mechanical counter; this was replaced by a digital up-down counter I built. This plugs into the small round plug on top of the little box to the left. The whole assembly is mounted on a Mitchell motor plate so that it will clip into the camera.
The animation stand as it was set up during the filming of Bambi’s Revenge. The camera mount is on a carriage that is able to rotate, and the up and down movement is motor-driven. The platen is a Fax and is able to rotate. There are animation pegs both top and bottom that are able to slide, and the whole assembly is mounted on a table that can be moved [in] both X and Y directions. The hand wheels are calibrated in hundredths of an inch. The camera lens is coupled to a servomotor for follow focus, controlled by a cam behind the stand. As the camera is quite heavy, the carriage has two aircraft cables and a counterweight behind the stand.
There is a hole through the middle of the table covered by glass so that the art may be backlighted, or a rear projector [could be] used, if an aerial image lens is provided in the table.
The football camera was built around an old Filmo movement. A new box was built, and a synchronous electric motor supplied the power.
The main sprocket was from an RCA film chain projector. The rollers and various parts were fabricated.
We purchased two of the magazines at a used camera shop in Hollywood. One was for parts, and it never was determined for what the magazines were made.
The film take-up was supplied by a small torque motor mounted on top of the camera box behind the magazine. The camera served its purpose very well and was even used once in a KSBY production.