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Making It
A Bartender Feels a Rush of Inspiration

By Elizabeth Chang
Sunday, October 28, 2007

When he was young, Bobby Standridge liked to build Star Wars models from scratch and draft spaceships, but he put that "kid stuff" aside to attend college -- majoring in business -- and try a number of corporate jobs. Ultimately, however, Bobby decided his life worked better when he had room to be creative. He became a bartender at Nick's, a nightclub in Alexandria, which allowed him to "free his mind" to dabble in artistic endeavors again. He joined a band as a drummer. He designed a drum set that was featured in Modern Drummer magazine.

"It wasn't like I had a destination or a goal," the Springfield resident, 40, says. "I just know my life is richer doing these activities."

One day, a customer he was chatting with about his interest in animation, sparked by movies such as "Toy Story," recommended a software program. Bobby thought he needed a project to force himself to master the intricacies of the program, so he decided to create an homage to one of his favorite musicians, drummer Neil Peart of Rush.

Using himself as a model, Bobby spent a year and a half animating Peart drumming to Rush's instrumental song "YYZ." He posted it on the Web in the summer of 2005. The video became something of an Internet sensation. News of the animation reached Peart himself, who, far from being upset about unauthorized use of the song, asked to post the video on his own Web site.

Around that time, Bobby married his wife, Sue, for whom he had broken his rule of not dating customers. (She shared his love for Rush.) He quit his 12-year bartending job to focus on computer work. First, he tried Web site design, but he didn't feel he had enough creative control. So, with the blessing of Sue, who earns a good living as a government contractor, he decided to pursue freelance animation.

High school friend Victor Vitarelli, a coordinating producer at ESPN, got Bobby a gig creating animation of a mountain for a segment about mountain climbers. Bobby had a good eye even back in high school, says Victor, "and he's been able to translate that into computer animation. Ultimately, the best computer animators are artists."

After the ESPN job came an assignment for NASCAR and a video for another Rush song. "It's just one of those things where one thing leads to another, and it just cascades," Bobby says. So far this year, Bobby has made $20,000, and he has several gigs coming up.

Bobby thinks the freedom he feels to explore his artistic interests comes in part from his parents, who "never forced me in any direction and never had any career expectations for me, except they wanted me to be a good person." And he's grateful to have a wife who sees in him "what I see in myself." Someday, Bobby says, he'd like to produce his own animated movies -- he's already got a drum-related one sketched out in his head. But, for now, "it's great that I'm doing such neat work for these clients I never imagined I'd work for."

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