A passionate car lover with a flair for design

Fireball Tim with the car he designed for the movie, "Son of the Mask," on display at this year's Los Angeles Auto Show.

A Malibu resident explains his passion behind his wild car designs.

By Stephen Dorman/ Special to The Malibu Times

“Fireball Tim” Lawrence is one of the lucky few who has earned the freedom to immerse himself in various projects that stimulate his creative nature. His car design/public appearance/toy production/television show business is beginning to blossom. And perhaps most importantly, when he wakes up in the morning beside his wife of nine years, there is no need to jump into rush-hour traffic and head off to a corporate office, because suit-and-tie days are nothing but a distant memory for this freelancing Malibuite.

“We all work so hard for a reason, and a lot of us don’t necessarily know what that reason is yet,” said the 40-year-old Tim. “For a long time I didn’t. Now I feel that my job in this world is to inspire, and I love doing that-inspiring little kids.”

Tim Lawrence grew up in the culture of Hollywood. His parents, Anthony and Nancy, were a writer-producer team who developed scripts for television shows such as “Outer Limits” and “The Twilight Zone.” Tim spent countless hours with his parents on various soundstages throughout the industry.

“It’s kind of always been in my blood to be able to create unique stories and designs from a fanciful place,” Tim said.

Initially, Tim wanted to become a writer like his parents, but as he quickly fell in love with cars, his professional desires began to take him in a different direction. As a youngster, he collected Hot Wheels and went to car shows that featured eccentric personalities like Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, a larger-than-life character on the car show circuit for much of the second half of the 20th century. Those shows had energy and character, Tim said, and would be invaluable in helping him make his ultimate career choice later in life.

“When I was a kid I would go to car shows and meet these car guys. You could sit next to them and they would draw, inspire you to create really cool things,” Tim said. “Then about 10 years ago, I’d go to these car shows and there was nobody there anymore. There was nobody there to show the younger generation what they could do with some of these things … the art of design, the appreciation of design, and how you can transfer an idea from your thoughts or your dreams to your hands to a piece of paper and onto a three-dimensional object.”

When it was time to go to college, Tim chose to attend Pasadena’s Art Center of College Design, where he worked on vehicle design for film. After graduating, instead gravitating toward the automobile industry, Tim began working for Disney as an art director. In three years with Disney, he created designs for the New Tomorrowland and Indiana Jones rides, amongst other attractions. While he is proud of his work at Disney, where a massive layoff within the company and creative differences left him with doubts about his future in the corporate environment, Tim said the best part about the job was the fact that he would eventually hire his future wife, Kathie, who was working as a sculptor at the time.

“Meeting at [Disney] was the best thing to ever happen to us,” said Kathie Lawrence, 53, who now works as a freelance costume designer for large-scale companies like Nintendo, where she is in charge of creating character costumes for commercial shoots.

Tim left Disney to pursue a career in the film industry. Over the next decade, he worked on more than 50 films and 300 commercials designing cars, helicopters, spaceships, weapons and wacky environments for movies like “Jurassic Park,” “Escape From L.A.,” “Independence Day,” “Batman Returns,” “Son of the Mask” and “Gone In 60 Seconds.” Working with a variety of design teams, Tim’s creations for these films were often wildly eccentric, featuring the types of shapes, curves, paint jobs and special powers that helped turn big-budget productions into blockbuster big screen success stories.

“One of the changing points was when he did a car for [Son of the Mask],” Kathie said. “The car was so amazing and so huge that he started to go out on tour with it. People would show up at the [car] shows and Tim would be there, signing prints and things like that.”

Always eager to hunt down a new challenge, Tim, with the help of his friend, Dean Robinson, decided once again to embark on a new career path, this time looking to rekindle the spirit of the great personalities he had encountered while attending those fabulous car shows of his youth.

The end result was “Fireball Tim,” a fervent personality in the car show circuit who consistently wows kids and car lovers alike with his increasing repertoire of automobile designs and exuberance for telling those willing to listen to squeeze the most out of each and every day of their lives. The nickname “Fireball” had been with Tim since his youth because of his red hair and energetic spirit, he said. Robinson helped Lawrence create the Fireball Tim brand based on this longstanding nickname.

“The moment I gave up and relinquished command and said ‘I have to decide who it is that I am, not what I am,’ the idea of Fireball Tim came up,” Tim said. “It was like playing a round game with all round pegs, everything fit absolutely perfectly.”

Several months ago, he legally changed his name from Tim Lawrence to Fireball Tim, although Kathie says she doesn’t necessarily refer to him as “Fireball” in the comfort of their Malibu home.

The marketing of Fireball Tim has also grown exponentially in recent months. Tim has struck sponsorship deals with approximately 30 clothing and automotive companies, and he’ll be releasing a line of dye-cast toys that will be sold in Wal-Mart stores beginning in April/May 2006. He’s also working on developing a television show and continues to do a lot of custom design work with his absolute favorite brand of car, the Mini Cooper, which will be on display June 31 at the Malibu Concours By The Sea at Bluffs Park.

With his popularity on the rise, Fireball Tim remains passionate about car design and the ability to take an idea or a concept and make something out of it. He says it doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with a Ford Contour or Ferrari, because each concept has a uniqueness and individuality that makes it special.

“I think every car deserves appreciation,” Tim said. “That’s why I love all cars … You have to understand the car’s color, its shape, its texture and its lines. It’s like a gorgeous woman. There is a reason the majority of car designers are men. They are designing things that are beautiful, and the most beautiful thing in the world is a woman’s body. It’s what we seek out most.”