A mini-update from the front lines on the boy with a big imagination.
I promised an update on the Willie Whopper project, so here it is, but first a quick update on the Van Beuren Classics set:
We’re *still* waiting for the stock to show up here from the replicator, sowe’ve started sending the bonus discs to everyone- hopefully followed by the setin the next week or so. We have a new replicator that did promise a quick
delivery- so far that isn’t the case! Thanks everyone for their patience andsupport of these sets.
“Whopper” has so far been, well, a mini-whopper of a project. It’s been much faster in progress than many of the other projects in that most of the materials are at UCLA and the Academy Archives, though not complete in all respects. We also have a great group of digital cleanup folks on this project, so it’s moving forward every day, both in our new space and elsewhere.It’s been fascinating working with original materials on the series, though in many ways very similar to the sets we’ve done before. There’s huge advantages in working with the 35mm materials that still exist on the series, and it’s much, much easier to work at a higher resolution in digital cleanup on cartoons in both manual and auto cleaning. It seems (so far) that ten of the fourteen still exist in 35mm materials. These rage from absolutely beautiful original camera negatives to master positives that look amazing to just very good to a few in prints. The project is licensed from Film Preservation Associates, so the 16mm fine grain materials that Blackhawk films made are also available and being used in the project.
To me, one of the big goals in putting out a set like this is to attempt to use the best versions of the films. This is an easy tasks, and at other times hard in that there’s quite a bit of comparison to do. It’s especially hard when there’s an excellent 16mm print that rivals (or beats) the 35mm material in quality of image- odd, but true in some cases since the 16mm was a printdown directly from 35mm. Some of the later fine grains were not printed with as much clarity of focus (even though they were contact prints). As film collectors know, not all 16mm ‘original’ prints are as good of quality. Sometimes a 16mm print contains the whole original frame, other times not- and that has made the choice usually.
All of that said, the overall condition of materials in both 16mm and 35mm is very nice. In all previous sets, it’s safe to say we haven’t really done true preservation on the materials. For these cartoons, we are making sure that none of the others are lost to any further Nitrate deterioration. We’ve done a 4k transfers of all the original Nitrate materials that still exist on the series (except for Jungle Jitters). Even though we didn’t need that high of quality for this collection, it made some sense to do it while we have the materials out, preserving them to make safety materials and digital versions in their original quality. There’s a few more if safety materials we hope to do in the coming week or so. As of this writing, we have a copy of every cartoon and all the original titles, with many of them having multiple copies transferred.
Some of the materials have some issues, though everything is workable. The negative and master positive to Play Ball, an early entry in the series, was lost in 35mm to Nitrate deterioration many years back. There is 35mm safety material on this title that we hope to be able to get, though it’s not a sure thing- it is currently the one piece of master material that is inaccessible. There is a preservation neg of the first half of the film in decent shape, with the rest having fairly severe damage along one side (see frame below). Funny enough though, there’s a complete, very good preservation of the soundtrack to the film in 35mm. We transferred an excellent quality 16mm printdown from the mid-40s that matches the quality quite well, so we have the entire film for the most part, though there is one splice we haven’t figured out quite yet.
Modern Sound Pictures, once the distributor of some of the series, went through the trouble of animating the opening explosion-burst of Spite Flight to match the original (below) – but in the process, the original title was lost. There was a 35mm preservation of part of the master positive, though done too late to yield good results. Happily, the original titles exist in 16mm, and the sequence appears to be the same as the 35mm element on Play Ball. A very good 16mm print of the title sequence was also transferred.
Harman-Ising’s Bosko makes a brief appearance at the beginning of The Good Scout (below), drawn very nicely on model (by former H-I animators). Willie doesn’t turn around and punch him, though for a minute I was hoping he would. There isn’t any 35mm elements on this title, though many copies in 16mm. We’ve transferred a few in hopes of improving on a few splices int he print that is is far ahead of all others in terms of quality.
The two color cartoons from the series are in some of the best shape of all. The original successive exposure camera negatives on Hell’s Fire (below) and Davy Jones’ Locker turned out to be in excellent shape.
Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be a complete 35mm soundtrack on Hell’s Fire, but there is a 35mm preservation on the track that did exist. We did a quick combination for this article today of a few frames, though nowhere near what the final look will be… though cool to see this long-hidden title card.
Robin Hood Jr. has a master positive element in 35mm that is decent, but without its original title and end title. Chris Buchman was kind enough to lend his very nice quality 16mm print from the mid-40s, completing the film in it’s original form.
These are a few of the cartoons. We’ll go into further detail on some of the other titles either next week or the week after!