THUNDERBEAN THURSDAY
March 6, 2014 posted by Steve Stanchfield

“Gulliver” Comes To BluRay

Editor’s Note: Throughout the years, I have been asked more times than I can count: “Who has the best “Gulliver’s Travels” on video?” I now have a definitive answer to that question: Thunderbean. The 1939 Fleischer feature had fallen into Public Domain and numerous distributors have put it out on VHS and DVD over the years. In 2012 Paramount did a restoration on their original negative – but have not created an answer print nor mastered it digitally. I had hoped to use that restoration when I appeared on TCM that year. We did a search for a good, complete copy with all its original titles, but the print obtained by TCM was the best that could be gotten at the time. I went to Serge Bromberg in Paris and Steve Stanchfield in Detroit and both were intrigued with the challenge to restore this classic film. After 18 months work, Stanchfield has just completed his restoration – and its now available to purchase.

I just received my copy yesterday and I cannot rave about this BluRay enough. The restoration is magnificent – I dare say its better than any print I’ve ever seen. The Technicolor is vibrant, the sound crisp and clear. If you already have this film – throw it out and buy this permanent upgrade. If you are not a fan of the film… buy this DVD/BluRay set because this restoration will make you a fan. Steve has already done “the Lord’s work” with his previous DVD compilations – but this may be his most important restoration yet. I’ve often said that the quality of blu-ray discs are equivalent to 35mm prints. Thunderbean’s release restores this classic animated feature to a quality and a format that virtually allows it to live on for generations to come. It’s something Paramount (and the major studios) should be doing, but leave it to the fans and historians to do their job. Now its your turn. Support this project and buy this video. You will not regret it.- Jerry Beck


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The new Thunderbean set, Fleischer Classics featuring Gulliver’s Travels is finally done- and all but a handful of the pre-release copies have arrived or are on their way to everyone that ordered them.

It’s a big milestone for Thunderbean- the first Blu-Ray release. The set also comes with a DVD version of the film as well.

Rather than talk about the actual film, I thought I’d write just a little about producing the project – the history of the set and some of the things we did.

Producing a set for this particular film was something I had thought about many years ago; I loved the idea of releasing the film from the best material I could find, since it seemed so unlikely that we’d see are release from the studio that made it. The film has been a staple of public domain tv packages, companies selling 16mm and Super 8mm prints, VHS tapes and onto dollar DVDs. Moreover, I had always thought that some of the versions I had were firmly in the ‘acceptable’ category.

In 2009, a company called Koch Vision released a BluRay of the feature. I was excited to see the results once I had heard they had located a 35mm print and were doing a restoration from that material.

The sad news was that the version they released on BluRay looked nothing like the original film. While they had claimed that a complete and meticulous restoration had been done of the film, the results looked as if their standard def television transfer was blown up and then run through a filter that made the final results look more like a mosaic. The image was also cropped and stretched to fit an HD aspect ratio, and in some sections at least appears to use every other frame of the actual film (making all the animation on 2s, while many of the scenes were on 1s). Here’s an article that documents the release, from DVD Beaver.

I had mused at the idea of transferring a 35mm print at that point, but decided it probably wouldn’t be a good investment – and might get confused with this Koch version anyway.

About a year and a half back, I got a call from Jerry Beck, looking for a better copy of Gulliver to run as part of the TCM cartoon show that he would be appearing on. A handful of us searched high and low, trying to find the best possible copy of Gulliver Travels with it’s original titles and complete. No such print was to show up in 35mm, but an acceptable 16mm print was used for the showing.

gulliver3-300From all of that searching, a few choice 35mm elements eventually became available, and I was lucky enough to take a look at a few and transfer the best print. The result was a ‘raw’ transfer of the film. The Animation Internet Database members helped to fund the transfer, and everyone that helped got a copy. This group-funding effort wasn’t intended to go beyond the initial discs; I thought perhaps someday I might do a set.

During last year’s Cinevent show, I showed my friends Stewart McKissick and John McElwee the transfer, and both of them were stunned. They suggested a BluRay release, and both offered their talents and assistance to make it happen. I was in the middle of quite a few projects already, but agreed that it would be a good project. I listed a pre-release back in late September last year, thinking there would be some interest and it might help to move the project forward. It seems there was much more interest than I ever thought! We started progressing even faster through the restoration, with a planned release sometime in November.

The next steps of the project were much more difficult than I thought they would be. As nice as the material looked, there was an amazing about of cleanup to do digitally to make the release look decent. Since the material we were using was a 35mm print from the late 50s, it had seen it’s share of wear, plus the negatives that were used to strike the print was likely old printing materials- it was full of dust and dirt! During the transfer, we wet-gated the film to hide abrasions on the print, but the dirt was still an overwhelming tasks. It was easily the hardest project to clean up out of any of the films we’ve done.

gulliver2-300The digital restoration software looks for dirt before and after a frame to guess what is dirt. It does a pretty good job, but often does TOO much, especially to animation, where it can think that the lines of a character are dirt. After much adjusting and learning the best settings and hundreds of hours of manual cleanup, we managed to make a greatly improved version of the film while keeping the characters intact. It’s not perfect by any means- but quite stunning and beautiful.

Color correction on the film was a challenge too. It’s tempting to ‘pump’ all the colors and make everything glow, but it made more sense to me to try and present Gulliver as the film was made, with as close to the ‘look’ of the original film as possible. Since we were coming from a Technicolor print, there’s a reel change every 10 minutes, and with that change, a color shift pretty often. Various filters were used in the making of Gulliver besides the three color separation filters that were used during filming, and we did our best to reproduce the colors and balance scenes based on a basic ‘look’ for each sequence.

In the end, four different prints were used, with the body of the film coming from one print. I found that most of the Technicolor prints were timed in a similar manner, though it was clear that the lab timing was really off in some reels, making a whole reel more yellow or green usually. The first steps of color correction revealed the beautiful hues of the film, but it was still a ‘best guess’ to adjust each sequence.

The cartoons on the set are from various sources as well; some are from 35mm prints, while others are 16mm. They came out overall very nice, and I’m happy to have them as part of the production.

The actual 35mm print was hard-matted to academy aspect ratio, including the rounded corners. Instead of zooming in the image to make the corners flat, we’ve left them just as they are, showing the full picture on the actual print. While some other collections claim to be showing ‘more image’ than was seen before, the truth is we’re seeing what was originally on the film print now. I had considered doing some grain reduction to the material, but in the end, loved the original look of the Technicolor print, so we left the film looking like the film.

Bonus features are always something I look forward to most in producing a set, and for this set, I spent the better part of the year digging through old archives discs, looking for Gulliver-related material I had saved over the years. An amazing amount of cool things showed up on Ebay, and the collecting community was very mind in scanning and lending me various things, from books to publicity art to teacups. In the end, there’s plenty of bonus features on the set. Here’s the bonus menu screen to give you a hint:

bonuspage600

GulliverCoverOne of the biggest challenges was getting the authoring of the BluRay to look as good as possible. Since I had never built a BluRay title myself, I hired a company to put the final disc together. To my shock and horror, they just couldn’t do it! Every ‘master’ that came back had many issues, from problems with the colors to buttons just not working. I was in a stew, and with customers writing daily asking were their discs were, I found myself sitting down and trying to learn new BluRay authoring software myself.

Happily, in the end, it turned out very nice- though months late and as many lessons learned in how to produce a title. This year marks 10 years that we’ve been producing DVDs, and 26 years since we put out first VHS collection together. I’m confident that we’ve done right by the Fleischer studio in presenting their film in a beautiful copy, and I hope everyone enjoys the new set that gets it.

The video below will give you a little taste of the quality we achieved.

And here are a few frames for you to scrutinize even closer…

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Fleischer Classics featuring Gulliver’s Travels is now available on Amazon.com.

41 Comments

  • GO STEVE! Now I actually NEED a Blu-Ray player!

    • So, I’m not the only one!

  • Nothing beats seeing actual film footage – thanks for that full HD video preview, Steve! And of course, thanks for all the tremendous work you’ve done to make this such a special release. :) I can’t wait to receive it.

  • I’m looking forward to receiving this. It was well worth the wait!

  • Magnificent! Wonderful work Steve! :-)

  • Love the corners. This is how films should be restored and seen. I can’t wait to get this.

    • I think we all waited long and hard to see those aperture frame lines again!

  • Can’t wait! Can’t wait! Can’t wait!

  • At last! I’m gonna order my set today! Steve has done an awesome job!

  • (Hah- that’s just what I was thinking.)
    My first thought is: thank you *so much* for not messing with the film grain! It’s not just nostalgia; it’s an important part of what makes animation “stay alive”. Even during still holds, the eye sees all those little molecules of air still moving, uniting the flat characters to the sculpted backgrounds. I’ve seen de-grained Silly Symphonies, and they just look like cel set-ups from time to time. The makers of these cartoons counted on film grain, designed their scenes assuming the presence of film grain, did their pencil tests with film grain. It’s important in animation as in no other type of film, so Thank You!!!
    Oh, yeah, and of course thanks for all the other work you’ve done. I almost feel like I can sleep better knowing you’re making sure all these teasures are saved from ruin. Really, it gives me peace of mind knowing all the stuff that’s NOT slipping into oblivion, and this one really needed you.

  • Congratulations, Steve. I’m looking forward to this. Is there any commentary?

  • I have always been disappointed in almost all classic animation releases on DVD. I always felt much of the image was cropped from around the corners and that everything was zoomed in a tick. I’m looking forward to seeing a DVD finally done the right way.

  • Steve, did you make sure to stretch the image of IN MY MERRY OLDSMOBILE?

    • I did it just for you Thad… the way you like it. Eggs over easy?

  • The only commentary I heard, Dave, was the occasional cuss word from Steve and that was my cue to get him a beer while he sat at the computer(s) restoring Gulliver!

  • Got mine today. It’s beautiful! Thank you.

    • ditto. Great Work, Steve! Thanks for all you continue to do to preserve & share classic animation!

  • Congratulations – what a long, hard journey with what looks to be a wonderful result!
    This gives me hope I can finish a documentary I’ve been working on for 17 years this year at last!
    Looking forward to receibving my copy!
    Thanks

    • Finish that documentary! The long and hard journey is worth it!

  • My copy arrived today – the film looks so much better than all the previous attempts at “restoring” the picture and sound.

  • Ooh, you’ve really got my psyched to receive my copy. I’m so pleased that I could lend the small bit of money to support this thing when it was first announced as pre-order from Amazon. That’s not a bad idea to kick start all the hard work that you do on these disks. Oh, and I’m giddy over the fact that you’re actually also including a standard DVD with this release! Can’t wait to find out what the extra cartoons are!

  • Does the standard DVD include all the goodies as well? I haven’t jumped to BluRay, but the combo is inexpensive enough to make it worthwhile for the DVD alone.

  • Is the swingy recording heard on Steve’s preview above part of the set? Nice version of that song. – William

  • Steve Stanchfield & Thunderbean has deserved a 2 thumbs up & an A+!
    I can’t wait to get this!

  • No one minds the extra wait. Thunderbean always ends up with fantastic discs, and this looks like a beauty.

  • This has to be my favorite Thunderbean Thursday yet! I’m very excited and look forward to receiving my copy. The wait was well worth it. Thanks for all you do, Steve!

  • FANTASTIC JOB STEVE!!!!.A BIG THANK YOU FOR THIS FLEISCHER RESTORATION, A TRULY TECHNICOLOR MASTERPIECE. THE HD DIGITAL PROJECTOR IS READY TO PLAY IT IN A HUGE THEATER SCREEN, THE WAY I WATCHED WHEN I WAS A KID. Martin

  • And a special thanks for the filmstrips you sent out in advance! I can’t wait to have them join the disks.

  • Is the feature subtitled for the Deaf/hard-of-hearing??? Very concerning here….

    • I would like to do that. The current edition isn’t, but I’ll work on it for the next pressing (and from the interest it looks like there will be).

  • Came here to say that I got mine today and it looks incredible. I’ll be discussing the film’s influence in Japan in my column this week.

  • I just got my set today. It’s wonderful to see in Blu-Ray. The last time I saw it was when our local cable company showed it on their movie channel in the early 70s (before HBO came to town). That copy was washed out and lots of scratches were on the images and soundtracks. Can’t thank the Thunderbeam team enough. Also appreciate the extras!

  • The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here; but, it can never forget what Steve did here. My apologies to Abraham Lincoln and Civil War vets; but, this is what came to mind.

  • Mr Stanchfield, please don’t forget to send me a copy of the film too. I’m Julian Carter, the one who paid directly via PayPal last August (you’ll find me if you check your PayPal records). Also please don’t forget the film strip. I never go that despite pre-ordering.

    I also sent you an email. Thank you for your help!

  • I didn’t mind the wait either (I know you guys are good for it LOL). I was happy to show my support for this.

    Loved the restoration and all the features….I am bit curious. The cover says “digital copy”, but I don’t see any way to get that?

    Am I missing something?

    Thanks

    TJ

    • I’m wondering that myself. I checked the liner notes to see if there was a code or URL, but found none.

      Honestly, I’m not overly concerned, simply because, strictly speaking, a DVD _is_ a digital copy. You just need some basic software, like Handbrake, to convert the video to your platform of choice. But not everyone is that savvy about video.

  • I got my copy two days ago and sat down to watch it almost immediately. And what a treat! Jerry’s note at the top of this story is right on target: Steve has done a marvelous job restoring and mastering this film for Blu-ray, and it’s a must-have, not just for animation fans, but movie fans. And there are extras, too.

    Thank you, Steve, for a great set. You’ve really outdone yourself, and I could not be happier for it.

  • JOE-
    Yeah, I know I got kind of wordy…
    I sometimes get that way in the presence of greatness.

  • I think “Gulliver’s Travels” is a wonderful film. Is it perfect? No. But it’s got a lot going for it. Some beautiful animation, quite a bit of funny business, and a good bit a tension to hold your attention throughout the movie.

    However, I’m a little disappointed with the new transfer. Now I’ve only watched the DVD, so maybe the Blu-ray would look better, but the dark scenes are a bit murky. And there are missing frames and scratches and a few other blemishes throughout. I guess I was hoping for what happened with the Fleischer Superman cartoons when they were released in the official set. Those look perfect. And wasn’t Gulliver going to be added to one of the Popeye sets at one time? Does Paramount have a better print that we can look forward to?

    I love the extras, though! Especially all those old recordings! (Which I didn’t know existed.) And there was even an RCA album that was shown in one of the shots. I sure wish that could have been added along with the Decca and the Guy Lombardo recordings. I think the songs hold up just as well as most Disney songs from that era.

    But thank you Thunderbean for trying your best! I really enjoy this film.

  • One of the best blu-rays I own! I can’t thank Thunderbean enough for their meticulous work. A lot of love went into this release and it shows in each and every frame! Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!

  • Just ordered my copy! Can’t wait to get it!

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