THUNDERBEAN THURSDAY
July 23, 2015 posted by

The Future of Animation Film Restoration

This week, time is tight! I’m in the middle of finishing tweaking the master for the ‘Willie Whopper’ Blu-ray. It’s looking just beautiful; I’m taking a break to write this, and can’t wait to get back to the final stages of production on the disc.

whopper-art

So here are some musings on mastering and some thoughts on the future of animated film restoration. For a while, I was in that stage of the project where it’s a little grueling, and you can’t wait for it to be out the door. I think that’s because the digital cleanup stage took longer than I had hoped to bring everything to the level I wanted it to be at. One of the harder things about running this little company is that I want each collection to reach a higher level of quality, and now that we’re working with licenses, we have much more material that can reach these higher standards.

Many, many hands have helped bring the project to where it is, and now it’s at the stage where I just smile as I look at each part, doing little tweaks along the way. I’m looking forward to sending that master in the next few days, along with another title to replicate, after the initial replicator folded. More on project next week, including a sneak peak at the packaging and menus.

The Snafu Blu-ray wasn’t as lucky late last week. The handful of films we were able to get better material on for the set came back from scanning with added digital video noise reduction (DVNR) that was done as the films were being transferred. I always ask for all films to be transferred without any kind of extra processing, so we can do all cleanup on this end of things. The process erased pieces of the images, sadly (see below). This is something that is particularly bad in animation, and something that takes honestly about half the time in restoration- making sure the image isn’t missing anything! Should have gone to DC to supervise in this case…but they’re good folks and are working on fixing the issue.-They’re being redone, but it’s set the project behind even further. Happily, it will be resolved soon, and Snafu will be on his way to replication as well. Growing pains continue, with more titles in production than ever before.

Snafued-600

sanfued2-600

The work on these two projects, as most of these collections, involved working with archives & private collectors. Future sets will certainly involve many of these same resources. At the end of these particular projects (and the beginnings and earlier stages of others) I find I spend some time thinking about the future restoration of animation in the bigger picture, the kinds of sets we’ve been doing, and so much of the other material that isn’t released in a higher quality version.

For larger companies, sales of DVDs (and Blu-rays) provided a monetary incentive to restore their old films, and the market was often good enough pre-2008 to make enough off these releases. After the recession of 2008, the already demising book and record store market took a huge hit. This coincided with the vanishing of video stores (largely related to the rise of Netflix) and people collecting less physical media. With this, there’s much less incentive for the larger companies to invest in expensive restoration of their libraries.

Happily, many of the studios are aware of the continuing deterioration of their films, and see the value in continuing to restore them. Scanning has become more popular, and in many ways is less expensive than making new physical materials. I personally see the value in both scanning *and* making new film material for preservation, and the combination of both seems to me to be the best way to preserve future films, and can actually yield much better results.

On Willie, making 35mm preservation materials would have driven my costs up quite high, but it was within my budget to make 4k transfers on the nitrate materials, preserving them at film quality, so, at some point, new 35mm material could be made. I think this should be among ‘best practices’ when dealing with nitrate materials that haven’t been preserved in original quality.

A Blu-Ray Replicator

A Blu-Ray Replicator

So, to continue to muse on what the future holds in terms of classic animated films (and non-animated), I think preservation in high quality depends partially on future monetary value of releasing it, and, sadly, the deteriorating condition of the material. In recently talking with one large company, I learned that a lot of their later, non-nitrate material is now a priority to scan as the acetate base has started to deteriorate. Among collectors and archives this is often called ‘Vinegar Syndrome’, and leaves material curling onto itself, producing a strong odor. Eventually, the material becomes unusable.

Actual Vinegar Syndrome

What vinegar syndrome looks like

It makes perfect sense that the most famous things get the most attention, but what I hope for is that other little companies like Code Red, Vinegar Syndrome (yes, there is a company called that), Olive, Shout Factory and even Thunderbean show up to do some of these things. I hope that the market for films streaming and digital downloads continues to grow, allowing a monetary incentive to put out the less famous things. I hope the costs of scanning, digital cleanup and restoration stays at a level to make it feasible
in the eyes of larger companies.

Lastly, it’s about time an all cartoon channel showed up on a service like Roku or Apple TV; at one time Cartoon Network’s model was a mostly vintage channel of old animation; the new platforms (and studios) are missing an amazing opportunity right now, but maybe someone will figure this out.

My big wish it didn’t take as long as it does to get each one of the Thunderbean releases done, or that some of the releases bring in the kind of revenue to have many things in production in a full-time way. There’s lots of ones I’d like to do, but we’re just one small company- but growing. In addition, I’m hoping this thing does plant some other seeds, and that those seeds launch other companies and other sets. That’s happening just a little at this point, but what I really hope is that someday, someone will look back at this period (and maybe even this blog) as part of their own research, navigating their own projects to allow films to continue to survive and be enjoyed.

Now, don’t you wish there were DVDs (or Blu-ray) of Columbia’s Scrappy and Fleischer’s Talkartoons? To me, these and the Terrytoons should be next.

Here’s a few of my favorites:

Sunday Clothes. Scrappy lives in an oddly happily brutal world:

Up To Mars. I think this one would look amazing in HD:

Have a good week everyone!

21 Comments

  • “Now, don’t you wish there were DVDs (or Blu-ray) of Columbia’s Scrappy and Fleischer’s Talkartoons? To me, these and the Terrytoons should be next.”

    Agreed.

  • I wish more companies could look beyond monetary value and see the historical value of their holdings. I am eternally grateful for the small companies like Thunderbean, that take on the projects that others don’t find profitable. And you know that you can count me in to buy any project you come up with. 🙂

  • Ah yes Cartoon Network (along with its sister station Boomerang) the one time “Home of the Top Toon Stars” (which the majority of the cartoons were MGM (Tom & Jerry, Captain and the Kids, Happy Harmonies, Droopy, Barney Bear).Warner Bros (Looney Toon/Merrie Melodies) Paramount (Popeye and Superman), United Artist/DPE Films (Pink Panther, The Inspector, The Ant and The Aardvark, The Dogfather) and the entire Hanna/Barbera library) (but none of the other Top Toon Stars like the Casper (Famous Studios), Woody Woodpecker, Columbia’s Fox and Crow and others too numerous to mention). Before they changed their format making way for newer toons (including Out of Jimmy Head which to my opinion one of the worst shows that was ever broadcasted on Cartoon Network). Sadly much of the older cartoons that was shown were censored or banned from broadcast by Politically Correctiveness along with the monotone Popeye cartoons (colored by Ted Turner after he acquired them by Paramount Studios the (remember the colorized version of Goonland where there was a scene when Popeye and Poopdeck Pappy was fighting the Goons resulting on the film breaking causing the Goons to fall out of the scene and a pair of hands came on repairing the filmstrip Studios later in the colorized version the film look that it “magically” repaired itself) along with the “redubbed ” Looney Toons/Merrie Melodies (The Blue Ribbon reissues) and the AAP/UM&M/NTA reissues of Popeye, Looney Toon/Merrie Melodies and Betty Boop cartoons. The best classic shows that once aired on CN/Boomerang were Late Night in Black and White, The Popeye Show (the original Popeye cartoons restored to their glory) the “Original” Tex Avery Show (Not to be confused with DiC’s nightmarish abomination “The Wacky World of Tex Avery” that was airing in the same time as CN’s Tex Avery Show) and the Bob Clampett Show featuring Beany and Cecil.

    • When Turner colorized “The Adventures of Popeye,” the live-action sequences remained in B&W.

    • The Walter Lantz “Cartunes” DID air on Cartoon Network in the 1990’s, in the form of the syndicated Woody Woodpecker Show from the late 1980’s. CN also aired individual “Cartunes” during the ACME Hour, though they were still the Woody Woodpecker Show versions.
      And “The Harveytoons Show” aired on Boomerang, retitled “Casper and Friends”. Supposedly they even showed “Winner By A Hare” with the suicide ending uncut!

  • One of the great achievements of Turner Classic Movies was working with Sony to get half of the UPA output on DVD. Shout! got the other half (a.k.a. Mister Magoo) out, although TCM could have easily done it as well. Now that Warner / TCM is practically a “bed buddy” with both Sony and Paramount reissuing features from them through the Warner Vault program, the object of the game is finding a market for unreleased Fleischer and Screen Gems material… and all of those LIVE-ACTION shorts I have always wanted to see.

    There IS a market for these. There just needs to be good promotion and advertising. Enough garbage gets sold in DVD. I think TCM’s “Jolly Frolics” is a pretty solid seller. I bought a second for my sisters’ kids as an alternative to Sofia the First and Dora the Explorer. And children are certainly NOT the only market for these since most buyers of the UPA cartoons collect many black and white films that have limited interest to anybody under 12.

    I think the best solution is to start out with a “best of” compilation to attract attention to the very EXISTENCE of classic cartoons and film shorts. Example: “A Cavalcade of Columbia Screen Gems: Rare cartoons from the Columbia vaults” with enough Scrappy, Krazy Kat, Rhapsodies and Fox & Crow to wet an average movie buff’s appetite. Make sure that these “finest” have restored title cards, provide some commentaries and a bonus documentary to put them in perspective. Then later, through the MOD program if that’s the “economic” route, aim for a complete “series” DVD like Scrappy. Restoration for all would be nice, but we aren’t all that picky just so we can have them. (*hint hint*… Sony should use YOU to do the work in gathering elements and make it a Thunderbean co-production..)

    Then again, I have been bugging online… and on the Warner site… for an Oscar winners/nominee “cavalcade” of Warner short films for quite some time. TCM has aired two-thirds of them and there aren’t THAT many more to dust off from film canisters and “digitize”. I personally think it would be a good seller if the packaging looks good. Its is ALL about THE PACKAGING. You want the potential customer to examine it more closely and go “hmmmm”.

    • No Warner Vault… I meant Warner Archive. In any case, they have consolidated their website with Warner “store”.

    • I have loved the surreal Scrappy cartoons for years – favorites “The Flop House,” “Sunday Clothes,” the one where Yippy is taken to dog prison, “Scrappy’s Birthday,” and the color ones with movie caricatures to name a few. I agree completely that a “BEST OF” collection is the way to start. The challenge will be to find the cartoon fans who have never seen any of these.

  • How are you going to get rid of the Samba Pictures titles for “Scrappy” if you were to do a set?

    Not sure about the Talkartoons either…….

    • Most of those earlier Scrappys that use the curtain background might be easy to do if the title card looked like these…
      http://www.cartoonresearch.com/scrappyx.jpg
      http://www.cartoonresearch.com/scrappy32.jpg

      Still it is rather a shame to think that might be all that Sony has of these.

    • If it was a choice between getting them out from high-quality elements with replaced TV titles and not getting them out at all,… well you know the answer. (Not a fan of recreated titles personally…)

      I’d imagine the original negs for Scrappy might have the original titles but who knows for sure until someone checks through the Sony/Columbia vaults.

    • Columbia’s shorts are at LOC; there has been an effort started to look at a lot of the Krazy Kat materials, and many of the original title sequences are rolled in the cans with the replaced title sequences. I imagine the Scrappy situation is similar….

  • When it comes to any kind of film, I think there should be both a physical copy and a digital copy. After all, you may never know what’s around the corner.

  • It would be great if everyone followed Disney’s lead and packaged all their shorts in special editions. The Columbia, Famous/Fleischer, Lantz, Terrytoons and Warner’s animation archives could be cleaned up for broadcast and then offered to the world. As it stands Steve and the other independents deserve all the praise we can shower on them. Thanks to THE 3-D FILM ARCHIVE we can now see BOO MOON! in 3D and it is BOO-TI-FUL.

  • I would expand on JLewis’ comment by suggesting a mix of Fleischer cartoons (Talkartoons, Screen Songs, Color Classics) on a set of two or more discs would be the best way to start should the opportunity arise. Would be nice to see ‘The Raven’ also.

  • I’ve said it before, but, in my opinion, the big and smaller studios would have to restore their older titles even if all they will do is stream them. After all, if the product doesn’t look stunning, do you think that fans will be back to stream again?

    Sorry to sound so critical all the time, but I’m really trying to understand the logic in all this. Steve, what you’re doing here for classic animation is indeed a major service, and I truly hope that more and more classic animation fans who thought the video companies were all done with releasing good product find out about these projects and want it all as eagerly as I’ve wanted it for the past two decades, ever since I went to my first animation festival! And, oh yes, we sorely need a television network that *ONLY* airs classic animation… from *ALL* the major studios, and the station can “employ” the knowledgable historians to talk about the titles that you’re going to watch in sometimes marathon form.

    No future generations will be aware of this stuff if it isn’t constantly at their reach. Imagine shows of certain long forgotten cartoons, followed by a title with commentary…or add that if the program were put “on demand” somehow for those who might not get to see it as it happens? At any rate, I’m looking forward to the release soon of the WILLIE WHOPPER and PRIVATE S.N.A.F.U., just to have ’em in high def…and, yes, any title that has its title character going off into space should be restored for high definition.

    I’ve thought that ever since “LITTLE BUCK CHEEZER” was released on laserdisc. I’ve wanted to see all the BOSKO titles like this, along with “BUDDY’S ADVENTURE”, imagining the conquest of space long before it was a thought in any scientist’s eye and brain. The Terrytoons are even higher on my list for restoration desireables than the Columbia because of all those characters and the interesting one shots that were tried throughout the decades. Good luck in all your endeavors and, I can tell, there must be so many future projects that you are dying to talk about in vast detail but can’t until the restoration actually begins bearing fruit – and its now looking like it could seriously happen!

  • Hey Steve why not add a DVD set of the original Paramount/Fleischer Screen Songs cartoons to the wish list? Some of these could be interesting to see restored even though some of the films are 80 to 86 years old now. But if anybody can pull it off it would be you and Thunderbean. Thank you for your great work and contribution to preserving REAL cartoons.

  • Good stuff today, Steve.

    I wasn’t too familiar with Scrappy before your posts on this site, but he’s starting to grow on me. As others have suggested, maybe a complete set should be on our collective wish lists…

  • A restored cartoon should retain visual elements of its original medium. I need to be able to see that it is a thing made of paint, plastic, and paper. Too many restorations turn these old cartoons into nothing more than vector images. This may be acceptable to an audience that holds new animation as some kind of artistic pinnacle, but it isn’t really preservation.. it’s just converting a Terrytoon into a webtoon.

  • I would love to see more Fleischer cartoons restored. They still haven’t restored the Talkartoons, Screen Songs, and many Koko the Clown cartoons. I know the Color Classics were restored, but because most of them were restored using 16mm television prints, they don’t really look that improved. Paramount NEEDS to restore these films when they get the chance.

  • I agree Columbia’s Scrappy and Fleischer’s Talkartoons are in need of salvation. They are so obscure that most people don’t even know how good they are. My first Scrappy viewing were at the Silent Movie Theater (The Cinefamily) with Jerry. It is one of my all time favorite screening i have attended. I hope Jerry continues to do more of them in the near future.

    And Steve, let the cartoon community know what we can do to help you with your efforts. You should be recognized with an award for the loving work you do for these lost gems of animation history. Willie Whopper in Hell’s Fire blew my mind when I saw it restored. I can’t wait to see the rest.

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