Happy almost New Year Cartoon Research Readers!
As I’m sitting here writing this, there’s a plethora of hard drives, my college ID, a somewhat pesky but wonderful kitty trying to nudge my fingers into petting him, a printer next to me printing discs, and the new Warner Archive Popeye the Sailor, The 40s, Volume 1 Blu-ray sitting in front of me. It’s unkept on this desk, but will be less so in the coming days as things get wrapped up and the various messes I’ve made in a scurry to get things done are attended to. And, so is the year.
This new Blu-ray makes me especially happy; not just because of the films it contains, but because of what it represents for the future. We’re living in a time where more and more classic animation is becoming available in good quality, and although the world of physical media is waning, it’s not going away; the great transition continues, and, honestly, we’re only seeing greater transitions because so many factors continue to remain in flux. The navigation and developments are interesting, and changing with the emerging new realities becomes necessary.
In the world of companies with large film archives, the delivery methods are changing, as are the resources and interests. Technology has become cheaper now that HD has reached a maturity. Both computer and scanning power helps in the ability to scan and digitally clean up films, but the bigger factor really is people helping to make project like the new Popeye set happen. I’ve heard that sales have been good so far on the set, and that’s encouraging; it makes it all the more likely for the powers that be to take other properties that they own to scan and release. We owe a big thank-you to our own Jerry Beck for his role in helping this set along. It includes many of my favorite Popeye cartoons (and I’m sure some of yours as well). Some are among my favorite cartoons, period. It’s a must for any classic animation library. I only hope to make sets that fit neatly next to great ones like this.
In the world of Thunderbean:
I’m pretty optimistic about the coming year; many of the projects started that didn’t quite get finished this year are in good shape for completion. As one of the smaller operations in the Blu-ray world, I’m happy we’ve been able to do what we have so far with the technology. 2019 will be the busiest year so far- with no less than 10 ‘Official’ sets to be finished, and likely more, plus all the ‘special’ sets. I’ve enjoyed doing all of them, and thanks to all of you who have helped by supporting these things.
Sales right now have been picking up a little, and we’ve made the older DVD sets available again for a little while as well in response to dozens of emails asking for them. The new ‘special’ set, Animation Odds and Ends, will be sent to pre-orders pretty soon and available on Amazon as well for a little while.
Both volumes of Stop Motion Marvels are shaping up nicely. In general, Stop Motion shorts are much easier to digitally clean up than cleaning animated shorts; there’s a lot less erasing of features than need to be fixed, and the tonal range also makes things easier. Most of them have been scanned in 2k, and this helps in cleanup as well since there’s more detail to all the information, making it easier for the digital restoration program and fix dust, dirt and scratches, and leaving less manual work to be done. Volume 2 is much, much further along at this point, but Volume 1 will catch up fast with more films becoming available. Volume 1 is basically and upgrade of the long out of print DVD, with many additional Kinex shorts that weren’t available 8 years back.
As anyone that has been reading these columns knows, we’ve been spending a lot of time on the Flip the Frog and Rainbow Parade cartoons. I’ll be super happy when the days of working on them are past, but I am enjoying seeing them get sparkling (or at least as sparkling as possible on some!). Over the break I have from the school, I’ve been really cranking on this particular set, dealing with all sorts of specific issues related to the films as well as getting through cleanup and finishing touches on quite a few of the films myself. The first half of the series is in heavy production right now, and I’m very happy with how it is looking. We’ve been especially playing around the lining up misaligned color layers. More on this in an upcoming article.I think by the end of this week we’ll have *all* the materials we have here cleaned up except one film (see below), and will be working on rescans of a few things.
While we’re waiting for a few new scans on the Flip the Frogs, the Rainbows are getting lots of needed love. These two particular sets have been a big undertaking, and finishing them is both an accomplishment and great relief!
Here’s our own Devon Baxter, working on cleanup of one of my favorite things on the set—the original titles for The Sunshine Makers.
Here’s a few additional stills from the most recently cleaned up films:
The Rainbow Parades set will look pretty nice when all finished, and I think we’ll have the best material in existence for all the titles (or at least the best we know of at this point in history). We’re trying to do the best service to the films and their creators. These little shorts deserve a good quality release, and I’m happy to have the time and opportunity on the set. We’ll release a volume 1 first, followed by the second half of the series (in Technicolor). People who ordered the pre-order will of course get both. We’ll also be including the three black and white ’Toddle Tales’ with the set.
In New News:
We’re hoping a major (and long in progress) project can finally be announced soon. 2019 would be an excellent year to finally have it released; it’s been in progress since 2011! In addition, I heard news earlier today that another set we’ve been working on will have two more films finally added to those scanned, and I got a chance to get material in hand for the upcoming Lou Bunin set.
We’re also continuing to help on various non-Thunderbean Projects, including working with Tommy Jose Stathes’ Cartoons on Film label, The Blue Mouse Studio and a few projects with Dennis Atkinson.
We’re also currently helping producer Arnold Leibovit with cleanup on many amazing Puppetoon shorts for his upcoming release. This material is absolutely amazing; I can’t wait to share some images when able.
There are a few projects that I’m *really* itching to produce that have been met with various delays for various reasons. I’m keeping the faith, but I think at this point faith isn’t enough on some of them- it’s perhaps time to really try and move the dial on some of these.
At the end of the year, I always think about the year that has been; what has worked well and what needs work. Expansion as this point is necessary, although I want to keep the thing small enough to still have the ability to release silly things like all the Cubby Bear cartoons. I’m looking forward to more Thunderbean Thursdays this next year.
Now, for a cartoon short!
One of the most problematic shorts on the set has been The Picnic Panic. It’s also one of my favorites, mainly for the designs and the little song at the beginning of the film. It also appears to be one of the main inspirations for character designs on the popular game Cuphead.
I was happy to see a 35mm print of the film survived; unfortunately, the print has a series of issues. Like many of the 35mm ‘Rainbows’ at UCLA, this print has little blue speckles throughout on the blue emulsion layer. In addition, part of the film has an issue related to discoloration of layers, creating ghosting around some areas of the picture. This is the last film from the set I have here to clean up at the moment, and I’m hoping to have some luck in making it look as good as possible. When we did the set in 2009, we used a rare 16mm Cinecolor print I was lucky enough to purchase from film archivist and Cineforum owner Reg Hart. The 35mm print has more detail (as expected) than the 16mm, so I’m hoping it end up looking good for the final release.
For now, here is the raw 2k scan on The Picnic Panic, seen publicly for the first time (I wonder when a 35mm print was last seen of this film?) It will be in Academy aperture in final release (as is the live action footage) but here it is as it was scanned. Note that if you look carefully there’s at least one place that you can see the cels and a part of the peg bars at the top of the frame (Van Beuren used top peg as all New York Studios) as well as the edges of the painting of backgrounds. I’m always especially fond of the way the colors look on these films in 35mm- a balance of blues and greens especially. Getting the color from the 16mm versions to have the variance in color timing is a complete challenge that is both frustrating and fun.
Have a great New Year everyone— looking forward to sharing more adventures in the coming year!