These have been busy weeks at Thunderbean. There are four dvd or BluRay sets wrapping up at close to the same time – One finished entirely now, The Fleischer Classics BluRay with Gulliver’s Travels is rounding the corner and will be done soon, and two others – Mid Century Modern volume 2 and ‘Techicolor Dreams and B/W Nightmares‘ – are very close as well.
A while back, I wrote a little about Ted Eshbaugh’s Wizard of Oz. This is a good year for Eshbaugh cartoons in that there will finally be better versions available of these films – thanks to so many friends who have helped make all of these things possible.
I first read about The Snowman back in 1981, in an article written by our own Jerry Beck. I’ve been able to track down just a little information on the film since then. I really didn’t think it would be over 30 years to actually finally get the film in color! It was produced originally in 1932 (copyright 1933), and filmed in two-color Technicolor. Eshbaugh’s next film, The Wizard of Oz, was made in 3-strip Technicolor.
I feel like The Snowman shares a kinship with the later Van Beuren cartoon Rough On Rats, where cute little characters face unspeakable horrors at the hands of characters best suited for another cartoon. Eshbaugh’s extremely happy cartoon turns into a horror show several minutes in, borrowing heavily from the popular recent movie Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Ted Eshbaugh’s films have always held a special fascination for me. Perhaps partially because he’s sort of an underdog, and maybe partially because I think his involvement in animation should have landed him in a much higher place in the history books. Isn’t that an often repeated story? Sunshine Makers (produced by Van Beuren) remains the most recognizable film he made. Had his films not fallen into such obscurity and had his studio flourished beyond producing mostly educational material, perhaps his accomplishments would at least be a little more acknowledged. Goofy Goat (sometimes listed at 1929, but really 1931) is sometimes referred to as the first color cartoon, and while it really isn’t, it may be the first cartoon produced in 2-strip Technicolor. The Wizard of Oz (1933) was being produced with funding from Technicolor before Disney signed the exclusive rights to the process for three years. It’s hard to imagine that Disney didn’t see the Wizard of Oz footage Eshbaugh had been producing to help sell the technology. As if this wasn’t enough of a good pedigree, these two shorts also feature great scores by Carl Stalling.
A link worth repeating, from Modern Mechanix about Eshbaugh’s Goofy Goat.
The Snowman has always been an odd favorite of mine over the years, and I’ve found that many other cartoon fans I’ve known also hold a great appreciation for his cartoons. I had hoped to find the film in color for many years, and searched high and low for someone that might have a print. I had heard for years there was a print in New York and that it may be available at some point – but years went by without a peep.
Happily, I finally found a color print of The Snowman, and better still, the separation negatives. Last week I transferred the 2 elements – red color, green color and soundtrack. I combined them over last weekend, finally seeing this little gem in color… and couldn’t wait to share it here! Some frames from the separation elements and what they look like combined (click image to enlarge):
…and here is how it was done, using digital technology to recombine the two negatives. A transfer was made of the 35mm b/w elements in HD, at 23.98 frames per second. These elements were brought into Adobe After Effects, combined as color channels and adjusted:
The challenge was knowing this cartoon was made in 2-color Technicolor originally. The negatives have labeled red and green, yet this version ( a re-issue from a year later) was in Cinecolor. 2-color Technicolor was a red and green process, while Cinecolor was a red and blue process. After wrestling a bit, it’s clear that the film was meant to be seen with it’s original red and green process. These rare cels that have shown up confirm the 2 -strip Technicolor look.
Something else that was unusual was the apature. It’s clear the film was shot in the full frame Movietone-style apature originally, but the re-issue a year later was in Academy aspect ratio. The titles and two shots are hard matted to Academy while the rest of the film is not.
I’d like to think that Ted Eshbaugh would be happy to know his films are still appreciated a lifetime after their creation. These films have been a sort of Holy Grail to me, and I hope to at least in a very small way help to right history a little – or at the very least allow these films to be accessible to be considered.
This film, along with 16 others including Eshbaugh’s Wizard of Oz and Teapot Town, appear on the new Thunderbean BluRay/DVD set Technicolor Dreams and B/W Nightmares. Thunderbean is offering a special pre-order of this set on our website that includes a bonus disc of films that didn’t make it on the set. The set will be shipped in early December.
Till then, enjoy these work-in-progress color frames (click thumbnails below to enlarge):