Even though things are incredibly busy with Thunderbean, I love helping on non-Thunderbean projects. This week, I helped to put some of the finishing touches on Tommy Jose Stathes’ beautiful Bobby Bumps set. The quality of the films in this set is a revelation. As small producers have attained better access to high quality digital tools, it has made the workflow on projects like these much easier to afford on the non-large studio budgets we work with. I’m astonished at what Tom and his crew have been able to accomplish on this set, and as it goes into its final tweaking, I’m happy to be a part of helping to put some icing on it.
One of the other major side projects I’ve been working on is digital restoration/ cleanup on the second volume of George Pal’s Puppetoons for independent producer Arnold Liebovit. Arnie, more than any other person I know of, is obsessed with the preservation and presentation of the Pal studios animation, both in Holland and the States. This is an excellent pursuit in that so much of the wonderful work Pal produced is barely visible, even for those seeking out the unique work his studio produced.
Happiness is the main emotional content of many of the Puppetoons over the years, and the cartoony antics are especially fun in many of the early shorts. Most of the shorts I’ve been working on I had never seen (or even heard of) before. This collection is truly unique in this way.
Because the majority of what Pal produced was in color, and because of the nature of how they were shot (often with quite dramatic and varied lighting), prints made in later years often betrayed both the color content and contrast of these films, leaving us with often very muddled impressions of what they looked like. Seeing 35mm Technicolor prints of many of these is just wonderful, and the real benefit of good scans and careful mastering is being able to actually see what the shorts really looked like in theaters.
I was always interested in seeing many more of the Puppetoons, but rarely have found decent prints of them. On occasion, a print would be available in the collector’s market, but almost always these were NTA prints with faded color. Nearly all the shorts I collected were reddish, and when The Puppetoon Movie came out, it was a revelation to me. This new collection spans nearly the entire history of the Puppetoons series as well as Pal’s animation career, from the early to mid-30s cel animation into the late 40s.
Much of what Pal produced in Holland in the 30s were advertising films. Two of his biggest clients were Horlick’s Malted Milk and Phillips Electronics. Some of these films were distributed to the nom movie market in both black and white and Kodachrome prints.
Perhaps the one that fascinates me most is Radio Rohre Revolution (1934) an advertising short for Phillips that looks like a retro version of 30s animation (you could swear it’s footage made for Cuphead rather than an actual 1930s cartoon). This little 4 1/2 minute short has great music, and film damage and mis-color alignment that seems almost purposeful; there’s something really charming about seeing film damaged in this way (and Gaspercolor’s not-so-perfect alignment). The restoration program I’ve been using on this short re-aligns color layers, and I’ve been working manually on this short to try to get the automatic aspects to work well with the system.
There are odd other challenges abound in cleaning these films up. The 2k scans themselves are wonderfully detailed, but are generally scanned from non-wet gated 35mm prints— some in excellent shape, and others with quite a bit of wear. So far, we’ve run an auto clean pass on the 18 films, some with multiple elements, and have finished up several more. It’s so far been a long road to finishing these ones, but we’re getting there. I’m very happy to be a part of helping on this project, making the films look as good as possible. Here’s a set of frames from the films we are working on (click to enlarge):
Leibovit is funding the set personally and through his website. The pre-order/ fundraiser page for The Puppetoon Movie, Volume 2, here.
Have a great week everyone!