April 2, 2015 posted by

An Update on “Willie Whopper”

A mini-update from the front lines on the boy with a big imagination.


I promised an update on the Willie Whopper project, so here it is, but first a quick update on the Van Beuren Classics set:

We’re *still* waiting for the stock to show up here from the replicator, sowe’ve started sending the bonus discs to everyone- hopefully followed by the setin the next week or so. We have a new replicator that did promise a quick
delivery- so far that isn’t the case! Thanks everyone for their patience andsupport of these sets.

“Whopper” has so far been, well, a mini-whopper of a project. It’s been much faster in progress than many of the other projects in that most of the materials are at UCLA and the Academy Archives, though not complete in all respects. We also have a great group of digital cleanup folks on this project, so it’s moving forward every day, both in our new space and elsewhere.

Original title for Stratos Fear (1933) - click to enlarge

Original title for Stratos Fear (1933) – click to enlarge

It’s been fascinating working with original materials on the series, though in many ways very similar to the sets we’ve done before. There’s huge advantages in working with the 35mm materials that still exist on the series, and it’s much, much easier to work at a higher resolution in digital cleanup on cartoons in both manual and auto cleaning. It seems (so far) that ten of the fourteen still exist in 35mm materials. These rage from absolutely beautiful original camera negatives to master positives that look amazing to just very good to a few in prints. The project is licensed from Film Preservation Associates, so the 16mm fine grain materials that Blackhawk films made are also available and being used in the project.

To me, one of the big goals in putting out a set like this is to attempt to use the best versions of the films. This is an easy tasks, and at other times hard in that there’s quite a bit of comparison to do. It’s especially hard when there’s an excellent 16mm print that rivals (or beats) the 35mm material in quality of image- odd, but true in some cases since the 16mm was a printdown directly from 35mm. Some of the later fine grains were not printed with as much clarity of focus (even though they were contact prints). As film collectors know, not all 16mm ‘original’ prints are as good of quality. Sometimes a 16mm print contains the whole original frame, other times not- and that has made the choice usually.

All of that said, the overall condition of materials in both 16mm and 35mm is very nice. In all previous sets, it’s safe to say we haven’t really done true preservation on the materials. For these cartoons, we are making sure that none of the others are lost to any further Nitrate deterioration. We’ve done a 4k transfers of all the original Nitrate materials that still exist on the series (except for Jungle Jitters). Even though we didn’t need that high of quality for this collection, it made some sense to do it while we have the materials out, preserving them to make safety materials and digital versions in their original quality. There’s a few more if safety materials we hope to do in the coming week or so. As of this writing, we have a copy of every cartoon and all the original titles, with many of them having multiple copies transferred.

Some of the materials have some issues, though everything is workable. The negative and master positive to Play Ball, an early entry in the series, was lost in 35mm to Nitrate deterioration many years back. There is 35mm safety material on this title that we hope to be able to get, though it’s not a sure thing- it is currently the one piece of master material that is inaccessible. There is a preservation neg of the first half of the film in decent shape, with the rest having fairly severe damage along one side (see frame below). Funny enough though, there’s a complete, very good preservation of the soundtrack to the film in 35mm. We transferred an excellent quality 16mm printdown from the mid-40s that matches the quality quite well, so we have the entire film for the most part, though there is one splice we haven’t figured out quite yet.


Modern Sound Pictures, once the distributor of some of the series, went through the trouble of animating the opening explosion-burst of Spite Flight to match the original (below) – but in the process, the original title was lost. There was a 35mm preservation of part of the master positive, though done too late to yield good results. Happily, the original titles exist in 16mm, and the sequence appears to be the same as the 35mm element on Play Ball. A very good 16mm print of the title sequence was also transferred.


Harman-Ising’s Bosko makes a brief appearance at the beginning of The Good Scout (below), drawn very nicely on model (by former H-I animators). Willie doesn’t turn around and punch him, though for a minute I was hoping he would. There isn’t any 35mm elements on this title, though many copies in 16mm. We’ve transferred a few in hopes of improving on a few splices int he print that is is far ahead of all others in terms of quality.


The two color cartoons from the series are in some of the best shape of all. The original successive exposure camera negatives on Hell’s Fire (below) and Davy Jones’ Locker turned out to be in excellent shape.


Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be a complete 35mm soundtrack on Hell’s Fire, but there is a 35mm preservation on the track that did exist. We did a quick combination for this article today of a few frames, though nowhere near what the final look will be… though cool to see this long-hidden title card.


Robin Hood Jr. has a master positive element in 35mm that is decent, but without its original title and end title. Chris Buchman was kind enough to lend his very nice quality 16mm print from the mid-40s, completing the film in it’s original form.


These are a few of the cartoons. We’ll go into further detail on some of the other titles either next week or the week after!


  • WOW!!
    It’s like a shaky roller coaster ride looking at these. Phenomenal work, Steve!

  • Great update. It is so great that you are not only trying to present these films in the best possible form, but doing preservation work as well. My hat is off to you and the work that you continue to do. Thanks for all the work that you do.

  • Looking great! I can’t wait to see the final set!

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

  • The day Thunderbean will be allowed to restore and release every single existing cartoon would be the second coming.

    • It would be a dream come true if Thunderbean restored all the Disney animation classics (features and shorts), but that day would be indeed the 2nd coming!
      Can’t stand unfortunately the degrained, recolored, rotoscoped existing Disney Blurays.

  • I’m with Valentin Moretto: I only wish you, Steve Stanchfield, could restore and sell every toon that we fans are clamoring for. I know I’ve shared so many great ideas with you, because I’m always thinking of festival type comps that you could do so easily if the property were yours! You’re learning from the ground up, and that is a whole lot more than the larger companies are doing! More power to ya, for as long as you can do it. The WILLY WHOPPER set has me psyched, as do so many of your current projects!

  • “Harman-Ising’s Bosko makes a brief appearance at the beginning of The Good Scout (below), drawn very nicely on model (by former H-I animators). Willie doesn’t turn around and punch him, though for a minute I was hoping he would.”

    You know that when you punch Bosko he just turns into a lot of little Boskos, then reconstitutes himself, right?

  • I probably shouldn’t quibble about this, but digitizing films is not the same as preserving them. It is simply transferring them to a different medium, one whose permanence has not been proven.

    The only true way to preserve film is to keep the originals well-stored, and copy to film when possible. Of course, that’s not what your project is all about – you are trying to get this stuff which has been mostly out of circulation back to a form where a present-day audience can see it. But it’s pretty much a given that DVDs and Blu-rays will one day be obsolete, maybe sooner than we think. And it shouldn’t be assumed that those digital trnsfers will survive or be readable in the long term – I’m talking about 50 or 100 years from now.

    • Doing 4K scans—the resolution of 35mm film, and therefore a new 35mm print could be made from the scan— is indeed film preservation, which Steve has done for this project on a great number of cartoons.

    • Following up on this. First, I have to commend David Shepard and UCLA for doing an excellent job preserving so many of these films in the traditional photo-chemical way. As a longtime film collector, having an original film element to work with means the world to me. Not too long ago in this same spot I wrote almost the same thought- who knows how long the digital formats will survive.

      Doing 4ks on the Nitrate material isn’t needed for a project like this, honestly, but it makes a lot of sense to me to have the ability to preserve the films as close to their original resolution and quality as possible while they’re out. A next step, of course, would be to image these elements back to an polyester-based film stock.. and, on that note, It’s possible some of that could be in the works sooner than later. While I really like the traditional way of doing things, a properly done image back to film from a good 4k scan can look better than the traditional contact print preservation. At the very least, what we have now provides a digital intermediate that can be used should the Nitrate become unusable.

    • But what preserves the scan? That’s the problem with the digital medium – when it fails, it’s fatal, and your cartoon is gone.

      I’d say if you want to keep that scan you’d be better off printing it out as numbers on paper and storing that, than trusting any magnetic or optical medium we use today. I don’t know how much paper you’d need – probably a lot.

    • A side note to this preservation discussion, I worked at Newsfilm Laboratory in Los Angeles from 1978 to 1981. We handled mostly 16mm reversal and a lot of 8mm and Super 8. At one point, about 1980ish, the 3M company was experimenting with a preservative coating that could be applied to finished film to prevent base and emulsion scratches. I don’t know how far they got with it before I left but I still have some Super 8 film I volunteered for the experiment. The first drawback we saw was that if the coating didn’t dry in time as it was being applied, it would leave a mark near any tape splices. Although my test footage was silent, I heard complaints that the coating melted the sound track on magnetic sound-striped test footage. However, at last look a few years ago, the film I have is still in good shape and flexible but there’s a distinct difference in the feel of it from uncoated acetate film. As mentioned, I don’t know how far 3M went in developing this coating but that problem with the mag stripes may have kept it off the market. If it was perfected, wouldn’t it be nice to preserve fragile old films with such a coating.

    • That was probably “3M Photogard”. I have several prints that employ it in my collection.

  • It was an actual thrill seeing the color title card for HELL’S FIRE. I just wrote about it on my blog about a week ago, based on the color/b&w hybrid print that’s on YouTube. Willie manages to live up to the caption of a later Gary Larson cartoon in this one — “Satan’s Little Pet” — when he runs off to do the Devil’s bidding. What a kiss-up!

    • I’ll check out your blog. I’m interested. Could you post a link?

  • I simply cannot wait to see the Whopper cartoons restored. The Cinecolor entries (as shown in the frame grabs) will no doubt look awesome! They’re so bright they hurt my eyes! Thunderbean always does something amazing. Great work, Steve.

  • Steve, amazing work. I am very much looking forward to this blu ray set. The hell/devil scene here looks gorgeous The shade of red on the title card is awesome. PS, any word on the arrival of the Van Beuren Blu rays and have the bonus pre-order disks gone out yet? Very excited.

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