April 20, 2017 posted by

Championing Orphan Films – One Frame At A Time

I was having a conversation with Jerry Beck a few days back about film preservation; in that conversation we were talking about how being able to see so many things in great quality was unimaginable a handful of years back, unless you were in a handful of cities around the country lucky enough to have both theatrical showing or collectors putting on various shows. We also talked about how we really are in a lucky period in that there’s a possibility of managing to get so many things out that otherwise wouldn’t be available – sometimes it honesty just takes a single person or company championing a particular thing.

The gap between the 16mm shows and things being available on DVD and blu-ray meant that the only way to see so many things for years was in fair at best VHS copies. DVDs and now Blu-ray had given a good reason for studios to make better quality copies of many of their films because there was a market to do so; funny enough, the further accessibility of films on-line actually has made it harder to get more niche things restored, since there is now a smaller market for physical product.

Prototype cover (not final)

I have to admit that one of the reasons to run Thunderbean is so I can see a lot of things I had always wanted to – what was better about that is has allowed *lots* of people to see things that were harder to see. It’s the busiest time here that we’ve ever had, at least in terms of the projects in progress, with every machine working on some project right now, rendering this and that away. Many freelances are joining in operations here in the coming weeks.

After a hold on replication for a few changes, Abbott and Costello Rarities is finally getting pressed in replication after being in a holding pattern there for a while. The replication plates needed to be redone, but now all collaborators are happy with the set, and I’m happy it’s on it’s way to coming back here! Mid Century Modern Volume 1 and 2 are in replication as well, and several of the other sets are nearly wrapped up.

I’m taking a break from examining and cleaning film to write this, so I’m very much in film mode. On Thursday morning we’re happily transferring more films again right here in Detroit; the Da Vinci (color correction and controller) has a new hard drive (after the one from the 90s or very early 2000s died) and the system is working just grand. We’re not doing the ‘Flip’ stuff on this machine for the most part now- we’re doing 4ks on those on a lasergraphics scanner.

click to enlarge

A big batch of nitrate is on its way back to UCLA to make room for more… and this next batch will be the final ‘Flip the Frog’ films to be scanned. 38 films with almost always more than one element transferred for each. It’s now the second most expensive projects we’re done. I’ve been breathless seeing the original negs on these films getting scanned; it’s hard to believe those films can look *that* good. I was tearing up at the last session seeing the material in 4k. I made my final choices of what to pull material-wise today for the set. I’m working on digitally editing together original neg and Fine Grains for many of these right now, including Stormy Seas, Ragtime Romeo, Milkman and more. There isn’t an original neg on all of them, but almost all have a Fine Grain.

The Noveltoons blu-ray set has two machines dedicated to it right now. One of my freelances, while cleaning up some title sequences, pointed out different sets of cels for the same animation on two of the titles… they look almost identical except for the blur/dry brush around the smears on the bells of the jester’s hat!

The Lou Bunin set is moving forward again as well. This one is now years and years in process… mostly waiting for permissions on various materials.

Tomorrow there are both 16mm and 35mm films being transferred; the most exciting to me are the Kinex shorts that have shown up since the original DVD set of Stop Motion Marvels in 2010. Interestingly, my good friend Chris Buchman just informed me he’s managed to find another one of the Kinex horse race game films, so there’s now two of five we think. Other collaborators have managed to find nearly the whole series now. 35mm prints exist on the sound films Pepper the Pup (1931) and Hector the Pup (1935). We posted the raw transfer of it here a while back – here. Many thanks to the preservation efforts of the Library of Congress for saving this fun short.

Some of these films are clearly not classics… but interesting just the same I think. One collector I know and respect said he didn’t know if the Kinex shorts were worth saving! I think they’re all historically important. I’m excited to come closer to doing when we wanted to do on the DVD of that title- get as close as possible to presenting the entire series.

Sometimes I wish we could move faster on licenses and getting some of the holy grails. I guess patience will pay off at some point, though some of my friends and collaborators have suggested otherwise at times! There are several projects I’ve been chasing for years with varied results.

The Betty Boop and Popeye special set gets its final transfers this next week. The machines are humming here copying all the ’special’ discs. Many thanks to the cartoon collectors; you’ve very much made it possible to replicate and transfer many of these films much more rapidly.

A major hurdle was crossed this last week on a project I can’t talk about yet, but I’m very happy it’s moving forward.

Now: the cartoon for this week!

Recent news reminds me of the Private Snafu cartoon Going Home (1944). This particular short was pulled from the Army/ Navy Screen Magazine, likely because of its reference to a bomb that seems to be similar to the then-in-progress Atomic Bomb. The message is this particular short is similar to many Snafu’s: keep military secrets. It’s one of my favorites of the series, especially because of the free and flowing Bobe Cannon animation in the last scene. Watch some of this footage in slow motion on youtube (under the little settings gear) and you’ll be amazed at some of the really varied and fun poses. This copy appears on the Private Snafu blu-ray. It’s taken from the fine grain master positive held at the National Archives.


  • I love hearing about the process that it takes for the restoration of these films, even if you must be running around like a crazy person overseeing all of it. We truly appreciate what you are doing to provide us the best versions of these rare cartoons. Thanks for sharing! Here’s hoping issues surrounding the Lou Bunin set and the “secret” set you can’t talk about get resolved quickly!

  • “A major hurdle was crossed this last week on a project I can’t talk about yet, but I’m very happy it’s moving forward.”

    Gosh! I hope that’s the one I’m thinking it is.

    Am looking forward the Bunin set.

    As always… keep up the good work!

  • Any surprises as far as new color Flips that were previously available only in black and white?

  • TRALFAZ! I’ll go out on a limb here. I thought Tralfaz appeared first as a reference to the Jetsons’ dog. But it showed up here in the bomb diagram. Is there more to this story than I thought?

    • On his blog, Yowp sez:

      “Tony Benedict came up with Astro, writing “The Coming of Astro” and “Millionaire Astro.” The latter is the cartoon that brought the word “Tralfaz” into the popular language. Tony says it came from fellow writer Warren Foster, who got it from Tedd Pierce when the two worked at Warner Bros.; Pierce had put it in a few cartoons. The line “Tralfaz? Yechhh!” from Astro is probably about the only thing most people remember from this cartoon.”

  • Forgive me for going off-topic, but I seem to remember hearing or reading somewhere that the five notes we hear when “S-N-A-F-U” is spelled out at the beginning of a SNAFU short signify “What a horse’s ass.” Googling this recently has turned up nothing, and I’m starting to think I made it up. Is it true?

    (For the record, I know what “SNAFU” means.)

    • Make your search for “you’re a horse’s ass” and “5-note” and you’ll get hits. Some refer to a march, “The Joker,” written in 1912 by Mayhew Lake which is built entirely upon those five notes. You can listen to a 1912 recording on the Library of Congress’s National Jukebox, link below. No telling if this is the source or if it makes use of an already-familiar musical schtick, but the relationship is pretty clear.

  • The wait for these wonderful sets (and I’m sure that these will be wonderful) sets is excrutiating, but I know the results will be well worth the wait! I just hope that the amount of pre-orders I have made is remembered. I know I ordered the FLIP, NOVELTOONS, MID-CENTURY MODERN and BETTY BOOP AND POPEYE; I can’t recall about the other sets; but I can’t wait ’til they come rolling in. About those disks being offered from April 15 to 17, boy, I was drooling, but my computer had speaker trouble, so I was unfortunately shut out of the deal. No, I’m not asking you to allow me to order those disks now, but they really looked tempting. I was glad to see that you included “THE OLD HOUSE” simply because there is some amazing animation moments in that cartoon and a ew interesting camera angles. As for what is worth restoration and what is not, well, I am with you and Jerry in that it is *ALL* worthwhile, because the cleaner the picture and sound, the further the viewer (and those of us doing listening more than viewing) can realize how truly wonderful these are as far as artistic integrity is concerned, even if they are of their time…and that PRIVATE S.N.A.F.U. GOLDEN COLLECTION disk still remains one of my all-time favorites, along with the WILLIE WHOPPER collection. I’m really sorry about my computer woes, and I hope that a few of those offered disks will be those that are included with my pre-ordered editions. And I echo thanks for all you are doing for classic animation. I can’t wait to hear what teh “secret project” will be. Now that I’m up and running again (hopefully for a long time), you know I’ll pre-order anything related to classic animation, *ESPECIALLY* if it comes from the 1930’s.

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