As the last week of classes ends here, my non-school hours are flooded with getting out the Christmas disc to everyone. The DVD from the set had a few issues that delayed them going late last week, but that is resolved, and we’re now scrambling to send them to everyone as fast as possible.
The last week of school each semester is always a time of reflection; there is amazing work going on at the College for Creative Studies. The animation community is growing here in Michigan as well. Melissa (Mel) McCann, a terrific animator, works frequently for Thunderbean doing film restoration and animation. She recently animated on the short ‘Mesh’ for Gunner, an animation and graphic design studio here in Detroit. It was posted on line a few days back, and I think it’s a really neat combination of animation styles: https://vimeo.com/195304061
The College for Creative Studies also put up a nice video yesterday that was shot over the summer, talking juts a bit about film restoration and working on some of the animation projects for Thunderbean. Check it out HERE.
Doing a service to animation history is, of course, a passion of mine, and I can never emphasize enough how it is really a community of people that love these things that helps them to survive and be seen. The decisions I make with Thunderbean are almost entirely about ways to make things available that otherwise are not, or only available in fair quality. It seems a shame that so many things exist in beautiful quality but are not available – *why* preserve them if they’re never to be seen?
I’ve been able to use this space every week for assorted ramblings related to doing these projects, and I’m especially grateful for the support and feedback. This week I’ve been attempting to move the many (and I mean many) stalled projects forward in one way or another, or at least set things in motion for the coming year.
Columbia’s 30s and 40s cartoons continue to be the hardest to find since there still isn’t an official release for any of the series. The UPA set from Columbia’s materials is just wonderful, and long overdue.
On a side note related to that, Oxberry Animation Stand #6, purchased new by UPA in 1948, resides at the College for Creative Studies. This full sized stand was used to shoot a lot of UPA animation in the late 40s through the 60s. After that, the camera ended up at a small title shop, then was fit to shoot 65mm plates for Tron. It ended up in Detroit after that, used for titles, flying logos, animation and effects for many years. A small piece of a Dick Tracy cel from UPA was attached to the back of one of the legs of the stand. I always wondered who put it there….
Columbia’s best shot at actually winning an Oscar was when The Little Match Girl received a nomination in 1937. Directed by the great Art Davis, this Columbia Rhapsody is surprisingly touching, and equally shocking in it’s ending.
I recently acquired a 35mm Technicolor print of this cartoon, and we showed it at the Redford Theatre cartoon show a few weeks back. Watching it with an audience unfamiliar with the film was a surprise, and more than a few people commented to me about the emotional tone of the film.
It’s one of my favorite cartoons, but is far from perfect. I think if the Columbia crew had more experience with serious subject matter that some of the things that detract from making it was powerful wouldn’t have been included.
In the 30s, the Mintz studio sometimes used film transition techniques in strange ways; the use of some are confusing and to the detriment of the short, while other times they work just fine, but seem unusual. The overuse of cross dissolves and wipes for seemingly no reason is a great example of this. In a pivotal moment in Little Match Girl, the use of these transitions lessens the seriousness of the moment, making the timing of the sequence seem more cartoonish. At other times, the techniques work beautifully.
It’s been pointed out more than once that the character design is an issue in this film. while I think myself that the attempt to be cute in design doesn’t work perfectly, I do think that overall the choice and design isn’t bad- but if those cheeks were less predominant I think the design would work better. The quality of the character animation varies through this short from very nice to at least survivable. I really love some of the layout and background rendering; a very unusual style at times and only seems to show up in this one short.
The choice to set the story in New York in contemporary times is interesting. We’re also left with the idea that even as the holiday is being celebrated, it hasn’t softened the hearts of the people enjoying the themselves. At the end of the film, after the poor child has passed away, we’re shown a shot that mimics the first shot of the film- bells ringing merrily, seemingly showing the callousness of the world to the suffering of a small child.
I would love to have included this short on the ‘Official’ Christmas set we just did, or any set for that matter! Here is a nice transfer of it in HD from a 35mm IB Technicolor reissue print, looking better than any version I’ve seen. You would think that Columbia would at least put a indication that the film had been nominated for an Oscar, but I guess that would mean a new title card. Enjoy and have a good week everyone!
(Thanks to Howard Lowery for the model sheets)