May 21, 2020 posted by Steve Stanchfield

From Best to Worst: Working With The Best Film Elements That You Have

After school finishes, I usually dive pretty full-throated into the Thunderbean stuff. This summer, even with the current challenges, isn’t any different in that sense. The hardest thing is that nearly every resource is affected with our current worldwide pandemic.

For the last handful of weeks, I’ve been working on finishing touches on a project for Tommy Stathes as well as Arnold Liebovit’s new Puppetoons V.2 set. These are both exciting releases that you’ll be hearing about sooner than later- and both are nearly completed. I hope to have my work on them both done over the weekend if possible.

Besides the above, back on the Thunderbean side of things, The Rainbow Parade and Popeye project are taking most of the time right now. Popeye is waiting for three commercials and one more film to be scanned and a few other extras. I’m hoping to finish the master next week if that is possible. Rainbow is waiting for us to get through animating the main menu. It features various characters from the shorts on the set doing a little bit of business before jumping back into the clouds. I’m happy to finally have a chance to work closely with the animators and assistants on the sequences for this, and hope we can get them all done by early June.

Two of my usual scan places are closed (one from the operator not being able to come in, the other because the border to Canada is closed) so I’m waiting for one other place to scan things. It’s been three weeks so far! I’ve been looking into buying a telecine just to move things forward that otherwise won’t be anytime soon. Luckily, many of the projects that are further along have most things already scanned- but I’m more than frustrated to not be able to get others all scanned right now.

Projects are not in any short supply here right now, and, on each, I really enjoy a deep dive at some point in the process— but currently I’m really doing a whole series of momentary dives into a bunch of different swimming pools of varying depth. Most of the projects have a fairly small ‘deep end’, except for Flip the Frog- and doing it right requires more time than I ever thought it would.

TODAY: From Best to Worst: Working with the Materials That Exist (or you have) of Classic Animated Films

I thought I’d pull a few examples from projects to demonstrate some of the issues involved in trying to make the best versions of these things possible- or at least the best that can be made from the materials we know exist. The extra mile is worth taking on many of these projects, because who knows when they’ll be revisited again!

It’s always a wonderful thing when a whole film exists in a complete, beautiful master. Sometimes you get that lucky on the things we work on, but frequently they require, much, much more work— if you want to do them as right as you possibly can. Our goal is to make them as close to a good ‘original’ presentation as possible- as complete as possible. On Flip, it’s amazing to see how *many* versions of each film exist. On one (The Circus) I’ve seem no less than four different cuts of one sequence, with each missing different footage!

Here’s a few examples of this sort of thing:

Ub Iwerks’ Play Ball (1933) starring Willie Whopper, was a real mess to try and clean up. The master material (at UCLA) only existed in a partial 35mm dupe neg made from a nitrate master positive that was suffering from the ravages of nitrate decomposition. Luckily, I was able to borrow two prints of the film owned by Mark Kausler and Tommy Stathes. Each were very good in different places of the film. Between these and my own print, I was able to find the best ones to use for the areas that were not in good shape on the 35mm. David Grauman did an excellent job finishing off the cleanup and edit for our final version. Here are some pieces of the decomposing 35mm and the final. Luckily, the master positive track, although overmodualted a little, existed in fine shape.

This small section from the Flip the Frog cartoon The Goal Rush was missing from many prints, including all the master materials at UCLA. My hawk-eyed collaborator David Gerstein spotted a British print for sale in 16mm, and, luckily, it contained the short piece of footage missing from all the other material. Why it was missing we’re probably never know- what was more surprising to me is that the racial stereotype *wasn’t* missing from any of them! Here’s the current version of this area, not quite matched perfectly (where the edges change is the extra footage). We’ll tweak it some more for the final I’m sure:

Here’s one we’re dealing with currently: The Flip the Frog short Coo Coo the Magician (1933). At this point, we’ve scanned three prints of it: 2 in 16mm and one in 35mm. We were excited to see the 35mm, and once it showed up I was happy to hand it off for Thad Komorowski, a member of the restoration team on the project, to clean up digitally. He noticed immediately that the print was missing a bunch of footage! As we approach the final films to be scanned for the set, each one has a major problem. The debate now on this one is whether to scan the other know 35mm incomplete print at one of the archives, or do a patchwork job of melding the three versions we have to use the best footage of each. There is one other known print that has footage at the beginning and end missing from every other version. We hope to scan that additionally to finish off this title. Here’s a little piece of each of those prints for a few sequences. What print would *you* use for each?

More on this subject in coming soon. I thought it might be fun to show how an edit is put together on things like this as well.

Have a good week everyone!


  • So sorry about that commercial disappearing into the US Postal System.

    It was last tracked as being “In Transit to Next Facility” after passing throughthe Pittsburgh Distribution Center back on 5/17/20.

    Fingers crossed…

    • Expect any Media Mail to take at least 30 days for the duration. Them’s the conditions that prevail!

    • They showed up today! Now, if all the planets can align and I can get things scanned today (!) life is amazing!

  • So when will we see the Next Official Thunderbean DVD/Blu-Ray Release and what’s the latest word on Cartoon Commercials 2 and the Blu-Ray Reissue of Stop Motion Marvels ???

  • If I can swing it, Stop Motion Marvels (1 and 2), Popeye, Rainbow Parades, Flip the Frog, Cartoon Commercials 2 and quite a few special sets will be done over this summer. The various issues in film acquisition and Telecine work and ability to travel are the only things in the way at the moment.

  • I like the 16mm prints of Coo-Coo, the one right after the 35mm print has the best contrast and seems to be almost splice free. The 35mm has a bit more detail, but a lot of splices. I really enjoyed seeing that little scene from Goal Rush restored from the British 16mm. Who knows why it was missing from all the other prints, possibly negative damage?

    • As the guy who noticed how bad this 35mm was as I was checking the file before starting work on it (though my name seems to be dropped from the article for some reason?) I concur with Mark. For such a mediocre title, it hardly seems worth the time, trouble, and expense considering the 35mm is in rougher shape, Steve.

    • Sorry about dropping your name Thad– my bad editing mistake last night. Fixing….

    • Oh yeah, I figured it was that. Did not mean to imply anything other than Stanch-grade proofreading. 😀

  • I detect a content edit in the Chinese laundryman scene of “Play Ball”, as he laundry flies everywhere but the scene abruptly cuts just as a view of Willie is reappearing. removing any view of any transformation of the Chinaman. The soundtrack also indicates a missing few beats of music. I take it none of the surviving elements had this missing shot? Any clues as to what the omitted gag may have been?

    • PLAY BALL appears to be roughly censored in all surviving elements, including the normally less-edited European masters. In the version uploaded above, notice what appear to be cuts (usually signaled by music jumps or continuity errors) at 1:59, 2:50, 3:04, 3:44, and likely 3:46 as well as the omitted laundry gag you noticed at 5:58.

      A clue to why all of this happened might be seen at 6:57, where the picture is not edited—but while Babe Ruth’s voice says “Darn,” his lips say “Aw, nuts!”

      While PLAY BALL is a pre-Code 1933 cartoon, I suspect it was edited either before or during its first release to conform to some kind of Hays-Code-like standards, maybe because the Iwerks films had already taken some complaints in the trade press for their blue humor—and this was to be the first release of a new series, with MGM watching it closely.

      The omitted laundry gag can be deduced by listening to the tune on the score, “Good Night Ladies,” and by looking at two frames that are left in before the cut. It’s not the transformation of the Chinese character that we witness, but the transformation of the car: as the cloud of laundry clears, Willie’s car is wearing women’s undergarments, with a flowery brassiere—complete with nipples—over the car’s literal headlights.

      The cartoon clearly wasn’t edited for racism—it’s still got the jaw-dropping business of little white Willie knocking out an entire team of black “African dodgers,” a sequence drawn in such a cartoony fashion that many don’t seem to realize what they’re seeing. (Otherwise, there’s also the point that PLAY BALL is structurally almost a blueprint for BASEBALL BUGS, right down to the Statue of Liberty end gag.)

  • Very cool seeing the comparisons, especially the little snippet of “The Goal Rush!” I remember you showing me a clip of “The Circus” on YouTube with an alternate scene. Were you able to get a print with that intact (or any of the other alternate scenes)?

  • Love that you are working on Popeye. I had these cartoons on VHS back in the day.
    Any updates on Lou Bunin’s Alice in Wonderland? It is a childhood favorite of mine and have been waiting for the day to see it in all of its restored glory!

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