May 18, 2023 posted by Steve Stanchfield

Presenting the “Rufle Baton”!

I think the best thing about the Cartoon Research “Blog” is that there’s so many varied “archeaological digs” happening all the time. It’s always a surprise to see what’s found or discovered. I especially love seeing the posts looking for things that the author clearly knows really well and likes talking about. Here’s something I’ve always wanted to see (or, at least as long as I know it existed…). But first…..

In quick Thunderbean news:

The Complete Animated Adventures of The Little King Blu-ray is now mastered. It’s on its way to replication now and I couldn’t be happier with the set. The films look really nice, and I think we’ve found the best or close to best materials we’ll ever find on them. The highlight, of course, is the cartoon Marching Along, from the original camera negative and track, courtesy of Sony Pictures Archives and The Library of Congress. Now, onto other subjects since I’m not talking about the other two almost done things until they’re *actually* done!

As mentioned above, we managed to scan the original camera negatives for Marching Along from the Little King series —along with Piano Tooners (1932) from the Tom and Jerry series. There’s one other known Van Beuren cartoon that had its original neg intact that we know about- and who knows if more may show up some day. Likely they’re lost to time.

Funny enough, because these are the original camera negs, the Rufle Baton was actually on both negatives, unhidden by the track (or blank area) on a master positive or dupe neg version of the films. If you look carefully, you can sometimes see the ghost/shadow of the technique at the far left end of the frame in 16mm prints… the best indication we had up until this point on how the system worked in action. Animator George Rufle came up with this clever device. The patent was granted for this unique idea in 1931, but more than one studio came up with a method to sync in the early 30s. Here’s an interesting article posted by Yowp a handful of years back. Reading this article as a companion to this clip is pretty insightful I think.

So, for the first time, we can get a pretty good idea of how the process looked and worked at Van Beuren. From reading the article and looking at the actual device in action, It’s likely the exposure sheets (dope sheet, x-sheet) had bars to block out beats based on music timing (so they were bar sheets in a way). My guess is a scene would be x-sheeted on a sheet based on how fast the tempo of the music was— and that if the music changed in a scene it meant a different sheet started at that change regardless of it being in the middle of a shot. The music was timed (at least in these two films) to have the Baton start in the furthest position, making a complete beat based on how ever many frames the speed was set to. Each scene seems to end that way too. Knowing that the Baton was cut in and out of each scene based on the furthest position from the hit makes it easy to cut from one shot to another and stay on beat, always. The device must have worked mechanically, so with each click from the camera operator the Baton ‘advanced’ position to be ready for exposure on the next frame.

On the Little King set, Marching Along appears cleaned up as part of the cartoons on the set— and we’ve included the film uncropped s well with the track, showing the complete Rufle Baton throughout.

After seeing both of these for the first time on Friday and over the weekend working on cleaning up Marching Along I really wanted to share this with everyone— so, here’s a pretty long clip from Piano Tooners (1932) showing how this device worked. You can get some idea from watching the timing between shorts. Funny enough, I think this particular method led to some creative decisions in designing the music (in terms of how music worked from shot to shot). See what conclusions you come to- love the comments and thoughts!

Have a good weekend everyone, and make a wish for more cool things to show up soon!


  • I am amazed at the clarity of the soundtrack, and I very much look forward to this Blu-ray being released. Good luck with it and on your future projects. I hope there are more good ones that you can reveal very soon.

  • A fascinating and instructive post. I had read about the Rufle baton but had never seen it in action until today. The beat is established at the lowest part of the bouncing ball’s trajectory, corresponding to the beat of an actual conductor’s baton (called the “ictus”). This might have been an issue with European orchestras, who by tradition play consistently just a little bit behind the conductor’s beat (if you watch a televised broadcast of a Vienna Philharmonic concert, you’ll see what I mean). But American musicians wouldn’t have had any problem with it.

    The standard film speed of 24 frames per second adopted at the beginning of the sound era allowed for exact correspondence with a wide variety of metronome indications:

    1 beat every 24 frames = 60 beats per minute
    ” ” ” 20 ” = 72 ” ” ”
    ” ” ” 18 ” = 80 ” ” ”
    ” ” ” 16 ” = 90 ” ” ”
    ” ” ” 15 ” = 96 ” ” ”
    ” ” ” 12 ” = 120 ” ” ”
    ” ” ” 10 ” = 144 ” ” ”
    ” ” ” 9 ” = 160 ” ” ”
    ” ” ” 8 ” = 180 ” ” ”

    A standard film speed of 25 or 27 frames per second would have made it practically impossible to time animation to a musical beat using a standard metronome.

    This clip from “Piano Tooners” utilises just two tempi: a slow one of 60 beats per minute for the waltzes (“Chopsticks” and “Sidewalks of New York”), and a faster one of 120 beats per minute. The number of frames per beat (either 12 or 24) is written at the base of the baton for easy reference. What’s interesting is that the beat still prevails even during the sections with no music; for example, when Tom slides the piano key into the keyboard (accompanied by a slide whistle), the action takes exactly four beats. The beat isn’t always apparent to the viewer, but it would have been indispensable to the people making the cartoon.

    I always appreciate any information about music in early sound cartoons. Bravissimo!

    • An excellent addition, Paul Groh, to Steve’s excellent TT blog post. Thanks.

      • Thank you, Tim!

  • That’s great news on those films. PIANO TOONERS looks jaw dropping and so does MARCHING ALONG..These will great additions to anyone’s video library. So does this mean LITTLE KING will be the next official Thunderbean release?

    • Yes. It’s in replication now.

      • Any chance it’ll be available in Columbus next week?

  • Wow! This is the best I’ve seen a Van Bueren cartoon look since “A Swiss Trick.” And bonus, I learned something new today regarding the Rufle Baton. Can’t wait to get my hands on The Little King Blu Ray set.

  • Howard Beckerman told me that George Rufle (whom he knew very well) still puttered around with inventions into the 1960s. Howard also told a story that when George went in for the job at VB, he threatened to jump out from the window if he didn’t secure it – I think he actually stood on a ledge to drive the point home.

  • Rufle Baton and it’s animated by George Rufle himself! What could be better?

  • Seeing the full frame version of “Piano Tooners” is like seeing it through new eyes. The area of the image so long cropped out really means something here; especially the ending where Madame Pflop erupts through the roof of the opera house to sing her last notes. And the RCA Photophone sound fidelity is superb. Nobody but Steve would even attempt this sort of thing, let alone achieve it.

    • Also, if you listen closely around the one minute mark, you can hear a bit of studio chatter just before that “ping” sound when Tom cuts off a piece of the piano key. So great to finally see (and hear) a Van Beuren cartoon from first generation elements! Bravo, Steve!

  • Little fake Mickeys.

  • Any news on my Redskin Blues print?

    • Hi Jay!

      We haven’t scanned it yet, but I need to scan it soon for a small piece that isn’t in the print we’ve cleaned up. Feel free to contact me via email or at the Thunderbean website. Thanks again for the lend!

      • The print is honestly too beat up to really use, but since it’s one of the few prints available it’s better than nothing.

  • I have had a copy of the George Ruffle Beater Patent for many years. It was used at Fleischer Studios when he was working there, and their original negs were apparently still shot in Movietone Aspect Ratio to accommodate this mechanical baton until 1933. I have the drawing and illustrations of its use in my book, THE ART AND INVENTIONS OF MAX FLEISCHER: AMERICAN ANIMATION PIONEER.

    • Interesting stuff Ray. Thanks.

  • You can also see the Rufle Baton demonstrated in the Jam Handy production “Drawing Account” . See it at 6:31 – 6:52 in this video:

    • Actually, that is not the “Ruffle” Baton, but a variation of the same idea. The Ruffle invention had a disc and the end of the shaft to make it look like a bouncing ball. What you see in DRAWING ACCOUNT is a solid column moving up and down. I saw a device like this in the compound of a Portman animation stand at the Ford Motor Company many years ago.

  • The Rufle Baton was officially patented on July 26, 1932 as Patent #1868993. Throughout his life, George Rufle earned at least 7 patents for his various inventions.

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