This week, time is tight! I’m in the middle of finishing tweaking the master for the ‘Willie Whopper’ Blu-ray. It’s looking just beautiful; I’m taking a break to write this, and can’t wait to get back to the final stages of production on the disc.
So here are some musings on mastering and some thoughts on the future of animated film restoration. For a while, I was in that stage of the project where it’s a little grueling, and you can’t wait for it to be out the door. I think that’s because the digital cleanup stage took longer than I had hoped to bring everything to the level I wanted it to be at. One of the harder things about running this little company is that I want each collection to reach a higher level of quality, and now that we’re working with licenses, we have much more material that can reach these higher standards.
Many, many hands have helped bring the project to where it is, and now it’s at the stage where I just smile as I look at each part, doing little tweaks along the way. I’m looking forward to sending that master in the next few days, along with another title to replicate, after the initial replicator folded. More on project next week, including a sneak peak at the packaging and menus.
The Snafu Blu-ray wasn’t as lucky late last week. The handful of films we were able to get better material on for the set came back from scanning with added digital video noise reduction (DVNR) that was done as the films were being transferred. I always ask for all films to be transferred without any kind of extra processing, so we can do all cleanup on this end of things. The process erased pieces of the images, sadly (see below). This is something that is particularly bad in animation, and something that takes honestly about half the time in restoration- making sure the image isn’t missing anything! Should have gone to DC to supervise in this case…but they’re good folks and are working on fixing the issue.-They’re being redone, but it’s set the project behind even further. Happily, it will be resolved soon, and Snafu will be on his way to replication as well. Growing pains continue, with more titles in production than ever before.
The work on these two projects, as most of these collections, involved working with archives & private collectors. Future sets will certainly involve many of these same resources. At the end of these particular projects (and the beginnings and earlier stages of others) I find I spend some time thinking about the future restoration of animation in the bigger picture, the kinds of sets we’ve been doing, and so much of the other material that isn’t released in a higher quality version.
For larger companies, sales of DVDs (and Blu-rays) provided a monetary incentive to restore their old films, and the market was often good enough pre-2008 to make enough off these releases. After the recession of 2008, the already demising book and record store market took a huge hit. This coincided with the vanishing of video stores (largely related to the rise of Netflix) and people collecting less physical media. With this, there’s much less incentive for the larger companies to invest in expensive restoration of their libraries.
Happily, many of the studios are aware of the continuing deterioration of their films, and see the value in continuing to restore them. Scanning has become more popular, and in many ways is less expensive than making new physical materials. I personally see the value in both scanning *and* making new film material for preservation, and the combination of both seems to me to be the best way to preserve future films, and can actually yield much better results.
On Willie, making 35mm preservation materials would have driven my costs up quite high, but it was within my budget to make 4k transfers on the nitrate materials, preserving them at film quality, so, at some point, new 35mm material could be made. I think this should be among ‘best practices’ when dealing with nitrate materials that haven’t been preserved in original quality.
So, to continue to muse on what the future holds in terms of classic animated films (and non-animated), I think preservation in high quality depends partially on future monetary value of releasing it, and, sadly, the deteriorating condition of the material. In recently talking with one large company, I learned that a lot of their later, non-nitrate material is now a priority to scan as the acetate base has started to deteriorate. Among collectors and archives this is often called ‘Vinegar Syndrome’, and leaves material curling onto itself, producing a strong odor. Eventually, the material becomes unusable.
It makes perfect sense that the most famous things get the most attention, but what I hope for is that other little companies like Code Red, Vinegar Syndrome (yes, there is a company called that), Olive, Shout Factory and even Thunderbean show up to do some of these things. I hope that the market for films streaming and digital downloads continues to grow, allowing a monetary incentive to put out the less famous things. I hope the costs of scanning, digital cleanup and restoration stays at a level to make it feasible
in the eyes of larger companies.
Lastly, it’s about time an all cartoon channel showed up on a service like Roku or Apple TV; at one time Cartoon Network’s model was a mostly vintage channel of old animation; the new platforms (and studios) are missing an amazing opportunity right now, but maybe someone will figure this out.
My big wish it didn’t take as long as it does to get each one of the Thunderbean releases done, or that some of the releases bring in the kind of revenue to have many things in production in a full-time way. There’s lots of ones I’d like to do, but we’re just one small company- but growing. In addition, I’m hoping this thing does plant some other seeds, and that those seeds launch other companies and other sets. That’s happening just a little at this point, but what I really hope is that someday, someone will look back at this period (and maybe even this blog) as part of their own research, navigating their own projects to allow films to continue to survive and be enjoyed.
Now, don’t you wish there were DVDs (or Blu-ray) of Columbia’s Scrappy and Fleischer’s Talkartoons? To me, these and the Terrytoons should be next.
Here’s a few of my favorites:
Sunday Clothes. Scrappy lives in an oddly happily brutal world:
Up To Mars. I think this one would look amazing in HD:
Have a good week everyone!