THUNDERBEAN THURSDAY
January 8, 2015 posted by

The Hunt for FLIP THE FROG Begins!

FLIP-THE-FROG-box

The title above is a bit of a misnomer in that we started looking at materials for ‘Flip the Frog‘ back in July- but this is the first in a series of post about the project as it moves into progress here.

Last year, Thunderbean made a deal with Film Preservation Associates to release the Flip the Frog Cartoons on Blu-ray. This was an incredible opportunity to do our best to present Ub Iwerk’s first series in the best possible versions, since Film Preservation’s owner, David Shepard, offered to allow us to look through all the original materials/ elements on the series, housed at both UCLA film archives and AMPAS. I’ve never been so lucky to be able to have access to a whole series and be able to choose elements, so I was quite grateful to be able to take a look to see what was there. In all, there are 96 reels of Nitrate original negs, Composite prints, Fine Grain Master Positives, Dupe Negatives, and other materials. Many of the titles no longer have Nitrate materials, but Mr. Shepard as well as UCLA took steps over the years to make sure that elements were preserved on the titles. At AMPAS, there are many more elements in safety material.

clip to enlarge

clip to enlarge

While it may seem that the ‘Original Negative’ is always the material you should use to do the transfer, this isn’t always the best choice. Of course, I had made the assumption that there would be just one ‘Master’ on each of the films; sometimes that’s true. In this case, there are many more.

When Blackhawk films originally received the materials, they were in varied condition, having been through various distributors. The original distributor of the films was producer Pat Powers; he reissued the films in various formats and versions. With each version, different things happened to the various materials. The most usual changes are title card sequences. Sometimes the original negative was altered, sometimes a print was made and altered, sometimes a dupe was made off a print. Most of this was done in 35mm, then often reduced to 16mm. Sometimes a print-down was done for each print (an actual reduction from the 35mm to 16mm for each print) and sometimes a 16mm negative was made- with the 16mm ‘contact printed’ for each copy. As things exist now, often the original negatives have quite a bit of wear, have footage missing, and sometimes don’t have any titles on them at all. None of the original edited negatives have their original title sequences. The missing footage is sometimes from an edit, and likely sometimes because of Nitrate deterioration.

For the Flips, after looking though the Nitrate materials, it became clear that the Master Positives (Fine Grain master prints) would likely be the absolute best picture element to use where they existed. A ‘Master Positive’ is a single positive print struck from the original edited negative, produced often on the very fine grain Kodak master positive stock, and sometimes Dupont’s Master Positive stock. This ‘protection print’ is usually only run once, and is used to made the ‘Dupe Negative’ that all the release prints are struck from. In the case of the Flips, there are often two ‘Master Positive Fine Grain Master Prints’ or more. The earliest are often the ones struck for the MGM release, and are the most complete, best condition versions, down to their original titles.

While most of the titles are present between these two archives, not all are. A better picture of the early distribution of the Flips is starting to come together as the search continues. It appears that a handful of the first cartoons in the series were produced in color, though never released in the USA in color. Some prints appear to have surfaced of these, but we haven’t seen them yet- but hopefully soon!

Cartoon researcher extraordinaire David Gerstein has been working on the project too, and I couldn’t ask for more knowledgeable help. Dave put together this Chronological list of the Flip the Frog title cards, making it much easier to identify the title card for each of the various elements. Dave also provided a pretty good list of what to look for, down to what original title sequences have never shown up in more recent history.

Flip the Frog title card chronology

With the help of Sami Kerwin and Lauren Schmidt, two animation seniors from the College for Creative Studies, I went through the Nitrates. It was fascinating to see part of the history of the series told through the condition and titles cards on these prints. Here’s a small snapshot of what that list looked like:

Hunt_for_flip

…and a more closeup detail of some of the titles and notes. As you can see, there’s lots of different material on each. Note that the original title for Laughing Gas appears to have been ‘Another Bum Tooth’, though it must have been changed at some point before MGM’s release. For Puddle Pranks and others, the hope to is not even use one of the elements here, but rather use a version in color.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

After looking at and cataloging the various versions in both the nitrate and safety where nitrate didn’t exist, the next steps have involved looking at the various versions of the films that have been available on video over the years. This is an ongoing process, but so far, both the evaluation of the materials and looking at video versions is yielding a pretty complete list of what we know exists on each of the titles. Of course, there are more archives and many private collectors to ask as well- and always surprises along the way.

Here are some screenshots (below, click to enlarge) of the first two films transferred, 16mm prints of Circus and Coo-Coo the Magician. While most of the Flips exists in 35mm elements, these two titles haven’t surfaced in versions other than 16mm. Happily, a version of Circus showed up in an old 16mm print that has the complete MGM titles and credits. It may or may not have an edit since it’s original release though- so the hunt continues. Coo-Coo the Magician has only shown up so far in a Powers re-issue print.

Coo-coo1co-coo_2Circus2circus_3 circus-title

I hope that by next week we’ll be able to report on some of the Willie Whopper materials. Some are on their way, and I’m excited to see what they look like in transfer.

I wish I had this little guy by my side as the works progresses. Maybe he’d say ‘DAMN!’ every time one of the Power’s reissue titles show up, just as he did in some of his early cartoons.

FLIP_DOLL

For this week’s cartoon, here is Funny Face one of the few FLIPS in the public domain.

Have a great week everyone!

24 Comments

  • Fantastic, Steve! Will be looking forward to each Thunderbean Thursday from hereon in…
    Good luck!

  • Ooh, this is particularly good news! The Flip cartoons are easily my favorite early 1930’s series. It will be a deee-light to study the backgrounds – the rubber architecture or the mix of shabby backyard fences and futuristic skyscrapers – in detail on Blu-Ray. Possibly the best news of 2015, and it’s only January 8. Fingers crossed for yet another Thunderbean highlight, Steve. I’ll buy it.

  • keep up the great work can’t wait for more flip!!

  • “Here are some screenshots of the first two films transferred, 16mm prints of Circus and Coo-Coo the Magician.”

    I’m not seeing them. That aside, an excellent post!

    (Have you found any of the pre-Flip polliwog cartoons?)

    As always, keep up the good work!

    • There was a delay in posting these screen shots earlier this morning – Sorry about that – but as you can see, they have been put into the article above now.

    • Thanks, Jerry.

      Idea for the next comp – cartoons that have hot dog vendors in them.

    • The screenshots look great. I’m so exited to see more of them, especially for “Fiddlesticks”.

  • Fantastic news! I’ll buy every release, too! Here’s hoping there will be a lot more announcements like this during the coming year. Happy New Year indeed!

  • My first exposure to these cartoons where when they were on Netflix instant a while back (they are no longer there now) I can’t wait to buy this. Looking forward to pre order notice.

  • Now I have that theme song stuck in my head.

    ♫ Bloop bloop… ♫

  • Steve, how do these compare with the Cartoons That Time Forgot DVD versions from 16 years ago? A cursory examination of my copies shows no references to source materials.

    • Steve, how do these compare with the Cartoons That Time Forgot DVD versions from 16 years ago? A cursory examination of my copies shows no references to source materials.
      Not having known much about this release other than seeing examples of it, I would say Steve’s effort would seem a great deal more important in bringing Flip into the Hi-Def era with these new transfers. I’m sure what Mr. Shepard had to work with back when he put out the “Cartoons That Time Forgot” releases was the best he and the rest could do for it’s time. Here, we’re getting more research together and pinpointing the best possible sources to use or reconstruct (such as using the original titles).

  • It’s really pretty remarkable that so much material survives on these cartoons. There are a lot of studio-owned cartoons that should be so lucky.

  • I remember what a big deal it was — to some of us, anyway — when Blackhawk made some of the Iwerks cartoons available in 8mm and 16mm back in the ’70s. It was great to own brand new prints of these instead of trying to track down old prints that weren’t too beat up.

    • I’m sure it was a big deal. I bet Balloon Land on Super 8 would’ve been a big seller to a certain demographic in the 70’s.

    • Wonder what Chris means by that? Anywho, I’m guessing Grim Natwick may have had a hand in designing or animating Flip’s very Betty Boop-like (at least in most scenes?) girlfriend…

    • “Wonder what Chris means by that?”

      I suppose I meant the stoner crowd.

  • “I wish I had this little guy by my side as the works progresses. Maybe he’d say ‘DAMN!’ every time one of the Power’s reissue titles show up, just as he did in some of his early cartoons.”

    Those “Commonwealth Films” titles bug me too!

  • I cant wait!! I hope the end of this print of “Coo-Coo” isn’t completely mangled like the other ones. Fantastic work as always!

  • Hey steve! Years ago Steve worth recommend that I buy these french iwerks dvds . (Complete file and a complete comi color set) Some of the transfers unfortunately had interlacing on them but the dvd actually contains every flip the frog cartoon. Only fiddle sticks in color. I am so excited that you are releasing a flip the frog blu ray. I greatly appreciate the love and care you put into your blurays. Watching these old shorts on your discs is like watching them for the first time. I really hope you decide to release a willie whopper blurray. So many of those shorts still remain unseen. I’ve heard that more than one of those was produced in color too.

  • Most of the cartoons on the Bosko Video VHS tapes have an MGM logo at the beginning. But I think they were just tacked on by Bosko Video, not originally on the prints.

  • The materials all still originated with Film Preservation Associates. They made video masters of the films in the 80s and some in the 90s from the materials that seemed best suited and available at that time. They’ve been great in letting me pull the transfers from the materials I think will be best- we’ll transfer more than one element on many of the titles to try and get the best results, though for many of them I’ve already narrowed the best to scan down to one or two. Many of these do have the MGM title- in fact, it looks like many of the fine grain positive materials haven’t been as much as looked at since the 30s since the Power’s versions were the ones that were to be circulated and were of good quality to make a 16mm neg from.

    • Oh that’s good to hear. I can’t wait.

  • Were these cartons ever part of the Turner deal in 1986?

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