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.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.
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:
…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.
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.
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.
For this week’s cartoon, here is Funny Face one of the few FLIPS in the public domain.
Have a great week everyone!