THUNDERBEAN THURSDAY
July 21, 2022 posted by Steve Stanchfield

The Slow Drip of Progress…

The slow drip of progress is a universal experience when it comes to animation and animated content.

I definitely get introspective at the end of these projects.

The clock continues to count down on the FTP server window. It currently says “Getting 00089523.dpx”. It’s a frame of the film The Vaudeville Show, one of thousands of frames that have been slowly working their way through as  bits and bites reassembling into this machine, forming in the end a complete film made from a time of much less technology. It’s just one film of thousands that were made in the 20th century. I guess it’s not a big surprise that so many are forgotten.

There is a great deal of similarity between what is happening to get this film into these new technologies and how the film had been made in the first place. There’s a similarity to how the industry of animation has always worked. I’ve found it’s even similar to all the aspects of putting together these Blu-ray sets. All small pieces, all trickling in.

Title card from “the Vaudeville Show” Courtesy Serge Bromberg- Lobster films.

As the Chuck Jones said “All worthwhile endeavors are 90% work and 10% love, and (in the end) only the love should show”. In my own experience in working in animation, games and things like these projects, I’ve found it’s more than just the work that shouldn’t show- but rather all the other things that got in the way of a project should fall by the wayside as well. I’ve found the biggest effect on anything I’m working on is all the outside stuff of life that presents a challenge. Those are the things that seem to affect the outcome more than the internal work factors.

Of course, all of this could be applied to any endeavor, from building a house to making a meal perhaps. The human experience seems to be one of building things or destroying things. Perhaps all of us have the need to do both at various times in our lives.

I think that one of the reasons I’ve always been attracted to presenting animation is that it has the ability to check off lots of different things I enjoy. It can be watched and  enjoyed casually by yourself -and in addition you can show it to others without them having to have the same information or attachment that you have to it. The humor or drama can work different for different people, and someone can look at it and enjoy an aspect of it that you hadn’t even considered.

As I’m working on wrapping up this Blu-ray of Stop Motion films and tweaking various technical aspects of the set, I have to keep reminding myself that these particular things are a gathering of the endeavors of others, meant to be seen by a audience that, for the most part, has now left. The existence of them is a gift from the past, and the decision to be a steward of that material has fallen into all of our hands. The last half century has been a period of preserving and rediscovering by various generations, collectively and continually, with a handful of people deciding to take on the tasks of carrying the tradition of showing and enjoying these films in different ways. Some collect them in various mediums, some share them, some show them, some write about them. In all these ways they’re kept alive. The true ownership and value of the films comes from what they are able to do best- be seen and enjoyed.

While it’s understandable that companies value the things that bring in money the most, many are left with all sorts of wonderful things that just will never be profitable enough for them to care in the same way they cared when the material was made. Other things lost their owners long ago, or  whoever owns them doesn’t know that they do. In each of these circumstances, I think every try to help them be seen is important. Each of us in only here for so long, and there’s so much wonderful stuff that is waiting to be rediscovered that it would take any one person a lifetime to get a small percentage of it back in the public eye.

We own our own actions and little else related to old cartoons for the most part. Folks in a generation above and below me are involved in these same efforts, and I’m glad they’re still at it as I am. Since we’re nearly stewards of a majority of this material rather than owners, I think we have to remain humble in our attempts to make sure they’re passed on for an audience now and in the future.

So, I hope you find and enjoy some animation this weekend if you wish to. Name a film in the comments this week you think others would enjoy seeing— and have a week all!

7 Comments

  • I’m sure it is incredibly frustrating to find just the right source material, and then match it up with the technologies that will do them the most good and restoration. Part of this problem is the various degrees of neglect over the years by the studios who owns them originally. Such a shame, as a matter of fact, that they don’t ask you folks to help in the continued restoration process of their films before those films disintegrate entirely, but as you say, it is not their top priority as it is ours. As always, I wish you continued luck in getting these things finished and into our hands. I know the work is is rough, and the weight is long, but I know it’ll be well worth it to all of us once we have them.

  • At the 1981 Academy Awards ceremony, President Reagan delivered a pre-recorded speech with the message “Film is forever.” He was never called out for making such an asinine statement, possibly because he had just survived an assassination attempt and no one felt like taking potshots at him. We all know that film is most certainly not forever, but when it’s gone — now that really is.

    As for naming a film I think others would enjoy seeing: well, just this morning I saw “Fireman Save My Child”, a Mutt and Jeff short from 1919, on one of the Cartoon Roots collections of silent cartoons. It’s worth watching not only because some 90 percent of the Mutt and Jeff cartoons have been lost, but because it’s a very funny cartoon, presented here with an ebullient musical soundtrack. The best part is when an attractive young lady climbs down a ladder from her window, and all the firemen holding the net gather around to ogle her legs while poor Mutt falls onto the hard pavement!

  • A thoughtful and somewhat melancholy post. Keep up the excellent work. It’s greatly appreciated. Thank you.

  • This idea of these little films being a gift from the past is a very sweet notion. I doubt the folks that produced these little Kinex shorts you’re working on ever thought about that, but they (and the others on the Stop Motion Marvels set) are finding a new, if a somewhat small, audience thanks to Thunderbean Animation’s efforts.

    As far as a film I think others would enjoy seeing, limiting it to one is tough. I teach fourth grade, and I occasionally will treat the kids to a cartoon show on 16mm film. I always try to vary the contents of what I show in order to give the kids a taste of all the different classic cartoons out there. I’m limited by the prints I own, but I’m always amazed that the cartoons that get the biggest reactions are the black and white ones. Popeye and Mickey Mouse are always popular, but they also love stuff like Cubby Bear and Willie Whopper too! I had kids ask me for more Alice Comedies of all things!

    Bottom line, don’t underestimate what the younger generation will find entertaining. I can vouch that kids can not only sit still for black and white cartoons, but they also thoroughly enjoy them! They just need to be exposed to the classic stuff that’s out there!

  • A different tone, which makes good change since it is nice to hear things from the perspective of one in a different mood. I’m glad VAUDEVILLE SHOW is in your hands!

    For a film I think others would enjoy seeing; one of my all time favorite Looney Tunes is Art Davis’ FOXY DUCKLING, a rather odd one off, but one I always really enjoy, particularly in the animation job! https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3coqou

  • Loved the post Steve, this sounds like a great closing remark for a documentary on historical animation preservation. I could really feel the heart in this post and i appreciate the transparency and sharing your inner thoughts on the matter.

    As far cartoons, Mickey’s Trailer has always been my favorite animated short. When i was a kid (90s) the only place i got to see it was on the disney channel when they would run the compilation show called Donald’s Quack Attack. I would watch every episode hoping for the one that had this cartoon to appear. When i was a kid i had no idea that it was on episode #16 of 95 total episodes! Thankfully i own a copy of it now, and can also watch it whenever i want on the internet as well. I hope this brings a smile to someone’s face today! I think I’m going to watch it again right now: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/xyo3jc

  • Well over 25 years ago, I talked to film special effects wizard Linwood Dunn. All the things I wanted to ask him about KING KONG, THE THING, etc. were unfortunately not discussed by us, because he was in the process of working on a book about his career – and now classic films he worked on – with George Turner. Mr. Dunn passed away and so did George, sadly – so the book never was completed.

    What Linwood Dunn DID talk to me about was memories of his uncle Spencer Gordon Bennet, who directed serials and Westerns starting in the middle 1920s. Dunn was fascinated by computer technology and the internet, which is amazing, considering that when he entered the film business, cameras were still cranked by hand and most films were silent!

    Some of the most interesting things he told me about were the FLICKER FLASHBACK series that RKO-Pathe did in the 1940s. While the series mercilessly ridiculed the fashions of the the early 1900s, etc. the fact that so many short early films were preserved because of this series is remarkable. Dunn told me that much of the vintage nitrate films had already deteriorated or were destroyed for the silver content, but that many “paper positive” print photos were found of silent films and were painstakingly transferred onto film for the series. Linwood Dunn had a pretty good idea of what still existed in the RKO film library and I asked him if he thought Ted Turner might release the FLICKER FLASHBACK series on VHS or his network. His reply to me was something like: “If Turner thinks it will make money for him, he’ll do it.” I don’t know if this series has ever been restored, but I know that some episodes made it to 16mm and Super 8mm film collections. I also don’t know if any animated shorts were included in the FLICKER FLASHBACK series. Despite the heavy-handed satiric narration, many of these short films would have been lost forever without lots of technical time and hard work! Which is why I’m always happy to hear about the work Steve and Co. are doing with these films!

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