January 5, 2017 posted by

The Year Ahead in Cartoon Preservation


I have to admit – I have a lot of fun putting together the various collections of mostly animated films for Thunderbean. My interest really starts from being a fan of the films in the first place. I find the technical aspects interesting as well, though sometimes I’ve found myself only learning some of these aspect because I absolutely *have* to in order to achieve a certain result. Of course, I love a lot of live action stuff too, and there are projects in the works with many of these things.

In more recent years, the ability to work in HD, 2k and 4k is especially interesting, as the very exclusive (and expensive) world of film preservation on a high level is expanding and becoming more accessible. The great improvement in scanning technologies allows the ability to scan film better for preservation than has been possible in the past.

scrappy-8mmI would love to report that the films the studios own are now all being preserved. Of course, that’s just not the case, but of course there are all sorts of opportunities for a lot of things we haven’t seen to find an audience again. I look at new technologies as being the conduit to making sure things are saved *and* seen, rather than just saved. I’m always astonished that so many beautiful things are just waiting to be rediscovered. We can only hope that there’s enough interest on both the part of the owners of the materials and places that want to release them to spur new projects.

With the larger companies, even though it seems less likely, there’s often a better chance of availability. Orphan films or those owned by smaller companies can sometimes be more available to licensing, but sometimes because they are not a priority compared to more lucrative ventures or responsibilities they are placed on a somewhat permanent back burner. There are two projects here that fall into that category, but I’ll keep trying!

The big thrill I always get when seeing something that hasn’t been seen in many years is two-fold; first in just the coolness of seeing it myself, but much more in sharing it with others. Thunderbean seems to be a way to continue to keep doing that, so I’m hoping that this year allows the ability to expand and release even more things. It’s still a somewhat small niche market, but as the library continues to grow, some of the older titles do help cover costs for newer sets as well.


Acetate deterioration is our giant problem right now- much, much more of a threat than nitrate deterioration. Kodak picked up (or made up) the sort of cute term for this: “Vinegar Syndrome”. It serves officially as a blanket way of identifying this problem, and of course the film collecting community knows the term well. The truth is that the base of acetate film is organic, and, depending on how the film was stored and what was done to it, it may eventually start to warp, curl, shrink and bubble. The films smells often very acidic, letting off a strong odor similar to vinegar, hence the name. Films stored near a film that is releasing acid as it deteriorates can be affected by it, though I’ve yet to see a case where it ‘caught’ the deterioration. What seems to happen instead is that the acidity greatly dries out (and often curls) the other film that is near to it. Film affected by it (but not deteriorating yet) can be improved with cleaning and soaking in a film cleaner- unless it’s too curled from being exposed to the acidity of the film it is in the can with or next to.

I’ve talked about some of these things before of course, but this is a very current situation in that many films in studio archives from the 60s are being scanned now to protect not only the color content but to save them from being lost to the ‘VS’ problem.

dumbo-35-frame35mm Disney prints are often the victims of vinegar syndrome because of how they were treated. Since the studio would be reissuing many of their films at a later date, they would often have the prints ‘rejuvenated’ at a lab so there would be good prints ready for the next release. This involved taking the print and having it on rollers, heating it in a chemical vat as a coat of plastic material covered the film as it emerged. The results were a print that looked brand new (hiding any scratches or abrasions) but also wouldn’t allow the film to breathe. These prints are now often the first to go. There’s a beautiful Technicolor print of Dumbo sitting here right now, on it’s own in a corner, sadly un-runnable except for one reel. Happily, Dumbo is in no real danger of being lost, but so many other films are.

A handful of the films on a set we’re working on right now have suffered badly from VS- one was so badly deteriorated that we were scanning little strips on a flatbed scanner to save as much of it as we could. This particular project is the most involved of any of them- it will likely be three sets of three Blu-rays (9 total discs).

My big hope for this year is to have many of the projects on the burner come to fruition, and to help as many other producers as I can make their projects happen as well. It’s been an incredibly busy time here with one giant project (fixing up a house to rent) finally coming to a close, so I’m looking forward to Flip and a few other projects being my priority again for a little while, happily). Looking forward to Mr. Bug too – my favorite film. If all goes well, over six new titles will be out this year, maybe more if all goes well. A&C Rarities in the first out the door for the year.

droopy-scopeOn other notes, I have a real interest in seeing more of the Cinemascope cartoons from all the studios released. I’ve recently seen some scanned that looked amazing – given a proper treatment, many of these later films can get a better evaluation historically, and they’re entertaining to boot!

At least one cartoon will be part of the post next week… promise! In the meantime, here’s how to thread a projector – The best cartoons used to (and still can) be seen that way.


  • Keep up the good work!

  • Thank you so much for the effort you go through to preserve these films. I’m doing my part to tell my fourth graders about film preservation (it actually came up today), and how important it is to keep these documents of the past. In the cartoon realm, so much of what you have brought to DVD and Blu-Ray would largely go unseen (especially in the great shape we have been so privileged to experience them in) if it weren’t for Thunderbean. Film restoration fascinates me, I’m glad I’m not alone.

    In short, you keep makin’ ’em, we’ll keep buyin’ ’em!

  • I do know a small bit of information on film preservation, because I know someone who, while he lived here in New York, invited a bunch of us to his apartment for a near all-night cartoon show. As I walked in, he was cleaning a print of an MGM cartoon and happily ran three very good MGM’s for me. You *KNOW* I was in hog heaven!! I also have another friend who discusses film preservation with me as he has his own film collection to constantly care for. Geez, I wonder what that vinegar smell does to your system after a while, but hey, again, thanks for all you do and, believe me, I look forward to the FLIP THE FROG set whenever it is announced. I don’t know how much of a difference in sound the 4K format makes, but I can attest that the WILLIE WHOPPER set does sound superior in blu-ray. It is literally like sitting in a movie theater and listening on those larger speakers, no matter how loud I have my speakers at the time. I am certain that FLIP will shine, as will “MR. BUG”. And, ooh, am I longing to know what the 9-disk collection is going to be! I do hope you’re right that there is a good market for older films as time goes by. I know that Hollywood hopefuls are always acknowledging the rare titles, and I hope that the animation community is doing the same. I’m anxious to see those previously started series continue, even though there is little to no hope for this. I do keep tuned to THUNDERBEAN THURSDAY for good information. Good luck, my friend

  • The video reminds me of my school days on the AV squad, operating the school’s Bell and Howell 16MM projectors. As the video says, it was so easy!

    • You were lucky, my school had no such squad for me to belong in. 🙁

  • (Gabby voice): “Hey! That’s no way to thread a projector!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *