Thursday, February 28, 2008

Meet Thunderbean Steve

The Bijou Blog is delighted to welcome character animator Steve Stanchfield as a guest contributor on vintage cartoons. Steve's Thunderbean Animation produces animation for TV, multimedia and commercials as well as releasing collections of rare vintage animated shorts. He is also a professor of animation and animation history at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.

Steve, we look forward to your cartoon news and views in future posts, but let's start at the beginning. Do you recall how you got hooked on cartoons?

I remember even as a small child really liking the B/W Fleischer Popeyes, as well as the few 1930's cartoons that were part of the Lantz TV package. "Toyland Premiere" (1934), with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was easily my favorite cartoon by the time I was 4. I do remember my mother taking us to see the reissued Disney features, and that it was clear to me from a fairly early age that I was much more into these films than my older brother. Waking him up at 6 in the morning because an early Porky Pig was on TV was not his idea of fun!

I don't know how we end up liking these little films so much. It could be that multiple viewings of certain shorts often are retained because the films had something special to them. I do know that I sat through hundreds of hours of Saturday morning cartoons as well, but didn't remember ANYTHING about any of those. I didn't have any idea that people could actually collect films as a child, but I do remember wanting to use a home movie camera to shoot "Toyland Premiere" so I could watch it whenever I wanted to.

Seeing “Matinee at the Bijou” as a 13 year-old made a huge impression on me. I was able to see, for the first time, some of the films I had only heard about. Then I started to shoot my own little films (thanks to my grandfather’s Super 8 Camera) and discovered that I could buy b/w silent cartoons at Kmart!

Thanks for the unexpected Bijou tribute. (Here’s your $10.) What was the first cartoon you acquired on film?

I'm not sure! It was out of an ad in Movie Collector's World though and in Super 8mm. It was either “Puss in Boots” (Disney, 1923) or “In the Good Old Summertime” (Fleischer, 1927). The first 16mm print I bought was The Little King in “Christmas Night” (aka “Pals,” Van Beuren, 1934) well before I owned a 16mm projector. I remember running it at my junior high school, amazed at how much better it looked than Super 8!

What is the rarest cartoon in your collection?

I especially like to find films that no one else has released. There's so many things of sort of equal rarity.... It might be “Monkey Doodle” (1931, Les Elton) or “PM Picnic” (Al Stahl/ Chad, 1948), or maybe the Brewster Color nitrate print of “Mendelssohn's Spring Song” (Cy Young,1931). Still, I have a fairly small collection of around 600 film prints on 16mm and 35mm. Many of the super cartoon collectors have been kind enough to lend some of their rare material for transfer. They and the film archives are where the majority of the cartoons come from, although sometimes I get lucky and find something on eBay or through a friend.

What and when was your first VHS cartoon release?

I started Snappy Video when I was 19. I released five titles at the same time. I did a movie
collector's show with the first five titles in Chicago in 1988. I eventually started working in animation in 1993 and the videos took a back seat, until more recently.

Do you have a favorite among your DVD releases?

That's hard to say. I've had a great time putting the new Thunderbean Animation collections together. The Popeye DVD was a lot of fun, and led to being able to help out on the official Warner Brothers sets. I've always loved Cubby Bear too. I think the “Cartoons for Victory” came out really good...and the “Cultoons” sets... “Little King” ... heck, I like all of 'em.

We’ll take a quick break while everyone runs to Thunderbean Animation to complete their collections.... OK? That took longer than the reader expected. Are you working on any new DVD releases?

Yes, I'm working on quite a few. Some have been in progress for many years as I track down key films for the collections. “Cultoons, Volume 3" is almost done, a long in-progress “Stop Motion” DVD is starting to turn into 2 DVDs, and a disc of the unseen “Rainbow Parade” cartoons has been in the works since 2004, among others....

Finally, are there any “lost” cartoons you have been searching years for?

Strange cartoons I've been looking for? Yes, quite a few. At the top of the list are the two 1930 Dr. Seuss cartoons by Harman and Ising, some of the lost Felix the Cat silents, a few still lost Toby the Pups (6 have been found now) and the lost color Barney Google cartoons (though b/w silent prints exist).

Many thanks, Steve. We’ll have you back soon to discuss all these and more.

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