Thad: Mini-Profile

Steve Stanchfield was 19 when he began his Snappy Video label, his means of creating compilations of obscure animated films in the public domain and making them available to fans and collectors. It evolved into a more elaborate operation years later, Thunderbean Animation, a kind of renowned label in animation circles for its high quality restorations of hard-to-find and previously lost shorts on DVD.

“What drives me to do this, is that you can look at the history of anything, and every important field has a large crack between every important event,” Stanchfield said. “Those large cracks are filled with little films that have fallen into them. That’s what I want to fill up.”

Stanchfield has just released his first Blu-Ray, an all-new restoration of the Fleischer Studio’s feature film Gulliver’s Travels, marking a very successful crossover to the world of high-definition technology. He’s already sold out of his initial pressing of 1,000 copies and needs to replicate more.

Stanchfield said he isn’t an “egotist” about what he’s doing – Gulliver’s Travels isn’t even a favorite film of his.

“I am so sick of Gulliver, I can’t even tell you at this point, just because I watched every goddamn frame of the thing,” he said. “But, to me it’s kind of exciting people seeing it looking like it hadn’t look. Seeing it look like a really good 35mm Technicolor print of Gulliver in a theater would.”

His devotion to film preservation is one that few others can boast. Thunderbean essentially consists of one employee: Stanchfield himself. He’s an animator by profession and teaches animation at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. But files at his workstation in his house in Ann Arbor seem to consistently find their way to his office computer at school.

“It’s really getting too big for me to manage alone, I even had one offer from Shout Factory [another DVD sub-licensing company] to buy me out, and that was before the Blu-Ray,” Stanchfield said. “But that only says that I’ve got something really good going.”

It goes without saying that Gulliver’s Travels isn’t regarded as being in the same league as Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Nor are the Flip the Frog shorts the animator Ub Iwerks produced after co-creating Mickey Mouse with Disney, which Thunderbean will be releasing to Blu-Ray, considered as groundbreaking as the earlier Disney shorts.

It’s not so much whether the cartoons themselves are any good, Stanchfield said. Rather, it’s the stories behind the films that Thunderbean’s preservation and distribution are aiding, so that if people want to see decent copies of Iwerks’ post-Disney follies or the Fleischers’ foray into feature animation, they’ll be able to.

“It makes some sense to me that the important films will always be remembered and be preserved,” Stanchfield explained. “But the unimportant ones, all of the other things, are sort of the missing links of animation, full of people’s careers, people’s lives. I feel like it’s important to preserve that even if it’s not that important. When someone’s searching later to get a more complete history of what happened, that’s what’s driving me. And the fact that I’m not going broke doing it.”

Is Joel Embiid the #1 Pick?

Photo by SI
Photo by SI

Joel Embiid came into his freshman season at Kansas as a raw project with a lot of areas to improve his game.

After all, he only started playing basketball 3 years ago before becoming a 5-star high school recruit overnight. And of course there was fellow phenom freshman Andrew Wiggins’ arrival on campus that overshadowed Embiid.

But after just a few games in college, Embiid displayed a rare set of skills for a young big man. At 7-1, Embiid’s excellent footwork, polished post game, and elite shot-blocking ability had NBA scouts raving about his play all season.

Now Embiid finds himself in position to possibly get drafted #1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in this month’s NBA Draft.

Embiid, who originally hails from Cameroon, did not grow up playing basketball. In fact, one of his first major experiences playing basketball was at a camp he was invited to only because of his then 6-9 frame.

The camp’s host, NBA player and fellow countryman Luc Richard Mbha a Moute, told The Wall Street Journal that he was impressed with Embiid’s rare skills despite his lack of experience.

“Those were moves that guys who had been playing for years were making,” Mbah a Moute told the Wall Street Journal.

It was Mbah a Moute that convinced Embiid’s parents to send Joel to the United States to play high school basketball.

He transferred to basketball power Montverde High School for his Junior season, but after receiving little playing time he would transfer to The Rock School in Gainesville for a better opportunity to play in his senior year.

After a stellar senior season, he went relative unknown to blue-chip prospect. Embiid received scholarship offers from Florida, Louisville, Texas and UCLA before signing with the University of Kansas.

Embiid’s standout freshman year at Kansas now has some experts predicting his underdog story will continue. currently predicting Embiid will be selected #1 in this year’s draft.

NFL Considers Keeping Draft in May After High Viewership

Photo by AP
Photo by AP

Roger Goodell announced at this year’s NFL owners meetings that the league will put together a committee to determine the future time and whereabouts of the NFL Draft.

“We’re looking at everything,” Goodell said to a group of reporters at the Owners meetings. “We think that the draft has a great deal more potential to grow in popularity.”

The draft, which is usually held in April at Radio City Music Hall, took place in May this year due to a scheduling conflict with Radio City.

However, despite the moaning from some fans and NFL front-office personnel regarding this year’s late draft date, this year’s draft received it’s highest television ratings since 1993.

ESPN received a 31% increase in viewers from last year’s draft. According to The Nielson Company, 45.7 million views tuned into this year’s draft coverage on ESPN, ESPN2 and NFL Network.

We don’t believe (the date) affected us in a negative way at all this year,” said Goodell.

Many have attributed the boost in ratings to this year’s later draft date, but certainly the climatic draft day fall of Johnny Manziel on Day 1 and the groundbreaking drafting of Michael Sam certainly could explain the increase in ratings this year.

Particularly the high number of viewers that tuned in during rounds 4-7, many of whom were certainly waiting to see Sam become the first openly-gay player drafted into the NFL.

Despite the success of this May’s NFL Draft, some NFL people still feel uncomfortable with having the draft so late.

“If I were king of the world, I’d put it right back to where it was,” said Giants Owner John Mara at the Owners meetings. “But that’s probably not realistic. I certainly don’t think it ought to be on Mother’s Day weekend. But we’ll see.”

Netflix To Continue To Air Original Programming in 4K Ultra High Definition

Netflix Logo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Earlier this year, Netflix announced it would start to produce its entire stock of original content in 4K Ultra High Definition (UHD) despite the fact a majority of its user base do not own 4K UHD television sets.

Popular programs such as “House of Cards” have been subjected to the trend, with upcoming series “Orange Is The New Black” (June 2014) and “Hemlock Grove” (July 2014) to follow.

As summarized in an article from Variety, Nextflix not only wants to “tout teach leadership, it also wants to bring ISPs into its content delivery fold.” Hence Netflix’s stances against net neutrality in possibility to affect choices consumers make in terms of quicker access to content across the web for at a price.

“Cable operations will be making decisions as these transitions occur,” said Robert Thompson, television and pop culture expert at Syracuse University.

“Needless to say, there are going to be big changes. The internet’s capacity for streaming distribution has an awful lot of advantages.”

The main difference between 4K UHD television and HD is the enhanced picture resolution. HD viewing boasts 1080 x 1920 p while 4K’s consumer format stands at 3840 x 2160 p. Images produce at such high resolutions allows for the viewer to have a more immersive experience— a 4K screen revealed heightens clarity, providing an extremely nuanced viewing experience.

Streaming services such as Netflix proceed to take the reign in the upgrade due to the fact that it’s easier to stream 4K over Wi-Fi verses spending thousands to purchase a television set of similar quality.

“I’m surprised how long it’s taken for the computer to be integrated with the TV,” Thompson said.

“We had two big revolutions happen within the past ten years—the portable revolution, where people have taken to watching TV on smaller screens. At the same time, actual TV sets are getting flatter, bigger, wider and in HD. They seem contradictory, and for a time the two didn’t meet.”

However, Thompson said that access to high definition television on portable devices would not make the physical television obsolete.

“College students go home every day to an apartment or dorm room without a TV and watch everything on their portable devices,” he said. “But once they graduate and get jobs, they will purchase large TV sets in their home—most likely Smart TVs and HD TVs. “

According to reports, Netflix does not plan on charging extra to its subscribers for 4K access.

H.S. Stars Show Their Stuff at Jordan Classic


Recently a lot of attention has been squarely on stars of the NBA in their quest to win an NBA championship. But the next generation of stars got their chance to shine on the brightest stage at last month’s 13th Annual Jordan Brand All-American.

In front of a packed house at the Barclays Center, Duke commitments Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones led his East team to a 158-147 over the West team.

Okafor, ESPN’s #1 rated high school player, finished with a game-high 29 points. Many of which came courtesy of slick no-look passes from Jones that brought the Brooklyn crowd to it’s feet.

“He (Jones) definitely looked out for me, he’s an amazing point guard, amazing passer. He made my job a lot easier today,” said Okafor. “It was definitely fun to play with Tyus again.”

The fans weren’t the only ones impressed with Okafor. Former NBA player and current ESPN college basketball analyst LaPhonso Ellis said the future is bright for Okafor.

“You’re talking about a kid who’s 6-10 265 pounds. He sprints to get back on the defensive end, he sprints  out on the wing and can finish at the rim,” said Ellis. That’s pretty impressive when you consider his size.”

Jones, who finished with a game-high 12 assists, said he fed-off of the New York crowd that also included celebrities and pro athletes such as Carmelo Anthony, Fabolous, Teyana Taylor and Michael Jordan.

“New York is known for basketball and they come out and watch and really support it,” said Jones. “So it’s fun to play in New York they always come out and show love.”

This was the second consecutive year the game was hosted at the Barclays Center.

The New Normal: Changes coming to summer’s biggest street ball tournament

In one month’s time the most storied street basketball tournament in the country kicks off at Holcombe Rucker Park in West Harlem: The Entertainers Basketball Classic. Although the EBC dates back to 1982, there are plenty of changes coming to this year’s event.

What started as a showdown between two Harlem rap groups more than thirty years ago has turned into an event that has attracted the likes of former-President Bill Clinton and former-NBA commissioner David Stern. Not to mention more NBA all-stars than you can count on your fingers and toes.

Traditionally, the tournament takes place entirely on the cement court equipped with a modest set of bleachers and a sizeable scoreboard. When NBA rules prohibited players from participating in an outdoor tournament on a cement court, EBC-creator Greg Marius found the funding and installed wooden courts.

“We’re really proud of what we have and we’re going to just keep making improvements until it’s like a mini stadium,” Marius said.

With the court installation, the EBC attracted 18 pros last summer and this year Marius is aiming for 30. Always looking to expand his operation, this year’s tournament will include a celebrity challenge held at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, home of the Nets.

Not everyone believes that changing such an institution in street ball is the right move, including Vince Mallozzi, author of Asphalt Gods: An Oral History of The Rucker Tournament.

“I think when you start getting too corporate; you’re losing a certain amount of authenticity and a certain amount of nostalgia that kind of went along with the game itself,” he said. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

Mallozzi added that the reason people have historically been so attracted to the EBC was the colorful, theatrical basketball that takes place each year. With the move inside for a celebrity game and the edition of the wooden court, that magic could be lost.

Creating a balance between the tournament’s street-style history while necessarily adjusting to the times has proven to be a task for Marius and his team. As the sophomore effort into the new-EBC begins, it will be up to the fans to decide what is more important – the tournament’s historical character or the tournament’s players.

Diversity Is The New Black (And Latino, And Asian…)

Actor and producer Anthony Anderson. Credit: Glenn Francis,

One element that separates the big screen from the small screen (as the differences between movies and television narrow) is still the issue of diversity in casting roles for characters that are not, for a lack of better terms, white.

But as 2014-15’s Upfronts—the time of year where television executives announce major programs for the fall season in order to bring in advertisers—have shown, while diversity remains an issue in films, television is bucking the tide.

“As audiences for television grow smaller, networks tend to specialize in more niche programming,” said David Waterman, a professor at the department of telecommunications at Indiana University Bloomington.

“For example, CW used to appeal to African-American audiences with programs that leade with African-American actors. Spanish language programs are also becoming prominent.”

ABC leads the pack in debuting another drama by “Scandal” creator Shonda Rimes titled “How to Get Away With Murder,” a drama by “12 Years a Slave” screenwriter John Ridley and a comedy by Anthony Anderson (All About The Andersons, The Bearnie Mac Show) titled “Black-ish,” a comedy about an affluent black man. ABC will also premiere “Cristela,” a program about a Mexican-American family and “Fresh Off the Boat,” a sitcom centric around a Taiwanese family.

The old myth that developing television shows staring PoCs are unmarketable or undesirable by mainstream audiences is declining. As written in a piece for Time magazine, “more and more advertisers and their clients have come to realize that if you want America to buy your products, you make ads that look more like America.”

In other words—diversity does sell. The question now remains if whether or not depiction in the roles produced will prove just as diverse as their intent.

That is, will network television play into stereotypes or learn to subvert them in a manner that is both meaningful and authentic to the multitude of everyday experiences faced by all?


Slow and steady, the NHL Moves Toward New Technology

NHL's "War Room" Review Studio in TorontoIronically, the National Hockey League, with all of its masterfully crafted sticks, skates, pads and masks, continues to lag behind the rest of America’s major pro sports when it comes to utilizing technology in assessing player performance.

Like the NBA, MLB and NFL, the NHL uses instant replay, but many of its 30 franchises remain reluctant to invest in the tracking and analysis of advanced, Moneyball-esque statistics that other leagues have already adopted. But in 2015, the NHL will open itself up to one groundbreaking piece of technology called SportVU, which is currently being used exclusively in the NBA and in the UEFA Champions soccer league.

A product of STATS, Inc., a global sports statistics company, SportVU is designed to track and record player movement and activity on the field, court, and now ice. The program, now used in every NBA game, enables all the data to be visualized with the help of several cameras positioned at different points over the court. Teams use it to collect information on where players like to shoot and pass, where they’re weaker and where they’re stronger.

Since hockey and basketball are fundamentally similar, these player variables will be more or less consistent when the NHL adopts the technology, but hockey will present the program with more complex data-tracking issues. There are no out-of-bounds in hockey, and players are constantly coming off the bench and replacing those on the ice while the clock continues to run. So, more movement means more camera, more data, more money. (Plus, how do you track a mostly stationary goaltender?)

A hockey rink is much larger than a basketball court, which lends to the notion that SportVU will be even more critical to NHL clubs. Where there’s more room to move, there are more possibilities, strategies, and plays to be made. Before long, the NHL will benefit from these technological advancements, and coaches will begin to study their opponents — and their own players — more intently and scientifically.

State Senate Votes for MMA Legalization in NY

Jeff Gross/Getty Images


The battle for the legalization of professional mixed martial arts in New York State has made progress this week with the State Senate voting 44-16 in favor of legalization. If the vote clears the State Assembly it would make the empire state the final state to permit pro bouts.

Having the bill clear the Assembly is not a foregone conclusion. This is the fifth straight year that the Senate has voted in favor of legalization. In previous years, Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver has blocked a vote in his branch despite reports surfacing that is has the support to pass.

It has been almost two decades since George Pataki banned mixed martial arts in New York State and referred to the practice as “barbaric.”

Since this initial ruling in 1997 there have been a host of regulations to make the sport safer. The “no holds barred” version of the sport that was present in the last 1990’s is very different from the sport that is being advocated for today.

For some, these reformations don’t go far enough. “It has proven to be an incredibly dangerous sport, where medical research is showing that fighters in the sport stand an incredibly high chance of suffering brain damage,” says Liz Krueger, a New York State Senator representing district 28 on the East Side of Manhattan who is strongly opposed to MMA legalization.

Assembly Speaker Silver is reported to have had several meetings with members of the Assembly since the vote in the Senate was announced.

Kenneth Lovett, the Albany Bureau Chief of the Daily News who has done extensive work on the divisive MMA issue says it is just a matter of time, “As the years go on there is an inevitability that it’s going to happen it’s just a question of when.”

Issues: The Animation Spectrum

The Animation Spectrum:
Are animation, autism, and Asperger’s related?

Thad Komorowski

No one has ever made a study of a direct link between autism and Asperger’s and a compassionate interest (never mind career) in animation. In light of increasing evidence, however, one is probably in order.

Ron Suskind, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, has written a book entitled Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism. He writes at length about his autistic son, Owen, and how he was not only educated, but also more or less rescued by the animated features of the Disney Studio.

In a recent interview with the Boston Globe, he talked about using a puppet of Iago, the parrot from Aladdin, to break the ice with Ron.

“I put the puppet on… and say in Iago’s voice: ‘Owen, how does it feel to be you?’ Owen turns to the puppet, like he’s bumping into an old friend, and says, ‘Not good, I have no friends. I can’t understand what people say, and I’m lonely.’ That was our first real conversation.”

It is a success story, for Owen Suskind has not only connected with his family, but he’s now connecting with other people through a Disney Club he’s formed at college.

Suskind’s book might be the only case study of an autism-animation connection at the present, as most health studies are uncovering how autism and Asperger’s are related to interest in the performing arts in general.

The See Amazing in All Children initiative, a recent partnership between Sesame Workshop and Exceptional Minds, a digital arts academy for young adults with autism, suggests there is awareness that those diagnosed need assistance and acceptance with pursuing their passion. The press release states it’s “the first vocational school of its kind with a working studio of young professionals with autism who are preparing for lifelong careers in digital animation, graphics and post-production.”

There’s also the possibility that autism and Asperger’s have already been widely accepted in the animation industry—albeit, unknowingly.

Robertryan Cory, a character designer at Disney Television Animation, said he’s always been interested in the topic and even self-analysis.

“I was never diagnosed but I’ve noticed a ton of similarities,” Cory said. “Didn’t speak until 5, hated the feeling of water, don’t know or understand cursive writing [and] completely obsessed and detail oriented to the point of distraction.”

Cory may be forthcoming with sharing his experiences—he’s currently beginning work on his first book—yet he’s uncertain his fellow animation brethren would be as candid. Which is all the more reason a serious, informed look at the topic would be invaluable.

“I know a lot of my friends have problems but I’m not sure where they lay on the spectrum, [or] whether anyone has been properly diagnosed,” he said. “Or whether they’d like to be called out on their weird behavior.”