We all live in a ‘Yellow Submarine’

C oinciding with the 50th anniversary and theatrical re-release of Yellow Submarine, animator Ron Campbell is bringing his Rock Art Show to Dayton’s Edward A. Dixon Gallery. The show will feature art from Yellow Submarine and many of the Saturday morning cartoons he worked on for over five decades. There are many steps in the […]

Beatles animator Ron Campbell brings his art work to Dayton


Campbell lovingly recreates each iconic image, because, as the song goes, “love is all you need.”

By Gary McBride

Coinciding with the 50th anniversary and theatrical re-release of Yellow Submarine, animator Ron Campbell is bringing his Rock Art Show to Dayton’s Edward A. Dixon Gallery. The show will feature art from Yellow Submarine and many of the Saturday morning cartoons he worked on for over five decades.

There are many steps in the creation of a “cartoon movie” as Ron Campbell calls them. Designing characters, art direction, scripting, voice acting, storyboarding, and illustrating the individual frames or “cels” that make up the movie. However, what truly sets it apart from a comic book is the animation, the motion, that imparts life into some of our favorite stories.

It is the animator who draws the hundreds of steps of motion, getting characters from point A to point B, creating gestures, defining mannerisms, conveying emotion, speaking, walking, dancing, singing. It’s where the real magic of “cartoon movies” is created.

“Doing all the drawings that are required to make the characters appear to be coming alive and moving,” says Campbell. “It was not painting the background, it was not designing the characters, or painting the cels. It was bringing to life the characters on the screen.”

For fifty years (and one month), Campbell was a part of the many aspects of producing, designing, and directing cartoons, but is probably best known as being an animator on the 1968 film Yellow Submarine featuring the music of the Beatles, and the Fab Four’s fantastic adventures in Pepperland and beyond.

“I had already been involved with King Features and Al Brodax, the producer of Yellow Submarine—I had directed the Beatles television cartoon show, the ‘mop top’ Beatles, so I was well known by the producer, and some of the directors in England,” Campbell recalls. “They were having some production difficulties… Al Brodax called and asked if I could help out, they needed some character animation, and could my colleague, my American friend Duane Crowther help out.”

“We did animation of the chief Blue Meanie and his sycophantic assistant Max, the Nowhere Man, and the Sea of Time sequence where the Beatles are in the submarine and get older and younger, they grow long beards, and get shorter and smaller. Scenes sprinkled throughout the film, we did about twelve minutes of the film, and it took us eight months to do it.”

“At night I was animating on a show called George of the Jungle and doing storyboards on the early development of the first year of a show you might have heard of called Scooby Doo, Where are You?,” jokes Campbell.

Some attribute the look of Yellow Submarine to “Pop” artist Peter Max, however the actual art direction and character design of the film was done by Czech artist Heinz Eidelman. The psychedelic art movement of the time had roots in Op Art, Art Nouveau and Surrealism, among other styles.

“Psychedelic art was the third popular art movement of the 20th century,” Campbell says. “In the ‘50s, Push-Pin Studios in New York, owned by Milton Glaser, developed this look of the simple black line with the clashing, beautiful color combinations,” notes Campbell. Glaser is widely known for his INY logo, and the stylized poster of Bob Dylan included with his first greatest hits collection. “[Glaser] did it for advertising purposes, and working for him was Peter Max, who went off and spent his life and had a fabulous career [as a Pop artist] working along the same lines, inspired by Milton Glaser’s design.”

Rather than the “kid friendly” look of the TV series, Yellow Submarine was created as an artistic film for an adult audience, reflecting the band’s progression as musical innovators. “When the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine came to be thought about by the BBC and King Features, it seemed to be an appropriate look for the more sophisticated Beatles music. Heinz Edelman sent in some drawings of the Beatles in their psychedelic looking style, and the BBC jumped on it, and Al Brodax approved it, and that was the look of the Yellow Submarine,” Campbell says.

“Making movies can be a nasty occupation unless you really, really, really love it. They were musicians, they didn’t want to do another movie, but they had to. When Al Brodax learnt that, he just proposed to [Beatles manager Brian] Epstein ‘why don’t we make a cartoon feature film and the boys won’t have to do a damn thing except give us some music?’

“The Beatles jumped at that, but they thought it would be based on the TV show,” Campbell recalls. “They gave the songs to Brodax to use, then they went to India and ignored everything that was going on. When they came back and saw what would actually be done, they suddenly liked the whole thing, and decided to do a little live action sequence at the end of the movie.”

After Yellow Submarine, Campbell continued working as an animator, storyboarder, director, and/or producer for dozens of cartoon shows, including Scooby Doo Where are You?, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Ghostbusters, Rugrats, and many others. He was the story director for 216 episodes of The Smurfs from 1981 to 1987. “Can you imagine giving up all those years to the Smurfs? A grown man? I should be a general in the army, or doing something useful,” Campbell chuckles. “But no, I don’t regret it. One of my best friends is a doctor, and he always wanted to do what I did, and I always wanted to do what he did.

He is especially proud of the work his studio, Ron Campbell Films, Inc., did producing and directing the animation segments for the children’s show The Big Blue Marble, which won numerous awards, including an Emmy and a Peabody for Excellence in Broadcasting. “Very few children’s programs win a Peabody.”

“Fifty years and one month. As soon as it was decided that everything was going to be done by computers, that was when I said goodbye,” Ron says. “I’m a dinosaur with a pencil in his hand.”

Since his retirement from animation in 2008, Campbell has continued his love of the craft, doing paintings of characters from the many programs he worked on, with an emphasis on both versions of The Beatles. He shows his art in galleries across the US and around the world, offering original paintings large and small, as well as archival prints. He’s even been known to do an original drawing on a work’s “Certificate of Authenticity.”

Even though he’s “retired,” Ron Campbell still loves bringing characters to life. His work exhibited at the Beatles Cartoon Art Show in Dayton will be living proof.

The Edward A. Dixon Gallery is located at 12 South Ludlow St. in Dayton. Ron Campbell will be appearing in person and talking cartoons on Tuesday and Wednesday, August 21 and 22, from 4 to 8 p.m. each day. Admission is free. Call the gallery at 937.313.7886 for more information, or visit www.BeatlesCartoonArtShow.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Gary McBride at GaryMcBride@DaytonCityPaper.com

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