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Beatles Animation Exhibit Coming To Pensacola

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Nick Follger
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If you’ve ever seen a cartoon you’ve probably seen the work of Ron Campbell. The native Australian had a 50-year career as an animator and director of some of the most iconic TV shows that ever graced a Saturday morning, including the popular Beatles cartoon show in the 60s and later, the movie “Yellow Submarine”. Campbell will be bringing an exhibit of his work to the Artel Gallery in Pensacola Feb. 25 and 26. He spoke with WUWF’s Bob Barrett about his career in animation.

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Here is Bob Barrett's full conversation with Ron Campbell.
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Credit Ron Campbell
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Ron Campbell: I got into the business actually as a 7-year old. That began a lifetime of grim determination in a country where there was no animation industry at all. Fortunately when I came out of art school, television had just arrived in Australia, and for the first time there was a demand for animation to make television commercials. So I was able to walk around the streets of Sydney pretending I knew how to make animated television commercials. And by doing I learned. Then an American company came snooping around in Australia looking for production help. That company was King Features of New York, and they brought with them the possibility of contracts to make Popeye cartoons (and) other cartoons like Krazy Kat and Beetle Bailey. And I found myself doing that for King Features. Then I got a telephone call in the middle of the night, I was in Sydney and I was getting the call from New York, (it was) Al Brodax of King Features and he said ‘Ron, we’ve just sold a show for next season. We’d like you to direct all the episodes we plan to produce in Australia, would you be interested?’ And I said ‘Oh, absolutely Al, what’s the show?’ And he said ‘It’s the Beatles’. And I stopped. Beatles? And I said ‘Al, insects make terrible characters for children’s television!’ And he said ‘No, no, no, no, it’s THE Beatles, the rock and roll group sweeping the nation.’ And I’d only barly heard of them (at the time) I’m afraid, but I quickly learned who The Beatles were.

Bob Barrett: Were The Beatles involved at all in (the production of the show)?

RC: Well, they were involved in a very, very significant way, and also utterly uninvolved. The significant way, of course, is they gave us the right to use their music which was everything. And then they went away and did their music thing and we went away and did our cartoon thing.  We had an enormously successful television show thanks to their music. Sometimes it had like a 67 share. That meant every 100 TV sets that were turned on during that time period, 67 of them were watching The Beatles TV cartoon show. An amazing thing, it could never happen today.

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BB: I will confess right now that one of those TVs was in my living room, I watched it every week

RC: See? Wherever I go I meet people who were little children at that time watching that show. It’s amazing.

BB: You said you were directing the show. How does one direct a cartoon?

RC: Well, in those days, it meant a lot more than it does now, actually. I decided how many people were to be employed, who was to be employed, how (the work flowed). I did the story boards. New York sent me a voice track and a script, and I delivered to them a finished film.

BB: How did you go from that to getting involved in their movie (‘Yellow Submarine’)?

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Credit Ron Campbell
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RC: The movie was different. After the success of The Beatles (TV show) I started getting a lot of job offers from the United States. So I packed my beautiful wife up and my lovely little 3-year-old daughter and we flew across the Pacific and we joined the American animation industry. While helping out on the first season of ‘Scooby-Doo’ doing story boards, and animating a show you might have heard of called ‘George of the Jungle’, I get another telephone call from (Al Brodax who was in London) and he told me there was a lot of problems in the production of the film they were making called ‘Yellow Submarine.' and that they needed character animation between the songs. Could I help out? And so we took on the task of doing about 12 minutes of the animation of the ‘Yellow Submarine’. And we sent all the pencil drawings back to London where they inked and painted them, painted the backgrounds and filmed them and slipped the scenes into the movie where they belonged. We did about 12 minutes of the film. We’re not responsible for the magnificent design and everything that’s really good in the film, except we did provide them with some great character animation on the Blue Meenies and Max the assistant and the Nowhere Man. And it took us eight months to (complete).

BB: Does the job that you started doing even exist anymore? Hand animation I’m talking about.

RC:  Virtually no it doesn’t exist anymore. Right now if you look at feature films that are generated by computer, they’re just technically so far advanced from anything that can be done by hand. But, there is a charm that hand-drawn animation brings to the imagery that computers cannot compete with, but there are many things that the computer can do that no hand-drawn animation could even remotely come near. It’s like a different medium altogether. And right now hand-drawn animation is not that popular. It will come back, I know, because it does have a charm that no computer can touch.

Again, Ron Campbell will be at the Artel Gallery in downtown Pensacola with an exhibit of his work on Feb. 25 and 26.