Beatles — not beetles — helped make animator Ron Campbell’s career
Animator Ron Campbell was asleep at his home in Australia when he was awakened by a phone call.
A colleague on the other end of the line shared with him a new television show that he said needed Campbell’s directorial skills.
The name of the show?
It was the 1960s, and Beatlemania was gripping the planet — or at least most parts of it.
“They’d make terrible characters. They’re ugly ... they’re insects!” Campbell told the caller, unaware that the reference wasn’t about crawly things at all.
No, the colleague answered. The Beatles are the biggest rock ‘n’ roll group of the time, he explained.
“I liked classical music and I wasn’t listening much to popular music,” Campbell, 77, said recently by phone from his home north of Phoenix, Ariz. “But once I became familiar with the Beatles, I very much admired their music.”
That job inquiry started Campbell’s 50-year career in animation. He’s best known for his work on the “The Beatles” animated television series, which ran on ABC from 1965 to 1969, as well as the animated feature film “Yellow Submarine.”
Success of the TV program led Campbell to work on a variety of animated television series, including “The Jetsons,” “The Flintstones,” “Scooby-Doo,” “Rugrats” and “The Smurfs.”
Now retired, the septuagenarian grandfather creates watercolor pop-art paintings based on the cartoons that framed his career. A particular emphasis is on the Beatles.
Campbell travels with his work to various U.S. cities and will be making an appearance at the Forest & Ocean Gallery in Laguna Beach this week. His work will be on display there and available for purchase from Monday to Wednesday.
While at the gallery, he will also create new paintings and talk to guests about his work and career.
Long before Campbell would direct the Beatles television cartoon series, which remained No. 1 in the ratings for its four-year run, he was a youth in Seymore, a small town in the Australian state of Victoria.
At age 6, Campbell would go with his friends to the movies to watch cartoons. These were the days before television.
The characters became like distant gods to him, he said, and each time he’d watch “Tom and Jerry,” he’d try to figure out how they moved on the screen.
The picture looked so real that he figured the characters were a real cat and mouse.
He shared this assessment with his grandmother, and she explained that he was looking at a drawing.
The answer hit him like a epiphany.
Campbell soon became obsessed with painting and sketching, and during his teenage years, he enrolled in art school. It was hard to make money while working as an artist, but once television arrived in his country, Campbell learned he could make a living.
He soon worked on “Beetle Bailey,” “Krazy Kat” and “Cool McCool” — and eventually “The Beatles” cartoon series.
The design for the series was done in London, but he and his team in Australia did the storyboards.
Campbell later moved to the U.S. and wrote and produced cartoons for “Sesame Street” and did animation for the original “George of the Jungle” and “Tom Slick” television shows. He founded Ron Campbell Films Inc. and produced and directed the animation for the “Big Blue Marble,” earning him an Emmy for Best Children’s Show of the Year.
He ventured to Disney TV animation and was eventually nominated for an Emmy for a storyboard for “Aaahh! Real Monsters” and another for “Rugrats.”
Now Campbell has a new creative outlet — though his cartoon pop art isn’t far removed from that 50-year career.
He plans to display 40 to 50 recent works of art, which he paints in his studio in Arizona. Prices range from $295 to $8,000.
The most expensive piece is a 3-by-5-foot framed work of the Beatles dressed in their “Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band” outfits. The artwork, he said, is “wildly colorful and impressive.”
“It may sound odd, but people like to buy my paintings,” Campbell said with a laugh. “There comes a point in one’s life where retirement stares at you in the face and you ask yourself, ‘What the devil do I do?’ I decided to paint, and you know, my retirement is keeping me alive so far.”
IF YOU GO
What: Ron Campbell’s “Beatles Cartoon Art Show”
When: 5 to 8 p.m. Monday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday
Where: Forest & Ocean Gallery, 480 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach
Cost: Free admission; his paintings are for sale
Information: (949) 371-3313; forestoceangallery.com