After delighting cartoon fans of the world for five decades, animator Ron Cambpell has decided to take retirement easy.
By which he means traveling around the country, meeting fans and selling prints. Next week, those travels will bring him to Gunnar Nordstrom Gallery in Bellevue.
Campbell, an Australian by birth and a naturalized American for decades, earned a living directing and animating some of the Western world’s most beloved cartoons. Including the wildly popular “The Beatles” and a sequence of the movie “Yellow Submarine.” Legendary producer Al Brodax sold Campbell on the latter projects.
“Al called me in the middle of the night. I was asleep in Sydney,” Campbell said. “He said I was going to do a show on The Beatles. I told him that insects don’t really make great cartoon characters. “Are you living under a rock?” He asked me. “Not beetles, Beatles! The biggest rock band in the world!” I thought that made more sense.”
That was 1964, just months after the Liverpudlian rock group took America by storm on The Ed Sullivan Show. “The Beatles” would run for four seasons and 39 episodes after its premier in 1965, never dropping out of the top of the ratings.
Campbell would move to America in 1966, and work on many of the sequences in the “Yellow Submarine” movie, including animation for the Chief Blue Meanie. As he was working on becoming an American citizen, he didn’t want to leave Los Angeles. So the studio in London would send work via mail and he would send it back. This inefficient method of work took a while, but resulted in the musical, psychedelic work which remains popular today.
“The Beatles didn’t really do anything,” Campbell said. “Well they actually did the most important thing. They allowed us to use their music and then went away.”
By the time Brodax and Campbell worked on ‘Yellow Submarine,” the band was spending time in India looking for gurus. His friend and colleague Duane Crowther helped on many of the projects around this time period.
Born in 1939 in the small Australian town of Seymore, Campbell attended the Swinburne Art Institute in Melbourne and began his career in the late 1950s with cartoons and comics such as Beetle Bailey, Krazy Kat and Cool McCool.
After the success of “The Beatles,” Campbell created his own studio, Ron Campbell Films, Inc. He would use the studio to produce and direct a Peabody and Emmy-award winning show called the “Big Blue Marble.”
“I’m very proud of my work on that,” he said. “Along with work on Sesame Street, which is just a wonderful show for kids.”
Campbell said he’s never quite understood why some of his works stand the test of time, but he’s not complaining.
“I’m always amazed by the response my work gets. It’s always been a great mystery to me,” he said. “You could shove a cartoon into an Uzbekistani tent to a 5-year-old and he’ll break into a big smile. It’s not Picasso, it’s just cartoons.”
He worked for Hanna-Barbera, and describes Bill Hanna as a gentle, sweet man who could be a terror when deadlines rolled around. Campbell credits Hanna with getting him on the map in the United States, and he would go on direct, animate, produce and storyboard cartoons such as Scooby Doo, the Smurfs (for which he won another Emmy), Captain Caveman, Yogi Bear, the Flintstones and the Jetsons.
He moved to Disney and Nickelodeon animation studios in the 1990s, working in Darkwing Duck, Winnie the Pooh, Goof Troop, Duck Tales, Rocket power, Rugrats and Ed, Edd n Eddy.
He said it was hard to pick a favorite of all the shows he had worked on.
“How do you differentiate between Smurfette and Angelica from Rugrats?” Campbell asked. “I loved Angelica, she was such a little bitch but I loved her.”
He said it wasn’t hard to pick a least-favorite show, but decided not to share that information other than saying he refuses to even put it on his resume.
But now, in retirement, he has taken a similar path as one of his mentors, the legendary Chuck Jones (animator and director of golden-age cartoons Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies).
“He retired and then went around and did painting,” Campbell said. “He was my inspiration for a second career. Now I get to travel around the country and meet the audience in person.”
Campbell will be showing his art from Friday, April 28 to Sunday, April 30 at the Gunnar Nordstrom Gallery, 800 Bellevue Way NE, Suite 111. Art will include original Beatles cartoon paintings created for the show as well as other art from his 50-year career. The exhibit is free and all works are available for purchase.