Ron Campbell’s life changed when he was 7 years old.
The Australian native, like children around the globe, was enthralled with the colorful dancing images on the movie screen presented through cartoon characters. Being 7, Campbell never associated the beam of light passing over his head with what was giving life to those images. That was until his great-grandmother told him that the images were lots of drawings.
“That’s when I had a 7-year-old epiphany,” Campbell says during a telephone interview from his retirement home in Arizona. “I could make those drawings.”
That was the moment he knew what he wanted to do in life. As he explains it, all children draw. But what makes him different is that he has never stopped. That childhood passion turned into a 50-year vocation where Campbell has created drawings to blow the minds of millions of children.
He has either directed or worked in the art department of such cartoon classics as “The Smurfs,” “Scooby-Doo,” “Captain Caveman,” “Yogi Bear,” “Heathcliff,” “Rugrats,” “The Jetsons,” “DuckTales” and “Tiny Toon Adventures.”
Two of his biggest animation projects were as director on nine episodes of the 1965 animated series “The Beatles,” and as an animator of the Beatles’ 1968 animated feature film, “Yellow Submarine.”
Campbell, 76 and now mostly retired, will have a show and sell his works during a three-day visit to Sacramento, Tuesday-Thursday, Feb. 14-16 at Beatnik Studios.
When Campbell was growing up in Australia in the 1940s and 1950s, he poured through the few animation books he could find, began to study the way humans and animals move, and dissected a U.S. TV commercial for Frosted Flakes with Tony the Tiger.
“I would project the commercial on the wall of my room and trace all of the images. Then I would look at how they worked together,” Campbell said.
At 19, Campbell found work in Australia as an animator. One of his first jobs was animating a centipede for a bug spray advertisement and drawing 100 legs.
Campbell soon moved to Los Angeles where he took a job at one of the main hubs of the cartoon world, Hanna-Barbera Productions. He spent a year there before leaving to start his own animation studio.
A phone call late at night brought him into a whole new world.
Producer Al Brodax, best known for his “Popeye the Sailor” cartoons of the 1960s, asked Campbell to direct a Saturday morning cartoon series. Campbell misunderstood what the show was about.
“I told him that while Jiminy Cricket was OK, making a show starring beetles would not be a good thing for children,” Campbell, who wasn’t a big fan of pop music at the time, said he told Brodax.
The show wasn’t about insects. It was called “The Beatles.” The popular series, which first aired in September 1965, generates the most questions from fans at Campbell’s gallery shows.
Although he worked on the series for months, Campbell never had any interaction with John, George, Paul or Ringo. The voices for the Fab Four were done by voice actors.
In 1968 he was awakened by another late-night call from Brodax, who needed Campbell’s help getting the animation done on The Beatles’ animated film “Yellow Submarine.” Campbell and his colleague Duane Crowther joined the team and ended up animating approximately 12 minutes of the 87-minute movie. Much of his work involves the Blue Meanies, Max and the song “Nowhere Man.”
While Campbell was in the United States to work on the movie, the Beatles were on a retreat in India.
Although both projects were connected to the Beatles, the animation styles were at opposite ends of the cartoon spectrum. Campbell said he has never had a problem adjusting to the look of an animation project.
“That’s one misconception people have. They think that when you draw, you can only draw one way,” he said. “That’s not true. Artists develop their own style, but all animation is just drawing with a pencil. We get model sheets that show how to construct characters.”
The Beatles are only a small part of a long and successful animation career that has included a Peabody and Emmy award for Campbell’s work in children’s television. Since retiring after a 50-year career, he has been painting subjects based on the animated cartoons he helped bring to the screen.ARt
Beatles Cartoon Art Show
When: 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, Feb. 14-16
Where: Beatnik Studios, 723 S St, Sacramento
Cost: Free; works available for purchase
Information: 916-400-4281; www.beatlescartoonartshow.com