Studio 71 Frame Shop & Gallery, Hillsborough
Ron Campbell animated your childhood.
As an animator and storyboard artist working in the golden age of Saturday-morning cartoons, he’s worked on everything from Scooby-Doo and The Smurfs to Rugrats. In the 1960s, he even animated the undisputed greatest band of all time while working on The Beatles’ Saturday-morning cartoon and their movie, Yellow Submarine.
Now seventy-eight years old, the man who grew up reading about Hanna-Barbera and Walt Disney in a library in Victoria, Australia is on tour in the U.S., sharing his drawings in the traveling Beatles Cartoon Art Show. It comes to Hillsborough’s Studio 71 Frame Shop & Gallery this weekend, and Campbell will be there 4:00–8:00 p.m. on Friday, noon–6:00 p.m. on Saturday, and noon–4:00 p.m. on Sunday. You can buy his work or even get an original.
The INDY recently talked to Campbell by phone, and he had a lot to say about the state of animation today, the beauty of the Saturday-morning cartoon, and why it’s been so gratifying for him to get out of the studio and into the art gallery.
INDY: Most people have heard of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, but your first involvement with the band came when you animated their lesser-known weekly cartoon series. Is it true you didn’t even know who they were when the show first started?
RON CAMPBELL: [Laughs] I was a serious young man, you know, and I wasn’t taking much notice of popular music. Have you ever listened to songs of the fifties? There were hundreds of really stupid songs. I had, of course, heard of them, but when I asked [creator] Al Brodax what the name of the show that he was asking me to direct was, he said, “The Beatles.” My only thought was, “Al, insects make terrible characters for children’s cartoons.” We look back now, and we realize that The Beatles were so significant in popular music. They’re probably going to be listened to for centuries, like we listen to Mozart.
The image of an artist or an animator is of a person in a lonely studio, frantically scribbling. With this exhibit, you get to go out on the road and talk with people. What’s that been like?
One of the most striking features that has hit me is the cultural significance of the cartoons that we were making. There were children who were having horrible, unpleasant childhoods and children having wonderful childhoods and children having childhoods in between. But they all found sustenance, relief, inspiration, and joy in rushing to the TV on Saturday morning and watching our shows. And now, all of those children are adults, and they’re so happy to talk to somebody who helped make those shows and express their enthusiasm and nostalgia for them.
Anything that had a lot of explosions and fighting and violence and stuff, I didn’t like working on. I like my shows to be sweet, the kind of shows I wanted my own children to watch.
What’s your take on animation now?
There is no animation being done anymore. It’s computer-generated stuff, and I feel a little sad for that. The computer does things that no human could ever do by hand, but there’s a softness and a sweetness to hand-drawn animation. The computer-generated animation often has a sort of a cold, model-like perfection to it.
I’m just an old man looking back. [Laughs] If I was a young man today, I’d have no interest in working in computer animation. It doesn’t jive with what inspired me in the beginning, which was, “You mean I can make drawings come alive?” It’s a completely different animal, and that’s wonderful. That’s what the young kids are doing. Hey, it’s their world, not mine.
What were some of your favorite and least favorite shows to work on?
Oh, my own show, of course, Big Blue Marble, which won a Peabody and an Emmy. Captain Caveman, Scooby-Doo. I loved Rugrats, adored The Smurfs, found Ed, Edd n Eddy hilarious. Anything that had a lot of explosions and fighting and violence and stuff, I didn’t like working on. I like my shows to be sweet, the kind of shows I wanted my own children to watch.
I was going to ask about Ed, Edd n Eddy, because I remember watching that after school. It was really weird.
That was the very last show that was hand-animated, and I was directing the very last scene of the very last episode. I put my pencil down, and knew I was doing the last scene I would ever do. It was September 2008, and I started in August 1958. There I was, at the beginning of Saturday-morning cartoons, and I was there at the very end of Saturday-morning cartoons. Just an accident of history.
What’s this tour mean to you?
It certainly pays my electric bill, but I believe that if you really stop doing things, you just sit in your chair and melt away. So I’m doing it through fear of death. [Laughs] On top of that, I’m discovering this wonderful pleasure I get from meeting the audience in person and showing off my paintings.