The year was 1965. Beatlemania was in full swing. And Ron Campbell couldn’t have cared less.
Campbell preferred Mozart. Beatles to him were pests.
Which made the opportunity that came that year all the more life-changing: Campbell, an Australian-born illustrator who had arrived in the United States seeking creative opportunities, landed a gig as an animator for a Saturday morning cartoon series devoted to the Fab Four. The popular series accelerated a career that drew upon some of the 20th century’s most beloved cartoon series, including “The Jetsons,” “The Flintstones,” “Scooby-Doo,” “Captain Caveman,” “The Smurfs,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Rugrats.”
Campbell will present work from throughout his career — and arguably his best-known job, the Beatles’ 1968 animated feature “Yellow Submarine” — during a three-day appearance at Gallery 72, 1806 Vinton St., starting Friday. He’ll share stories about his many projects and sell paintings based on the iconic cartoons he helped animate, particularly his Beatles-related work.
Now 76 and “deeply retired” in Arizona, Campbell landed his first big job in the late 1950s for the comics syndicate King Features, at a moment when new opportunities were emerging for traditional illustrators to become animators.
“I had to learn very quickly, because there was no animation in Australia to speak of when I came out of art school,” Campbell said.
He worked on “Beetle Bailey” and “Krazy Kat” before he was approached about a new Saturday morning cartoon about the Beatles. Each episode featured the mop-top foursome caught up in some sort of adventure based upon their song titles.
Despite the high-profile subject, Campbell said the team behind the series operated on a shoestring budget and relied on different tricks and simplifying techniques.
“In order to make an animated film work, you have to always work within the constraints of budgets,” he said. “The key was to reduce the number of drawings.”
Campbell and his collaborators had more freedom a few years later working on “Yellow Submarine,” the much-loved animated feature released in 1968. Specifically, he contributed to the film’s “Sea of Time” sequence, scenes involving the Chief Blue Meanie and his sidekick, Max, and Jeremy Hillary Boob Ph.D. (aka the “Nowhere Man”).
“It was very interesting animating on it,” Campbell said. “It required a kind of two-dimensional, flat-plane animation. If you think of Disney animation, there’s a lot of stretch and squash around this three-dimensional (plane). ‘Yellow Submarine,’ because of the wonderful design work brought to the film ... it was almost like paper cutouts. You had to animate without so much a sense of weight, and stretch and squash.”
Campbell never met the band — he was producing his pencil drawings in California when the group paid a visit to the London studio where “Yellow Submarine” was being produced — but his brush with Beatlemania led to a long list of projects in the years that followed. Just about any fan of mainstream cartoons of the late 20th century will find on Campbell’s résumé a show he or she watched regularly.
He worked on “Scooby-Doo” during the iconic series’ first year, in 1969. He spent several years with “The Smurfs,” based on a popular Belgian comic, a job he adored. He contributed to “Winnie the Pooh,” “Heathcliff,” “Snorks” and “DuckTales,” among many others.
Most experiences he enjoyed. Some were misses, namely Campbell’s monthlong stint in the late 1980s illustrating for the “Garbage Pail Kids” television series. The material didn’t appeal to him.
“It’s easy to make little children laugh by resorting to farts,” Campbell said.
By contrast, he loved “Rugrats,” the celebrated series he worked on for close to a decade.
“I found the ‘Rugrats’ very high-quality children’s programming,” he said.
He remains especially proud of “Big Blue Marble,” the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning children’s show produced by his own studio in the 1970s.
“It had some wonderful animation in it,” Campbell said. “That was, if anything, the most satisfying (project).”
Until, perhaps, now. For more than a half century, he rarely if ever picked up a paintbrush. He worked almost entirely in pencil, part of a team tasked with bringing motion to their pictures.
“This is like a second act to me,” he said of his post-retirement paintings. “I’ve gone back to what I did in an art school.”
What: Cartoons of Ron Campbell: The Beatles, Scooby-Doo, The Jetsons and many others
Where: Gallery 72, 1806 Vinton St.
When: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Jan. 31; Gallery talk with Campbell 6 p.m. Saturday
Admission: Free; artwork available for purchase
Info: 402-496-4797 or gallery72.com