Ron Campbell was a young animator in Australia in the mid-1960s when he got the job offer that changed his career and life — working on a Saturday morning cartoon series about the Beatles. He barely recognized its importance.
“I was only peripherally aware of rock and roll,” Campbell recalled. Having started work at age 18, he was already a professional animator in Sydney working on characters like Krazy Kat, when he got a middle-of-the-night phone call from a producer inviting him to work on the Beatles series.
“It took me aback a little bit. I said, ‘Jiminy Cricket was a great insect, but beetles are not going to make very good cartoon characters.’”
The Beatles series debuted in 1965 and ran for four seasons, earning top ratings and leading to a chance for Campbell to work on the 1968 Beatles animated feature “The Yellow Submarine.”
Campbell moved to Los Angeles in late 1966, worked with leading TV animation studio Hanna Barbera and ran his own animation shop. His credits include “The Flintstones,” “The Jetsons,” “The Smurfs,” “The Rugrats,” “Scooby Doo” and dozens more.
Now 77 and retired after a half-century as an animator, Campbell is enjoying a second career as a painter, creating large-scale watercolor portraits of the characters he once animated and making personal appearances at exhibits all over the United States. He’ll be at the Area Arts Gallery in Santa Rosa to show his work and talk about his career Jan. 16-18.
“I had fallen in love with the notion of making drawings move at a very early age,” Campbell said by phone from his home north of Phoenix. “I became obsessed with it in my teen years.”
Campbell freely admits he was driven by ambition as well.
“You don’t cross the ocean to pursue a career because you’re timid,” he said.
While working as a contractor with Hanna Barbera and others, he also ran his own company, Ron Campbell Films, from 1969 to 1980.
While his most stellar work may be the characters he animated for “The Yellow Submarine” — “mostly the Blue Meanies and the Nowhere Man” — Campbell is proudest of producing and directing the animation for the children’s series “The Big Blue Marble,” which ran from 1974 to 1983 on public television and won Emmy and Peabody awards.
Now, with his watercolor portraits of cartoon stars, Campbell is working in a different medium but remains dedicated to the characters.
“I try to make them look just like they did on the shows,” he said.
Campbell estimated he has created “hundreds, but not thousands” of the paintings, which sell for prices ranging from $300 to $8,000.
Characters like Fred Flintstone and George Jetson command tremendous loyalty with fans, even decades after the shows finished their original runs, he said.
“People walk in the door, and they see the paintings,” he said, “and they love and want to have them.”
You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @danarts.