Ron Campbell quit doing animation after fifty years in the trade in order to try his hand at painting. His subjects of choice are the characters he had once inked to life: the Smurfs, the Jetsons, Scooby Doo and, especially, the Beatles.
"Beatles fans are legion," says Campbell, who will be hosting an exhibit of his works that opens today, August 11, and runs through August 13 at Denver's Bitfactory Gallery. "America is a big place. I've discovered, doing paintings based on the Beatles, that wherever I go, there are going to be dozens and dozens of people who want to spend some of their spare money on an image that makes them smile and makes them happy when they hang it up on the wall and walk into that room and look at it."
Growing up in Australia in the ’40s, Campbell would go to movie theaters and watch serial Batman and Superman cartoons. He believed the characters were as real as any big screen actor. When he learned from his grandmother that people drew the cartoons, one drawing per frame of film, he was mesmerized. That began a long journey that took him from elementary school to the Swinburne Art Institute and on to a job at King Features, a company that contracted with the Beatles to animate a weekly series.
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He eventually made his way to the United States to work in Hollywood, where he helped animate Yellow Submarine, the trippy classic Beatles film. "Yellow Submarine was just another job for me, another project, and I loved it," Campbell says. "I worked hard on it. I didn't say to myself, 'Fifty years from now, I'm going to be talking to a newspaper in Denver about this job.' I never dreamt it for a minute. Nor did I think when I was doing the Beatles TV show that I would be talking about it years later and that my retirement would be based on it."
While drug culture inspired Yellow Submarine and many of the shows Campbell worked on, he never used mind-altering substances himself. "Well, the audience might have been taking LSD and the audience might have been smoking funny cigarettes, but I sure as hell was not," he says. "I had no anxieties on this matter or hostility at all toward innocent things like funny cigarettes, but no. It's impossible to animate and be high at the same time."
Instead, Campbell spent his life as a dedicated craftsman, spending much of his time with his nose to the drawing board. Now he's retired – sort of.
"The word 'retirement' is a little bit of a misnomer, or a joke, actually," he says. "I'm working my butt off." He describes his painting and touring with his art as "something to keep me out of the chair, watching the pop channels."
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As he travels the world, Campbell is meeting fans of the shows he worked on; for the first time, he's understanding the impact his art has had on generations of children, especially in the United States. "They remember more about the cartoons than I remember," he says. "Especially the love that people have for Scooby Doo and George of the Jungle. It's just amazing."
Campbell doesn't animate anymore, and if he had to do it over again in this era, he wouldn't. He shrugs off the value of 3-D computer animation that dominates the industry.
"That's a different world from mine," he says. "As a young man, I wouldn't even want to go into animation. Only gigantic corporations can do it, and you need a hundred banks of computers. I was fascinated by bringing drawings to life — not the mechanical whiz-bang of computers."
Campbell will present his works in person from 4 to 8 p.m. on Friday, August 11, noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday, August 12, and noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday, August 13, at Bitfactory Gallery, 851 Santa Fe Drive. Works will be available for purchase for between $300 and $8,000. For more information, call 303-862-9367.