Young Ron Campbell, at the movies, didn't understand what he was seeing on the screen before the main features played. The cat was chasing the mouse; the mouse was getting away. When he asked his grandmother about it, she told him they were just drawings.
"You mean, I can make drawings that come alive?" Campbell recalled thinking during a recent phone interview from his home in Arizona.
Not only - he could also make a career of it.
Campbell is probably best known as the animator behind the Beatles' 1968 psychedelic film "Yellow Submarine" and "The Beatles," a Saturday morning cartoon from the mid-1960s. He brings his exhibition "Beatles Cartoon Pop Art Show" for a three-day event that starts at 4 p.m. today at Prove Gallery. Campbell, who has both a Peabody and an Emmy Award, was also involved with "The Smurfs," "The Jetsons," "Scooby-Doo," "The Flintstones" and more.
The idea of drawing something that came alive, Campbell said, became an obsession.
Campbell attended art school in his native Australia, then went into animation. He learned every step of production: how to create a cartoon, animating it, storyboarding, adding music, the final edits. In the mid-1960s, producer Al Brodax asked him to direct "The Beatles."
Campbell's response: "Al, insects make terrible cartoon characters."
"He said 'No, no, it's a rock 'n' roll group,'" said Campbell, who was more into classical music and opera. "I'd barely heard of them. I was oblivious to all of that. I was too busy making cartoon films."
Campbell never met any of the Beatles - he could never end up on the same continent at the same time. But his favorite bit of lore surrounds Ringo Starr, who came out of the recording studio and was overheard saying "They made me the idiot."
Campbell revisited "Yellow Submarine," a career highlight that celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and said it stands the test of time. All told, he created about 12 minutes of the film - including the Chief Blue Meanie, Nowhere Man, and many of the scenes before the credits.
"It's a strange film," he said. "It does something really special that films are able to do: If you lived and were alive and conscious in 1968 and you watched that film, it'll take you back to 1968 in a strange and nostalgic way. If you were not alive, you can watch that film and get a strange, instinctive feeling about what it was, in fact, like to be alive in 1968."
When Campbell retired, he began creating paintings based on the cartoons he was involved with. His work will be available for purchase, and each comes with a certificate of authenticity - which he decorates with another painting.
"My agent tells me that when people buy things, they're buying heirlooms for their family, but also an experience," he said.
IF YOU GO
What: Beatles Cartoon Pop Art Show featuring animator Ron Campbell
When: 4-9 p.m. Friday, noon-6 p.m. Saturday, noon-4 p.m. Sunday
Where: Prove Gallery, 21 N. Lake Ave.