If you grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons, you owe much of those memories to animator Ron Campbell. Over the course of 50 years, Campbell helped shape television by working on dozens of hit animated series, including The Beatles cartoon show in the late ‘60s, a gig that led to his work on the band’s musical fantasy film, Yellow Submarine.
Now, the 80-year-old Campbell will appear at Maser Galleries in Shadyside to present pop art paintings inspired by his long career, all of which reinterpret the iconic characters he helped create for animation giants like Hanna-Barbera and Disney. Taking place Oct. 4-6, the show will partly serve to commemorate the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ album Abbey Road with a selection of Campbell’s work depicting the iconic band.
Almost every month, Campbell travels from his home in Arizona to various parts of the country, selling paintings, meeting with fans, and drawing for the children who come to his cartoon pop art shows.
“People come in and they see a painting and they’re swept back to their childhood,” says Campbell. “The nostalgia overtakes them, and they say, ‘Oh, I just adored Scooby-Doo.’ Then they buy a picture of Scooby-Doo to look at on their wall for the rest of their life, and they say things like, ‘Every time I walk in the room and look at it, I smile to myself.’”
Born in the Australian state of Victoria, Campbell started his long career when American production companies came to his home country looking for help developing animated television programming. At the time, he says he never believed cartoons would take off, especially because The Beatles only lasted one season.
“In those days, everybody was frightened about children’s Saturday morning cartoons,” says Campbell. “Nobody was really confident that money could be made from it, so investment available for production was very limited.”
After moving to the U.S. in 1966, he says he found himself working on what he calls the “golden age of Saturday morning cartoons.” Besides Scooby-Doo, he produced, directed, animated, or storyboarded The Flintstones, The Jetsons, and Captain Caveman, among others. His Hollywood studio, Ron Campbell Films, Inc., also produced and directed the animation for The Big Blue Marble, which ran from 1974 to 1983.
He continued working through the 1980s and 1990s on Saturday morning mainstays like The Smurfs and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as well as the hugely popular Disney Afternoon lineup and various shows for Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. The industry changed, however, when things shifted from hand-drawn to computer-generated animation in the early-2000s.
After this change, Campbell retired and began painting, a pursuit that allows him a certain freedom compared to his life in cartoons.
“Every animator is under restrictions,” says Campbell, adding that you could never draw characters “off-model,” meaning they always had to look exactly the same. “But now I’m doing paintings and nobody can tell me what to do.”
While he laments the evolution of animation away from his preferred hand-drawn style, he enjoys the new life painting has afforded him.
“It’s a nice way for me to end my life actually, just meeting the audience for the first time,” says Campbell.