It's nearly impossible to talk with Ron Campbell without smiling. For more than a 50 years, the animator was one of the planet's most prolific artists, working on everything from Yellow Submarine to The Flintstones and Sesame Street.
"The fun in my old age is meeting the grownups I helped entertain when they were children," said the 77-year-old Campbell. "What a surprising pleasure."
The native Australian began his animation career in the early 1960s and continued into the 21st century. Prior to his visit at LaBry Fine Art Gallery in Boise March 24-26, we talked to Campbell about a life spent bringing animated joy to millions.
I'm certain I'm not the first to tell you your resume traces all of my childhood and a good chunk of my adulthood.
It has been quite a life, hasn't it?
One of my early favorites of yours was Cool McCool, that jazzy super spy, in the '60s.
Wow, you are rather old. Yes, that was connected to the James Bond craze and the old Get Smart situation comedy. What a fun show. Some of the characters on Cool McCool were developed by Bob Kane, the man who created Batman.
Let's talk about The Beatles cartoon series. I remember watching the first-run on ABC when it was wildly successful.
We got a 67 share. Think of that: 67 percent of all TV sets tuned to that show.
It was stunning to learn you got the full participation from The Beatles for the show.
And they gave us the rights to pick the music for each show. They were fine fellows. We would build the episodes around the songs—For instance, for "I Want to Hold Your Hand," we had the Fab Four go down into the ocean where they encountered a love-sick octopus.
Which leads us to the feature film Yellow Submarine.
It would take us about eight months of animation to complete 12 minutes [of film].
It was a breakthrough film, in that it was one of the few animated features that didn't come from Walt Disney.
When you watch the film today, you get swept back into the 1960s in a way that very few films from that era can accomplish. And that music. It will live forever.
Let's talk about your time working with the Hanna-Barbera studio. They practically owned Saturday morning television in the 1960s and '70s. Your work includes The Flintstones, The Jetsons, The Smurfs, Scooby Doo, Captain Caveman.
I loved Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. They were the grand old men of animation. When I was a boy, I never dreamed that one day I would work with Hanna-Barbera or Walt Disney.
I would always work out of my own studio and studios such as Disney or Hanna-Barbera would turn to me to storyboard, edit, you name it.
Isn't it fair to say the 1960s and '70s were the golden era for Saturday morning cartoons?
When I was a boy, we would go to the movies on Saturday afternoons to see cartoons. Then television came along, giving children the experience of commandeering the television set while their parents slept. It was a magical time. Today? There's nothing too magical about having cartoons available 24 hours a day. Kids get easily bored.
Talk to me about your work on Sesame Street.
They discovered children would watch commercials with as much interest as the programming. So, Sesame Street had us create cartoons, like commercials, sprinkled throughout the show, teaching the concepts of letters or numbers.
What do you consider your best work?
A show called Big Blue Marble. We won a Peabody and Emmy. It was terrific, but everyone has their own favorite. I try to visit a different city each month and bring a good amount of my work. I'm as thrilled to meet them as they are to meet me.