When you think of classic cartoons, you may think of the Flintstones, the Jetsons or Popeye. Or maybe you think of Scooby Doo, Rugrats or Winnie the Pooh. What you probably don’t think of is a man named Ron Campbell, the animator who brought all of these cartoons to life.
Campbell, now 78, first discovered cartoons in a time before television was produced in his home country of Australia. During a Saturday-afternoon movie viewing in the mid-1940s, he was first introduced to American cartoons in a commercial. “What are they?” Campbell remembered asking his grandmother, and she told him they were drawings. It was then, Campbell said, that his animation career began.
Seven decades later, Campbell’s name is linked with famous animations and production companies including Hanna-Barbera, Disney and Klasky Csupo. Now retired, he tours the country selling pop art paintings of his iconic characters. Those who attended Oyster Bay’s 33rd annual Oyster Festival may have met him and see his traditional animation in action at Long Island Picture Frame and Art Gallery of Oyster Bay.
When Campbell graduated from the Swinburne Art Institute in Melbourne, television production had just made its way to Australia. For the first time, there was a demand for commercial animation. He immediately went to work in the field, and learned all aspects of animation production.
It wasn’t long before American production companies brought their search for animators to Australia, and Campbell was hired by Al Brodax of King Features.
With Brodax, he worked on cartoons including Beetle Bailey and Cool McCool, and eventually went on to direct and animate “The Beatles,” a Saturday-morning cartoon show, which they produced in Australia. Campbell was all of 24.
“And here we are, 50 years later, still talking about the bloody show,” he laughed as he reminisced about his early career.
Campbell was recruited from Australia by big names in Hollywood, and was hired by Bill Hanna of Hanna-Barbera. Campbell and his wife moved to the U.S. in 1966. At one point he was scheduled to meet with Walt Disney, but the meeting was canceled when Disney was hospitalized not long before he died.
King Features later reached out to Campbell again, asking for help with another Beatles project: the 1968 film “Yellow Submarine.” Campbell said that creating 12 minutes of the film took him and a colleague eight months.
In the 1970s, Campbell opened his own animation studio in Hollywood, across the street from Hanna-Barbera. Hanna would subcontract to him, and Campbell did storyboarding and animation production for the company’s cartoons.
While the list of shows he has worked on seems endless, there is one he is most proud of: “Big Blue Marble.” This children’s television series was animated, directed and produced by Campbell and his studio, Ron Campbell Films Inc. It won several Emmys, as well as a Peabody award in 1975.
When determining what shows he wanted to work on, Campbell said, he was drawn to the softer shows — what he would want his own children to watch. This included “Sesame Street,” “The Smurfs,” “Ducktales,” “Goof Troop,” “Yogi Bear” and “Aaahh!!! Real Monsters,” to name a few.
Campbell retired from television animation in 2008, as it made the transition to digital.
The day before he retired, there was one show on the air that was still being hand-drawn: “Ed, Edd n Eddy,” on Cartoon Network. “I directed the last scene of the last film of the last hand-drawn animation film for television,” Campbell said. “Quite an achievement, that.”
To each their own, Campbell said about the transition to digital animation. “[If] they wanna do it that way, they’re welcome to it,” he said. “I had my run, you know, and they’re having theirs.” He does feel, however, that computer-generated animation has a “peculiar coldness” to it.
Today, Campbell and his wife, Engelina, live in Carefree, Ariz., in what he calls the “second act” of his life. And while his backyard offers enough scenery to inspire even the least creative landscape artist, Campbell continues to draw what he knows and loves, keeping his beloved characters alive.