The Beatles' Yellow Submarine Turns 30: John Coates and Norman Kauffman Look Back
Interaction with the Beatles
Coates is often asked about the Beatles' involvement in the production. He explains that they didn't have any real input in the visuals. Everything had already been planned out when the Beatles first saw the storyboards. However, he does add that when they first saw the boards they expressed surprise as they had been led to believe the film was going to be Disneyesque.
During the production, the four celebrities visited the studio four or five times as a group. At least one visit was a publicity photo shoot. Members of the group did visit the studio as individuals from time to time. John and Yoko came by to see rushes, and Paul would drop by to see their progress and to say hi to friends who worked there.
There had been discussions about using the Beatles to do the voice track, but since it was impossible to get all four together for recording sessions, professional voice artists were used instead. Coates says none of the Beatles were pleased with the voices chosen to represent them, but they all loved the rest of the film. Apparently the press wasn't told that voice artists had been used to do the Beatles' voices as Variety (July 24, 1968) announced to the world that, "The Beatles' voices are instantly recognizable as their own." The film's credits simply list Paul Angels, John Clive, Dick Emery, Geoff Hughes and Lance Percival as "voices" without saying which parts each person performed. A published report says Clive did the voice of John, Hughes did Paul, Peter Batten did George and Angels voiced Ringo.
Norman Kauffman, who joined TVC in 1963 as an apprentice, was also present at the conference in Tel Aviv. He is now the company's secretary, financial controller and production accountant, and has recently been appointed a director of the company. Kauffman says that they were told in August, 1967, that the film had to premiere in London in July, 1968. The production had barely begun and they had less than a year to finish. He says having to create the film in a short period of time "was a nightmare, but a lot of fun!" They got used to working long hours and had to run two shifts in the ink and paint department. Today, once work on the animation has begun, it takes TVC nine months to do a half-hour TV show.
Kauffman first met the Beatles when TVC was about to begin work on the TV series. There was a party at the original TVC studio on Dean Street. Kauffman was told to give John Lennon a bottle of wine. They met, talked and drank together for the first time when Kauffman found Lennon drinking out-of-sight under a table in George Dunning's office.
It turns out that Lennon had enough of the public that evening and didn't want any more fans coming up to him. The Beatles had been to the theatre and left early for the party after they were discovered by the public. Lennon's reaction to guests at the party doing the same thing was to find a place where he could hide. Kauffman has a photo of himself under the table with Lennon!
Innovation at Every Turn
Kauffman says Dunning decided the graphic look of the film would be built around the 12 Beatles songs to be used in the production (four new songs were written for the feature). The film was released in England with 12 songs, but in the US the song "Hey Bulldog," featuring a three-headed animal, was cut. The British print ran 89 minutes and the American version was 85 minutes long. Each song was given a special graphic look incorporating some of the latest graphic techniques being used in TV commercials, fine art and by illustrators. John Halas in his book Masters of Animation calls the film "a catalogue of the graphic styles of the late sixties."
Several technical innovations were tried out in the film. Special effects supervisor Charles Jenkins used polarized light, cellophane and a rotating filter to create the unusual cycle of color at the end of the sequence where we first meet George and in the visual finale near the end of the film. The visual finale also incorporates back-lit special effects that produce glowing forms of light.
Interaction with the Beatles