Animation World Magazine, Issue 3.4, July 1998
The Creators of The Beatles' Yellow Submarine: Where Are They Now?
by Robert R. Hieronimus, Ph.D.
In order to be truly appreciated, The Beatles' Yellow Submarine is a film that has to be experienced rather than just watched. In 1968 when I experienced The Beatles Yellow Submarine, it was common to sit through several showings of the picture, watching it over and over. I sat through it alone, with groups of friends and fellow seekers, and watched a whole generation fall in love with the Yellow Submarine's bursts of color, its visual and Liverpudlian puns, and montage of mythic images that sweep over you to the tune of the most magical music The Beatles ever created. It was a grizzled human who didn't leave the theater after the Yellow Submarine Experience feeling more positive about the world and the power that Love has to overcome all Evil.
Being an artist myself, specializing in large city murals and commissioned watercolors, I was entranced with The Yellow Submarine, and determined to one day find out who was responsible for what I thought was a masterpiece of subliminal meaning and powerful symbology masked behind the exquisite color and ingenious design.
Although I began researching the film in late 1968, it was not until 1991 that I began to answer most of my questions with a series of interview specials with the primary creators. Many of these interviews were broadcast on my radio program, 21st Century Radio (currently heard on WCBM 680 AM, Baltimore, 7-9 p.m. EST Sundays, and on their web site). It didn't take long to realize there was no one great genius who created The Yellow Submarine from start-to- finish as a mythical "Hero's Journey" imbued with hidden meanings. Instead I learned The Yellow Submarine is more like what its art designer Heinz Edelmann calls, "the ultimate piece of white noise," meaning it was truly a composite of contributions of dozens of different talents. There were many times that they were literally making it up as they went along.
But if you had to single out one person for credit, it would have to be art designer Heinz Edelmann, definitely the leader of the parade. Edelmann was responsible for every piece of the design throughout the film, all the Pepperland characters, all the monsters and Meanies, and most of the design of the other scenes. Edelmann is also the one mostly responsible for the storyline as it grew from the original simple script in the vein of the ABC Beatles children's cartoon series, to a psychedelic experimental animation landmark reinforcing The Beatles' essential message that Love overcomes all. Thanks to Edelmann's knowledge of the classics, and to the writing direction of Erich Segal, a professor of Classics at Yale, The Yellow Submarine seems to flow like the classic/mythic Hero's Journey. The Beatles a la Odysseus.
So with the contributions of a dozen or so talented individuals on the central crew, combined with Edelmann's avant garde design, The Beatles' Yellow Submarine sparked a new spirit in animation, and a whole new generation of artists were turned on.
July 17, 1998 is the 30th anniversary of the debut of The Yellow Submarine at Piccadilly Circus in London. Photos of this mob scene are always featured in good Beatles retrospectives, and it will be forever remembered by all the three dozen Yellow Submarine contributors I've interviewed. In honor of this event, let's take a look at where many of these creators went after that day, and where they are today.
Bob Balser, Animation Director
One of the few American artists on the team, Bob Balser directed and storyboarded all the scenes that were pre- and post- Pepperland: Liverpool, the travel sequences through the various seas, and the return. Bob and his wife, Cima, fondly recall an overnight "meeting" with Edelmann and his wife, and a bottle of Scotland's finest whiskey, when they hashed together one of the "final" scripts. After Yellow Submarine, Balser opened his own production company in Barcelona, Spain where he produced TV series like The Jackson 5, The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, Peanuts for CBS, Barney for BBC and many more. Recently his credits include The Triplets for HBO, and currently he is in Turkey directing a TV series called Bay Dogs, a take-off on Bay Watch. Balser has won many international awards and is the member of many professional affiliations.
Al Brodax, Producer
Al Brodax originally suggested the idea of a full-length animated feature based on The Beatles' Yellow Submarine. He was the head of the motion picture/television department of King Features Syndicate when he brought the idea of an animated film to The Beatles. After Yellow Submarine, Brodax went on to produce, write and direct several Emmy award-winning television series including ABC's Make A Wish, and Animals, Animals, Animals starring Hal Linden. In the 1980s Brodax served as consultant to several firms including Marvel Comics, Computer Graphics Laboratories and the New York Institute of Technology. He is currently writing an adventure/comedy novel entitled Jokka and plans to produce a live action movie in the U.K. next year called Fish Story.
John Coates, Line Producer
A partner with Dunning in TV Cartoons (TVC) when Yellow Submarine was proposed, John Coates oversaw the production unit (that eventually grew to more than 200 people) that produced the film in less than a year from designs to its London premiere. Since Yellow Submarine, John has continued to run TVC, working with many of the animators who worked on Yellow Submarine. They produced several award winning pieces, including The Lion, The Witch And the Wardrobe which won a 1979 Emmy Award; The Snowman which won awards all over the world including an Oscar nomination and a British Academy Award in 1983; from 1986 through 1988, TVC produced the full-length feature film, When The Wind Blows from Raymond Briggs' celebrated book; Granpa. followed in 1989; Father Christmas in 1991; and in 1995 a full-length feature length version of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind In the Willows and William Horwood's book The Willows in Winter which won two prime time Emmy Awards. Most recently in 1996 they produced Famous Fred which has won a British Academy Award, the 1997 Grand Prix at Annecy and the Grand Award Trophy for Best Children's Program, the Gold Medal for Best Family Special at the recent New York Festival and an Oscar nomination in March 1998. TVC's current productions are an adaptation of Raymond Briggs' The Bear and Oi! Get Off Our Train!, both due to be screened at Christmas 1998.
Alison de Vere, Background Supervisor
Alison de Vere is spoken of fondly by all the creators of the Yellow Submarine not only as the talented background supervisor ("the most luminous interpreter of Heinz's illustration and artwork" says Charlie Jenkins), but also as "Eleanor Rigby." Alison's image was used as the lonely girl portrayed in this opening musical sequence where Charlie Jenkins' special effects mixed live action/photography with animation. After Yellow Submarine, Alison formed her own production company and to her credit has several award-winning short features including Cafe Bar (1975), Mr. Pascal (1979), Silas Marner (1984), The Black Dog (1987), East of the Moon (1988), The Angel and the Soldier Boy (1989), Psyche and Eros (1994), and Mouse and Mole (1996). Her son, Ben, is also a designer, working with her in her company.
George Dunning, Director
Dunning was ill during much of Yellow Submarine's 11-month creation, but he is responsible for creating the dynamic "Lucy in the Sky" sequence, which he did with the assistance of Bill Sewell. Before Yellow Submarine, Dunning's Canadian/British company, TVC, directed The Beatles television series for America (1967), together with Jack Stokes, one of Yellow Submarine's animation directors. This Beatles series led to TVC being commissioned for the production of Yellow Submarine. Dunning is credited with keeping the production on the straight and narrow to ensure a quality artistic piece. He is the only one wearing a suit in most of the photographs of the artists working in the studio on Yellow Submarine. In 1967 Dunning also produced the only triple-screen cartoon, Canada Is My Piano. After Yellow Submarine in failing health, in 1969 he did Memory, Moon Rock 10 (1970), Horses of Death (1972), Plant a Tree (1973),The Maggot (1973), Damon the Mower (1974) and Teamwork (1976). He was working on Shakespeare's "The Tempest" when he passed away in 1978.
Heinz Edelmann, Art Designer
Edelmann hates talking about Yellow Submarine, and calls it "the albatross around his neck". Rightly regarded as one of this generation's major contemporary graphic artists, Edelmann's characteristic visual language sets him above transient trends and fashions. After Yellow Submarine, Edelmann teamed with special effects designer Charlie Jenkins and background supervisor Alison de Vere, and formed a small studio in London where they produced "about a dozen commercials, a few film titles and almost--almost, almost--sold three of the five feature projects I had written." After 1970 Edelmann turned his talents to book design and illustration, magazine illustration and numerous posters for films, theatre, concerts, animation and advertising. He is internationally renowned for his posters, illustrations and typography, and has had several one-man-shows in Europe, the U.S. and Japan. He has also been teaching for 30 years and recently retired as a Full Professor at the Stuttgart Academy of Fine Arts. His daughter, Valentin is also an accomplished designer, currently accumulating her own fame.
Charlie Jenkins, Director of Special Effects
Charlie Jenkins' contributions to Yellow Submarine cannot be overstated, beginning with locating Heinz Edelmann and suggesting him to King Features as the artistic designer for the film. Before Yellow Submarine, Jenkins had worked with Richard Williams (Roger Rabbit) developing experimental graphics, film titles and multi-exposure techniques, plus he used the Oxberry aerial image system. Jenkins originated the method of loose painted rotoscoping of live-action images, a technique used successfully throughout Yellow Submarine. Jenkins' contributions include the opening scene of Liverpool to "Eleanor Rigby" (in which the live-action images of many of the Yellow Submarine animators are featured as extras), the journey of the Submarine through time and space as it leaves Liverpool, as well as the "Northern Song" and the "All Together Now" end sequence. After Yellow Submarine, he formed Trickfilm Workshop in London with Edelmann and De Vere, where his clients included Paul McCartney ("Maybe I'm Amazed" film), and Diana Vreeland, editor of Vogue. Jenkins' career took off in photography, production, design and advertising and his clients included Franco American Films, Fanta International, Peter Beard and the Kennedy family. His work took him all over the world. He's worked or lived in Madrid, Africa, India, Brazil, the Caribbean, the Pacific, the Far East, and Miami. In the 1980s he moved to Argentina. Today he calls Buenos Aires home and continues to "cast and peruse the production logistics of a territory yet to exist on the world production map."
Antal Kovacs, Dubbing Editor
Hungarian Kovacs has been active all over the film industry and all over the world for decades. He has directed, written, edited and produced both animation and live-action films, plus, he's lectured, and written three novels. Some of his titles include Blow Up, Interlude, The Great White Hope, Dead Reckoning, and Waterbabies.
David Livesey, Key Animator
David Livesey had his own well-established Group Two Animation Studio when he was sub-contracted from TV C to do key animation for Yellow Submarine. After Submarine, Livesey freelanced and worked for Cosgrove Hall Productions, TVC and others as key animator on such productions as Snowman, Waterbabies, Heavy Metal, Christmas Carol, The Cobbler and the Thief, Sam Whiskers, Wind In the Willows, The Blockies, and many others. In the 1990s Livesey began teaching at the British Animation Training Scheme at the Museum of the Moving Image and the National Film and Television School. Recently he published a graphic novel, The Buggane of St. Trinians, and is currently working as a key animator on The Bear for TVC (their last film).
Geoff Loynes, Key Animator
Since Yellow Submarine, Geoff Loynes has worked as a freelance animator on many TVC productions like The Beatrix Potter Series', When The Wind Blows and Wind In the Willows. He also worked on Heavy Metal, Watership Down, F.R.O., Digswell & Daisy, and Pond Life.
Sir George Martin, Music Director
Commonly nicknamed "The Fifth Beatle," George Martin was knighted in 1988 for his services to the music industry. During the course of his career he has been awarded two Ivor Novello Awards and five Grammys. Martin composed six original orchestral pieces for the Yellow Submarine sound track, which Producer Al Brodax compared to the creations of J.S. Bach, and were released as the B-side to The Beatles' album The Yellow Submarine. Martin is recognized as one of music's most versatile and imaginative talents. He has produced no less than 30 number-one singles in the U.K. alone. Before and after The Beatles, he has worked with some of our generation's finest talents including Peter Sellers, Dudley Moore, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Sting, Carly Simon, Peter Gabriel, Sinead O'Connor, Elvis Costello, and more. He has recently produced his final album In My Life, already gone Gold in Australia, a successful representation of his most treasured friends and heroes (like Goldie Hawn, Robin Williams, Bobby McFerrin, and Sean Connery) giving their renditions of some of his favorite Beatles songs.
Roger McGough, Dialogue and Joke Writer
A native of Liverpool Roger McGough was brought into the project after Segal left with the instruction to provide authentic Liverpudlian-sounding dialogue and local color jokes. After Yellow Submarine, McGough distinguished himself in the world of poetry and pop music, as a Fellow of Poetry at the University of Loughborough, a member of the Executive Council of Poetry Society, and an Honorable Professor of Thames Valley University. Recently McGough was awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) from Her Majesty's government.
Millicent McMillan, Assistant to Heinz Edelmann
Millicent McMillan was one of only two direct assistants to art director Heinz Edelmann, and he credits her with making the Blue Meanies blue, when he wanted to make them red as an obvious reference to the Cold War. Since Yellow Submarine, she has worked on and off for TVC for 30 years, doing background and/or design for The Snowman, Granpa, Father Christmas, and with Alison DeVere's production company doing commercials, Mouse and Mole and The Angel and the Soldier Boy. She also worked on Pink Floyd's The Wall. One of Millicent's three children was a Yellow Submarine baby, born just after the film was finished. In fact, she was so pregnant at the London Pavilion premiere, that she was unable to batter the crowds to get in and missed it!
Jack Mendelsohn, Script Writer
Mendelsohn's contribution to the long stream of scripts turned in for Yellow Submarine was significant enough for him to be singled out (from 40-plus people who made contributions) to receive, along with three others, "Written By" credit on the film. Mendelsohn also came from the earlier King Features production of The Beatles TV cartoon series, and after Yellow Submarine he continued with a very busy and illustrious career writing for television and animation. He's worked on Laugh In, The Carol Burnett Show, Tony Orlando and Dawn, Three's Company, The Return of Dennis the Menace, and in animation on Yogi Bear's Christmas Special, Archie, Sabrina, George of the Jungle, Super Chicken, Hey, Hey, Hey, It's Fat Albert and Muppet Babies. More recently he did Sinbad the Sailor and Donkey Kong. He is currently working on a semi- fictionalized memoir/novel about his decade of living in Mexico City during the 1950s.
Erich Segal, Ph.D., Main Screenwriter
During the 11 months of Yellow Submarine's production, over 40 writers and artists contributed at one time or another in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to create a finished script for the animators and actors. The one writer who stands out as having contributed the most and having the greatest success at cobbling together the many shreds and pieces and contributions of the artists and other writers is Erich Segal. Segal was a young assistant professor of Classics at Yale University at the time Al Brodax found him and flew him to London for several weeks of furious writing. Everything on Submarine was done hurriedly, under enormous deadline pressure, and Segal remembers not being allowed to leave his hotel room except for his daily jog. After Yellow Submarine, Segal went on to immediate international fame with his best-selling novel, Love Story, made into the blockbuster film starring Ryan O'Neal and Ali McGraw. Today he is the author of eight novels, including Oliver's Story, and Man, Woman and Child, and two international bestsellers that became major motion pictures. Doctors brought him to the number one spot on the New York Times bestseller list for the third time. Segal has also published widely on Greek and Latin literature, subjects he has taught at Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. He is currently a fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford.
Jack Stokes, Animation Director
Jack Stokes was not new to animating The Beatles when he began to work directing and storyboarding all the Pepperland scenes in Yellow Submarine. He had directed the ABC Television series for TVC, and also designed the titles for The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour. After Yellow Submarine, Stokes kept busy with commercials and several other full-length feature films which he directed, designed and/or storyboarded including Tiki Tiki (1969-70), Little Mermaid (1972), Water Babies (1977-78), Heavy Metal (1980-81), Castle for PBS (1981-1982), Asterix (1984-1985) and many more. Most recently he was director and did layout storyboard for Tailor of Gloucester (1992-1993), Prince Valiant (1994) and Tales of Peter Rabbit and Friends (1994). Stokes is the recipient of many international film and animation awards.
Mike Stuart, Key Animator
Mike Stuart also worked with TVC before Yellow Submarine as a trainee animator on The Beatles series. After Submarine he worked on The Happy Prince for Potterton Productions, and then for Trickfilm Studios on commercials. From 1977-1981 Stuart worked with Pink Floyd and Gerald Scarfe on the animation for Wish You Were Here, Animals and he did 90% of the animation for The Wall, followed in 1981-1983 by The Meaning of Life with Terry Gilliam. From 1983-1993 he formed Stuart Brooks Animation Ltd. producing mainly commercials, as well as two half-hour episodes of the Beatrix Potter series from script to screen, Samuel Whiskers and The Pigling Bland. Since then he's worked on Bamboo Bears, was animation director on Wind in the Willows and storyboard for Willows in Winter for TVC. He is currently working on two ten-minute series, Kipper and Pookie.
Also in this issue:
The Beatles' Yellow Submarine Turns 30: John Coates and Norman Kauffman Look Back.
In the late 1960s Dr. Robert R. Hieronimus traveled with numerous rock and roll bands as spiritual advisor and poster designer, as he began his long career as a muralist and painter. His highly acclaimed occult and symbolic murals include the 2,700 square foot prophetic "Apocalypse" at the Johns Hopkins University. Together with his wife and partner, Zoh, Bob operates a media research service called Hieronimus & Co., Inc., providing story and guest ideas and materials to television, newspapers and radio worldwide. Their work has been featured on ABC Radio, CNN, C-SPAN, PBS, and in dozens of leading publications like The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe and The San Francisco Chronicle.
Dr. Robert R. Hieronimus is presently at work completing his long-delayed history book on the turbulent journey of The Beatles' Yellow Submarine, and how it evolved from Liverpool to Pepperland. This book should see publication by the summer of 1999.
Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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