When Ron Campbell was asked to animate a cartoon version of The Beatles 50 years ago, his thoughts turned to entomology instead of pop music.
"I hadn't even heard of The Beatles. I just knew of the insect," recalled the native of Australia, where Beatlemania hadn't quite hit at the time.
"I had vaguely, perhaps, heard them," said Campbell, now 75. "But I quickly learned."
Campbell animated the series, which was No. 1 on Saturday mornings during its three-year run, with as many as two-thirds of the potential audience watching fictional adventures of the Fab Four.
Later this month, Campbell will take a tour through Iowa, with stops in Des Moines, Iowa City and in downtown Davenport at the Bucktown Center for the Arts. Campbell will recreate his animated work at a two-day display as well as offering items for sale.
Campbell was already at work in the animation industry in Australia, where he had been hired to create the "Krazy Kat" and "Beetle Bailey" cartoons for American television.
That was when he got the call to bring life to the animated versions of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. Although their names and images were the stars of "The Beatles," two voice actors handled the dialogue.
"The Beatles had virtually nothing to do with any of it, except for the most important part: The Beatles gave us the music to use," Campbell said from his home outside Phoenix.
During the run of "The Beatles," Campbell — who moved to Los Angeles with his family for the second season of the TV show — never met the Fab Four.
"I have been told they came in and watched a screening for the first time of the TV show, and Ringo was said to say as they came out, 'Hey, they made me hideous!' "
Under his breath, Campbell agreed. He was told to make four different character types: the leader (Lennon), the pretty boy (McCartney), the mystic (Harrison) and "the idiot" (Campbell's words for Starr).
"There was some connection with that and reality," Campbell said, "except that Ringo was far from an idiot."
While working on "The Beatles," Campbell got a distress call that his help was needed in London for a larger animated project involving the group that was far different from the TV show: the animated fantasy film "Yellow Submarine."
"Yellow Submarine" became a hit, with fans continuing to flock to its psychedelic imagery.
"We had no doubt that it would" become a hit, said Campbell, who animated about 12 minutes of the film.
"The design was wonderful. It was also part and parcel of the atmosphere of the '60s. Indeed, it proved to be that way," he continued.
"When you watch the 'Yellow Submarine' film, you are transported back to the late '60s. It captured the spirit of the age, the zeitgeist, as the Germans call it," he added. "Even though the film might have a few faults — every film does, and 'Yellow Submarine' has more than its share — it's a wonderful film and people love it."
Hired by Hanna-Barbera, Campbell worked on the first few years of "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?" as well as "The Flintstones," "The Jetsons" and "The Smurfs."
Campbell stayed in America and also worked for PBS favorites such as "The Big Blue Marble" and "Sesame Street," Disney hits including "Goof Troop" and "Darkwing Duck," and Nickelodeon favorites "Rugrats."
He retired in 2008, as the industry was making a transition from hand-drawn animation to computerized work.
"It's not that I was a Luddite or anything," he said. "I had learned animation in the '50s, and after 50 years I wanted to retire. If I had been 40 years old instead of 65, I definitely would have sat down and asked, 'What the hell is this?' We'll see."
Campbell said he enjoys what can be done with computer animation, which comprises virtually all of the art form.
"Like always, the success or failure of a film has a huge part to do with the story and the characters involved in the story" he said. "If you've got a great story and great characters, you can't miss whether you do it with computers or do it by hand.
"Hand animation can do things that computer animation can't be able to do," Campbell added. "On the other hand, computers can do large things that hand could never attempt to do."
Campbell said he enjoys going on the road, talking to fans and showing off his creations.
"The work that I'm doing now is strictly a retirement gig, just for fun. It's pleasant to find yourself still useful," he said. "It keeps one alive and happy."