SPECIAL PROJECT UNIT on The Yellow Submarine
“Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds"
originally printed in Beatlology Magazine Jul/Aug ‘01

As many of our readers and listeners are already aware, Dr. Bob has assembled a book on the history of the Beatles animated classic film, Yellow Submarine. We are very happy to announce that this book is scheduled for publication with Krause Publications tentatively for January of 2002. It’s working title is “Inside the Yellow Submarine: The Making of the Beatles Animated Classic”. Here is an abbreviated excerpt from the book detailing the thrilling sequence that many people recall as their favorite: the “Lucy in the Sky” dream within a dream fantasy

The sensitive Canadian artist, George Dunning, was acting as a rather reclusive film director on the set of Yellow Submarine, handing most of the responsibility for the film over to his two unit directors, Jack Stokes and Bob Balser. Unfortunately, Dunning passed away at age 59 in 1979, but most of the Co-Creators interviewed for “Inside the Yellow Submarine” remembered the “Lucy” sequence as one of his most important contributions to the film. Others insisted Billy Sewell was more responsible for this innovative sequence. We were disappointed to learn that Sewell had also passed away at an early age, but we did locate Anne Jolliffe, an Australian animator on the Yellow Submarine crew, who has vivid memories of how this thrilling sequence was executed.

Rotoscoping is the animation term for tracing over a live action film and then painting in the outlines. This method is almost as old as animation itself, being used, for example, on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” to achieve its stunning life-like qualities. What made the Rotoscoping done on the “Lucy” sequence so special was Dunning’s/Sewell’s approach of loosely painting all over the outlines, using the brush strokes to define the image instead of the outlines, giving it the floaty fantasy look that made this sequence so breathtakingly memorable (providing visuals to one of the best-loved Beatles’ tunes didn’t hurt, either).

George Dunning
“It was a seminal work, wasn’t it?,” said Jolliffe from her home in New South Wales, adding that working on it was
just as wonderful. “I think everyone who worked on it had one of the happiest times of their lives. The privilege of being able to work on Yellow Submarine was such a relief from what we’d been doing, and the crew was so much fun, too. It was really a hoot.”

Jolliffe, like many of the Co-Creators of Yellow Submarine came to the crew after having worked for two years on The Beatles cartoon series which were enormously successful for ABC and King Features. TVC of London was one of several small animation houses around the world which produced the animation for these series, and they approached their crews the same way on both projects. “Yes, I worked on the Beatles series,” explained Jolliffe. “I was in a small group that were called cells in those days, four people, and we worked on the first and second Beatles series. Then we graduated to the Submarine. We had people working together as a sort of family group all the way through. We had a director animator, two animators, and one assistant between us, and the assistant was being trained. Those assistants now have studios of their own, of course.”

Anne Jolliffe

As one of only two female animators on the crew (there were over a hundred women on the team, but most of them were in the trace and paint departments), Jolliffe was especially grateful for the exciting artistic challenge of animating The Beatles in a feature film that would hopefully live up to their musical legacy. “Traditionally animation has been a man’s world. I was the first woman animator in Australia, and I had to go to England finally to avoid doing commercials all my life. There are lots of female animators now, about half the animators are women and they all seem to be under twenty. But in my day it was really hard. There was a lot of prejudice against women animators — not so much in England, but certainly in America. There was one other female animator working on the Submarine: Hester Coblentz, who is no longer with us having died a couple of years ago, sadly missed and remembered with great affection by us all.”

Ruby Keeler

The “Lucy in the Sky” sequence was being produced in a building separate from the majority of the Co-Creators on Yellow Submarine, who were working out of rented office space in Soho in downtown London of the swinging 60s. As the Co-Creators neared the premiere date for the film, a slight emergency developed in trying to enfold the “Lucy” sequence into the rest of the “plot” of the film, which was evolving at its own pace a few blocks away. As Jolliffe remembers it, the “Lucy” sequence was adapted from an original piece that Bill Sewell had been working on before the Yellow Submarine. When Sewell began to feel his project was being compromised, he quit and moved to Canada before it was completed. “I was caught up into the “Lucy in the Sky” sequence,” said Jolliffe, explaining she was “removed from my group which they rather resented because I was one of their key people.” Sewell was a fellow Australian and a good friend of Jolliffe’s so when he left the production, she was asked to help integrate the unfinished piece into the rest of the film. “Bill had been working on a lot of experimental films that were under George Dunning’s aegis, because Bill was an Associate Director of TVC. He was a very influential person in my life, and I worked with him on several occasions. He was quite cross because he had been making his own film called “Half in Love with Fred Astaire”. It was Rotoscoped from archive film, and he employed four or five very pretty girls (Bill had an eye for the ladies), to do random painting on little segments of this Fred Astaire film. He and George fell out. I don’t know whether it was entirely because George decided to use Bill’s film for the “Lucy in the Sky” sequence or not, but when Bill was offered a job in Canada, he took it. Because he was not actually working on the Yellow Submarine; he was doing that other work that TVC kept doing as well as the Submarine. So, he left and went to Canada to work for the Film Board, and I was asked to go and sort this stuff out.”

Some of George Dunning’s earlier award-winning short films, like “The Flying Man” (1962), had demonstrated his unique method of painting on glass that resulted in a similar floaty effect. Jolliffe explained how Sewell had originally approached his film “Half in Love with Fred Astaire” which became “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. “The films were initially traced off by pen. Individual frames were traced and then painted, quite randomly, on separate levels of celluloid. Bill would give one girl, say, all the pink colors and another one all blue colors, another one all yellow colors and then say, Go to it. Just do what you like. Try and destroy this image if you like. It’s amazing how wild you can paint and still leave the image there, and the movement. Because the fun part of doing Rotoscope is you don’t have to invent the movement, you can just change the way it looks. It looked wonderful mainly because the live action was so good.”

Animation Director Bob Balser explained that when he met with Dunning to decide how to integrate this independent production into the film, he was astounded to learn there were about 30 minutes worth of these lovely paintings already piled up, with no real concept of how they would work together. They called in a Swedish director, Arne Gustafson, whom Jolliffe recalls was also a good friend of Bill Sewell’s, and together they came up with the transition ideas. “Not knowing quite what to do, George Dunning wanted to link a few of the live film sequences together, so I had to animate the live action, which is very, very difficult for an animator. The movement of live people is much slower than animation, and it is not much fun for an animator because we like doing things that don’t imitate live action. So, that was the next job I had to do: link a few of the sequences together, and dance, in my head, like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers! The sequence really had been finished and my job was just to pull it together.” As Balser recalled, they added the bit with John Lennon dancing like Eddie Cantor, and a few other links, though they decided against one idea Gustafson proposed much to Jolliffe’s disappointment. “Arne Gustafson had another vision of the film, of back projecting actual scenes of the animation at a very close field, as close as four-field, that is, four inches across. We then put the same animated cels on top of that, and shoot it all again at twelve field, [twelve inches across]. So, the action in the foreground would be echoed in the background. It would create a consistent world of its own. It looked wonderful. The “Lucy” sequence was so different from the design of the rest of the film, and I thought that it solved that problem very neatly, to put these funny splash drawings “in their own world” as it were. George rejected [their idea for the backgrounds] and the films were finally shot against a plain, flat background because Heinz Edelmann and George decided that would be a better thing to do and they were the directors. I opposed that quite strongly so I got moved back to my little group of people working on “Nowhere Man”.

Anne Jolliffe was one of the “Boob” experts and animated many of the scenes with Jeremy Hilary Boob. She will be pleased to learn this little puffball critter had such a lasting impact on viewers of the film, as evidenced in the 2000 ABC “The Beatles Revolution” documentary which quoted actor Mike Meyers as remembering: “I found myself really crying at “Nowhere Man”. In fact I get a little sad now when he goes, He’s just a nowhere man. And he’s spinning around on the record and they’re leaving him. I remember just sobbing!” Her memories of how difficult the revolving perspective in that scene was, along with many others like how she managed to make the Vacuum Cleaner monster suck up the background and himself, are all fully detailed in Dr. Bob’s forthcoming book. Today, Jolliffe is still working hard as head of her own animation studio, Jollification, in Australia, where she has produced many award-winning and highly acclaimed features in the years since her significant contributions to The Beatles Yellow Submarine.

Inside the Yellow Submarine: The Making of The Beatles Animated Classic by Bob Hieronimus is expected in January 2002. It will have over 400 pages with more that 200 illustrations. Place advance orders with Krause Publications, 1-800-258-0929. For updates, please visit our Yellow Submarine page at our 21stCentury Radio.com website. Before they are all sold out, order a copy of the unique 56 page Hieronimus & Co. Yellow Submarine Journal which features never before seen drawings and first time interviews with the principle artists responsible for this film. Send $10.00 to Hieronimus & Co. P.O. Box 648 Owings Mills, MD 21117.

Hieronimus & Co., Inc., P.O. Box 648, Owings Mills, MD 21117 USA
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