Memories from Some of the ‘Beautiful People’
As seen in Animation Magazine
Part of the 40th Anniversary Series on “Behind the Scenes of the Yellow Submarine”
author of Inside the Yellow Submarine: The Making of the Beatles Animated Classic
If you know anything about the animated classic Yellow Submarine, you know it was made largely without a script, under an incredibly short 11 month deadline, and with a budget of less than a million dollars – and of course, without computers. As Key Animator Malcolm Draper says, “I sincerely hope that people will one day realize that animation is not only done with computers - we old farts actually DRAW it!” With 2008 marking the 40th anniversary of the theatrical premiere of Yellow Submarine (November 13, 1968 in the U.S.), we are taking the opportunity to introduce you to some of the Submarine co-creators we discovered after my book came out.
David Elvin was hired as a background artist, but explained that like everyone on the crew, he was often called in to do other work, as well. “I was a background artist but when the cameras were waiting for those cels, it was ‘all hands to the pump.’ Anyone that could, doubled up as a cel painter.” He fondly recalls working on the scene inside Ringo’s house where he was given “complete freedom on the room with the celebrity statues. This was all my own work. The only stipulation came from King Features. I wanted a superhero and King Features said fine, as long as it was ‘The Phantom,’ one of theirs.”
Elvin got his then-girlfriend (and later wife) Lucy a job as a trace and paint artist on the Submarine, and she remembers the rollicking times at Knightway House, overlooking Soho Square. With over 200 on the crew at its highpoint (many of them art students bussed in for overnight shifts), Knightway House sometimes felt like “a continuous party,” said David Elvin. “The trace and paint floor really rocked. All the latest music blasting forth 24 hours a day.” Lucy added that, “periodically the door would open, a head would peer round and call ‘Anybody got Paul's left leg?’ or ‘Any more of John's right arm?’ The fact that the Beatles Sgt. Pepper uniforms were all painted with different colored sleeves on the jackets and trouser legs made getting it right essential.” Like Draper, Lucy lamented the impact of technology on animation, noting that “tracing and painting by individuals is almost a thing of the past, sadly.”
After being hired in the Dog and Duck pub, Malcolm Draper started out as an assistant on the Submarine, but was quickly promoted to full animator. He remembers the atmosphere being “magical” and “probably the best time of my life! Don’t forget this was at the height of Beatlemania and Swinging London. I was single, earning 50 pounds per week (a huge sum in 1968!), and there were 100 beautiful trace and paint girls hovering around! We all thought it might become a famous film one day -- if they could ever finish the screenplay… We all wore Indian hemp shirts and, later, giant flowery pop-art ties that we bought off of one of the painters.”
“This was the late sixties when skirts were really short and hair on both sexes, pretty long,” added Lucy Elvin. “We were, after all, the ‘Beautiful People’ -- even the men were beautiful, as I recall. It was a trendy place to be, and most of the workers on Yellow Submarine reflected the current and colorful fashions. It was Fab…. The atmosphere was generally one of flourishing and enjoyable creativity.”
To mark the film’s 40th anniversary, the School of Visual Arts in New York plans to show Yellow Submarine with a panel discussion/reunion of co-creators upon completion of their new Visual Arts Theater, which could be as early as February of 2009.
Inside the Yellow Submarine by Robert R. Hieronimus, Ph.D. with Laura Cortner is available at amazon.com. Autographed copies and related items can be purchased from http://www.21stCenturyRadio.com/yellowsub, where you will also find the other 40th anniversary articles in this series.
David Elvin and Lucy Roberts (later Lucy Elvin) in 1966 on a haystack during a picnic in rural Essex.
Iain Cowan, Kate Cowan, and Lucy Roberts (later Lucy Elvin) – some of the beautiful Submarine people. This photo was taken during a short Easter break away from the Sub in 1968 on a vintage bicycle tour of Somerset in the West of England. The bikes dated from the 1890s. Yellow Submarine fans should recognize the face of clean-up artist Iain Cowan, who appears repeatedly as the man in the bubbles in the Sea of Time during the “When I’m 64” sequence.
One of Heinz Edelmann’s early concept designs for the Sea of Monsters, courtesy of David Elvin.
Lucy Elvin remembers: "Whilst working on Yellow Submarine I was asked to pose for some photographs by an American photographer. I had to pretend to be editing by holding some footage up to the light whilst biting it. About for or five pictures were taken but I've never seen them until one of me popped up in an article on YS in Mojo magazine in October 1999."
David and Lucy Elvin today