Cover Story Interview – The making of the “Yellow Submarine” sericel, with new designs & artwork by Jon Blosdale

All images featured in this Cover Story are Copyright 2008, Jon Blosdale/Dennilu Company (DenniLu Company is under license by Apple Corps. Ltd. to manufacture and market Beatles Saturday Morning Cartoon and Yellow Submarine sericels, hand-painted cels and giclees. Apple Corps Ltd. does not endorse this website) – All rights reserved.

Subject – The making of the sericels based on the original artwork for The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine film soundtrack, released in 1969 on Apple Records, with new artwork and layout done by artist Jon Blosdale.

Released in 1968 and nominated for a Grammy (TM) for its Soundtrack, Yellow Submarine was a departure for The Beatles from the live-action films they had made to that point. Using a very simple animation technique and a psychedelic palette of colors, the film and its animation was directed and supervised by George Dunning, the director of The Beatles’ TV cartoon series, and was art directed by Heinz Edelman. It took a production team of over 200 over 11 months to create the sequences used in the film.

Sir George Martin composed the film’s instrumental score, and in addition to the title song, other songs featured included “Baby You’re A Rich Man”, “Hey Bulldog”, “Only A Northern Song”, “When I’m Sixty-Four”, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and the previously-mentioned “All Together Now”.

A large troupe of artists, animators and voice-over artists worked on the film (including many who also worked on the TV series) and, contrary to popular belief, Peter Max did not participate in the production, although it seems clear that his approach to painting was greatly influenced from that point forward by the film’s style and color palette.

The film’s plot was simple and in keeping with the band’s peace and love through music world view. A magical, musical place under the sea – Pepperland – is attacked by an army of music-hating Blue Meanies, who seal Pepperland’s protectors – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – inside a bubble and then go about their business of paralyzing the populace and draining the land of all its color.

In an effort to enlist help to save the land, Pepperland emissary Old Fred sets off for Liverpool in a yellow submarine to try and convince The Beatles to come back with him. The journey back takes them through the Seas of Time, Science, Monsters, Nothing, Heads and, finally, through the Sea of Holes (meeting many strange travails and characters along the way), arriving back in Pepperland, where the band disguises themselves as the imprisoned Sgt. Pepper’s band and sets off to rescue all of the hostages and return music and color to the land. Using a hole that Ringo had taken from the Sea of Holes, they release the real band from their bubble prison and Pepperland is saved, but rather than vanquish the Blue Meanies, John offers them friendship, which so moves the Meanies that they accept and everyone lives happily ever after (music, flowers and color, included!).

In the film’s final, live-action scene, The Beatles return to Liverpool loaded with souvenirs (including the Yellow Submarine’s motor!), but John announces to the theater audience that another band of Blue Meanies has been spotted outside the theater and that the audience would need to sing – “all together now” – if they wanted to make it out safely. The lyrics of the song appeared on-screen (in many languages) and, we can assume, audiences the world over sang along.

One of the millions of young people drawn into Beatlemania early on was Jon Blosdale who, later, after a long career in the entertainment/production business, decided to “follow his dream” and focused his efforts on re-capturing a personal piece of the “Peace and Love”/”All You Need is Love” spirit by obtaining all of the necessary permissions he’d need to help him use his artistic talents to re-introduce fans to important snippets of their animated Beatles memories.

Most-recently, he’s released an awesome recreation of the iconic cover of the Yellow Submarine soundtrack album, and so for today’s Cover Story, I’ve asked him to take us all down the path that ultimately lead him to create this masterwork. So – “all together now” – let’s read on….

In the words of the artist, Jon Blosdale (interviewed in October/November 2008) –

I was only 8 when the Beatles invaded America on Ed Sullivan and that was it. I was hooked, along for the ride and never looked back. Like a lot of us, I grew up with the Beatles. And through the good times and bad, the Beatles and their music always kept me company. Looking back, it seemed as though my life evolved around the Beatles, each new song, album, TV appearance was what I was waiting to hear, buy or see. Nothing else really mattered.

Life went on and I was in the entertainment business for almost 20 years before embarking into the animation art business. Frustrated and burned out with the film and television production scene and, to be honest, tired of the distant locations, 5AM calls, bad catering and the ever-present Hollywood ego, I decided to follow my passion for animation and art. How was I going to start this new career? Of course, by starting with my other favorite passion – The Beatles! But that wasn’t going to happen quickly or easily – at least not for a couple more years.

In 1998, with the exception of a couple film productions in between, I quit the entertainment business (or it could have quit me), and started to learn about computer graphics and graphic arts. I took Photoshop and Illustrator courses, delved into books, took more courses, and then I took a real departure in my career – I went to work at a sign shop.

Astoundingly, working as a computer graphics person in a sign shop proved to be the most-valuable way to gain experience for what I do today. It’s those skills that I learned – layout, design, font structure, color combinations, etc. – which I applied to the animation art I do now. Unfortunately for me though, the sign shop closed and I was then out of a job. I had this new skill, a passion for creating art with my new skill, and no place to apply it. That’s when I decided to go with what always made me happy as a kid – that being The Beatles, and especially the Beatles “Saturday Morning Cartoons”. Then a light went off in my head – or it may have been above it – either way, I saw something! I saw an opportunity to possibly do what I love and do it with the Beatles cartoons. Then the light went a bit dim as I thought – “How on Earth am I going to pull this off?”

Purely out of curiosity, and really not knowing what I was going to do if and when I found what I was looking for, I began my search for animation from the original King Features Beatles “Saturday Morning Cartoon” series. I quickly found there were few or no original production cels remaining in existence, nor was there much information about the original series for that matter. The reason for this was that, in the mid-1960s, there was no forethought about an aftermarket of the Beatles “Saturday Morning Cartoons”, and the Beatles themselves were not in the animation art business. So, most of the original production acetates (cels) were either reused for other cartoons or simply trashed.

While doing some additional research, I came across a great book by Mitchell Axelrod called “Beatletoons, the Real Story Behind the Beatles Cartoons”. This answered a lot of my questions, but not the most important one I had, which was “how do I get the licensing rights to recreate the images from the ‘Saturday Morning Cartoons’?” From that point, my plan was pretty straight-forward. I would use my newly-acquired skills to create animation cels from old 16mm films of the cartoons, commonly known as “sericels”. This decision then set me on a 2 ½ year quest to find the licensing agency that handled the Beatles merchandising and trying to convince them that I was the right person that could pull this off.

When I first made contact with the licensing agent, he had indicated to me that the “Saturday Morning Cartoons” weren’t really on Apple’s high priority list, but if I wanted to submit a proposal and some samples (then more samples, and then even more samples) to go ahead and “see if you can knock our socks off”.

That was just the challenge that I needed. I worked for 10 straight days and nights coming up 3 of 4 sample images of the “Saturday Morning Cartoons”, packed them in a box with my 2 page proposal and new pair of sweat socks. That got the licensing agent to chuckle (to this day, I can say the artwork has always spoken for itself, but I think the new sweat socks didn’t hurt either).

All in all, I think I submitted over 30 sample cels to the licensing agent and Apple Corps Ltd. over those 2 ½ years, and finally my persistence paid off. In April of 2004, I signed a licensing contract with Apple Corps Ltd.! I can’t tell you the feeling I had to see my name next to “Apple Corps Ltd”, “Neil Aspinal” (then, Apple’s managing director) and, of course, “The Beatles”. They say never give up your dream, that all can be possible with hard work and passion. I say that it is possible and when it does come true, it’s time to go to work!

A couple of years into my license, Apple asked if I’d like to take on Yellow Submarine. I accepted wholeheartedly and decided the way I wanted to launch the animation art for Yellow Submarine was to start with the album cover itself as a special triple-layered over-sized animation cel. What’s interesting about my overall license is that Apple gives me ample latitude and a tremendous amount of creative license with both the cartoons and Yellow Submarine. That’s not to say I haven’t had my share of rejections when submitting art to Apple. As I’ve learned, there are reasons behind their (Apple’s) choices. I don’t take it personally – I just keep on developing, keep on submitting and do my work.

As far as the Yellow Submarine album cover idea, I had the layers visually figured out in my head. The first layer would be printed on archival paper and feature the background of just the mountain, psychedelic plants and the words “Nothing is Real”. The second layer would be a silk-screen printed cel of the support cast (the Captain, Jeremy, the Mayor, Blue Meanies, Snapping Turks, etc.) and, finally the third (top) layer would be of the Beatles, the Submarine and logo, also silk-screen printed. Finishing the art, each layer would be trimmed with a colored matte and a hidden 1/8” frame that floats between the layers – it gives the piece an almost 3D effect.

Left – some sample images showing the various layers used to create the final image…

All images featured in this Cover Story are Copyright 2008, Jon Blosdale/Dennilu Company (DenniLu Company is under license by Apple Corps. Ltd. to manufacture and market Beatles Saturday Morning Cartoon and Yellow Submarine sericels, hand-painted cels and giclees. Apple Corps Ltd. does not endorse this website) – All rights reserved.

Now, that’s how I thought that I would do it. How it would actually piece together was another story altogether. Because I decided to go big with the image area, my challenges were not only the materials, but how to separate the artwork for the silk-screening process and lining it all up in the frame. Also, the art itself is over 22 colors, making the silk-screening the biggest challenge, both physically and economically. The camera-ready art process took the longest time. I had to vector every detail on the entire album cover before I could separate the art for silk-screening. Vectoring is a computer graphics process that creates line-art that I can manipulate any way I desire and get it “camera-ready”.

Once the art was vectored and the silk screens were ready for the coloring process, I had to choose a special acetate. It had to be a thicker mil weight because of the 20” x 20” image size and – most importantly – it had to fit the screen printer’s apparatus. In order to keep the manufacturing costs down, we ran the two layers side-by-side on one large sheet of 48” x 32” acetate and then trimmed it to size after the colors were done.

The framing took some trial and error, but I used the same techniques I use with the smaller framed cels and, amazingly, it framed up better than expected. I think that it turned out to be a stunning piece of art – not because of me, but because the brilliant style of the original art done some 40 years ago for the original animation still holds up. All I did was come up with a clever new way to present the Yellow Submarine album cover.

Because I also develop the “Saturday Morning Cartoon” images and the time it takes to go through the approval processes, etc., the concept and development of the Yellow Submarine album cover piece took about a year. When I presented my concepts to Apple’s head of merchandising and the licensing people, they flipped out. Apple said nobody has ever done anything remotely like this triple-layered art of the Yellow Submarine album cover.

It was a privilege and an honor to be given the opportunity to recreate the Yellow Submarine album cover and then other images from Yellow Submarine. The feedback from Apple is and has always been enthusiastic praise. I feel that I’ve earned the trust of Apple and the licensing agent. Just as long as I stay true to the original art of both Yellow Submarine and the “Saturday Morning Cartoons”, they’re pretty much on board. Apple and the licensing agent have been very favorable to me in many ways. I could never thank them enough for their ongoing support.

And so, in the end, if you’d ask me what inspires me and provides my style guide for the artwork, I would have to say “the money”…just kidding!! The money may provide the oil for the engine, but the Beatles are the gas. And, as a final note, just before Neil Aspinal (Apple’s managing director and longtime friend of The Beatles) passed away, I was able to give him a finished piece of the album cover. It was delivered to his hospital room and hung on the wall for him to enjoy. I heard it brought a smile to his face. Now, that’s an honor in my books!

About the artist, Jon Blosdale –

Photo of Jon Blosdale (right) with Peter Sander, one of the original Yellow Submarine/”Saturday Morning Cartoon” illustrators

Jon Blosdale is the owner/artist for the DenniLu Company, an animation art company that is officially licensed by Apple Corps Ltd. to manufacture and market animation art of the original 1960’s Beatles “Saturday Morning Cartoon” series and Yellow Submarine.

Prior to getting involved with the Beatles animation art, Jon Blosdale had a career behind the scenes in film and television as a producer and production manager. Throughout his producing career, Jon has worked with Robert Conrad’s television company, director Charlie Matthau and on a variety of commercials. In 1998, utilizing his parent’s names (Dennis and Lucette), Jon formed the DenniLu Company and traded in his 20 year career in film and TV production for a new start in the computer graphics business.

Six years later in 2004, the DenniLu Company signed a licensing contract with Apple Corps Ltd. and has since added Yellow Submarine animation art to his company’s offering.

In a matter of 4 years, the DenniLu Company has formed relationships to sell its merchandise through numerous catalogs, online stores and to a number of fine art galleries worldwide. Their animation art can also be seen at the “Love” stage show boutique at the MGM Mirage in Las Vegas, as well as the Hard Day’s Night Hotel in Liverpool.

To see more of Jon’s work, you can either visit his web site at http://www.beatlescartoon.com/

Or to see the collection of Dennilu items available at RockPoP Gallery, just click on this link – http://rockpopgallery.com/items/cartoon-beatles/list.htm?1=1

To learn more about the Yellow Submarine film and soundtrack (released in 1969 on Apple Records), please visit their website at http://www.beatles.com/core/films/yellowsubmarine/

About Cover Stories – Our series of interviews will give you, the music and art fan, a look at “the making of” the illustrations, photographs and designs of many of the most-recognized and influential images that have served to package and promote your all-time-favorite recordings.

In each Cover Story, we’ll meet the artists, designers and photographers who produced these works of art and learn what motivated them, what processes they used, how they collaborated (or fought) with the musical acts, their management, their labels, etc. – all of the things that influenced the final product you saw then and still see today.

We hope that you enjoy these looks behind the scenes of the music-related art business and that you’ll share your stories with us and fellow fans about what role these works of art – and the music they covered – played in your lives.

All images featured in this Cover Story are Copyright 2008, Jon Blosdale/Dennilu Company (DenniLu Company is under license by Apple Corps. Ltd. to manufacture and market Beatles Saturday Morning Cartoon and Yellow Submarine sericels, hand-painted cels and giclees. Apple Corps Ltd. does not endorse this website) – All rights reserved. Except as noted, all other text Copyright 2008 – Mike Goldstein & RockPoP Gallery (www.rockpopgallery.com) – All rights reserved.