ANIMATION ANECDOTES
January 17, 2020 posted by Jim Korkis

Heinz Edelmann and the Yellow Submarine

SUSPENDED ANIMATION #250

If you want to be a good animation historian, it is important to go to primary sources and also try to get comments from the people who were actually involved. However, in the case of the animated feature Yellow Submarine (1968), it really is a crazy quilt of different people taking credit for the same things.

For instance, in the case of the Blue Meanies, producer Al Brodax has insisted that the idea came from screenwriter Lee Minoff who “originally called them Monstrous Blues”. He also claimed the chief Blue Meanie was modelled after production coordinator Abe Goodman. Animators on the film claim that the character more closely acted like Brodax.

Scripter Erich Segal said he was the one who came up with the Blue Meanies. He also said that Lennon wrote the song Hey Bulldog as a tribute to him since he was at the time a professor at Yale whose mascot was a bulldog. This statement disputes all other evidence that originally the song was called Hey Bullfrog and only changed when Lennon laughed at Paul McCartney’s barking like a dog and so decided to change it during the recording session.

Beatle John Lennon confronted Brodax and yelled, “You stole my ideas. You gave me no credit.” Lennon felt that he was the one who came up with the idea for the vacuum cleaner monster and the Blue Meanies.

In an interview for Playboy magazine January 1981, Lennon said, “They said, have you got any monsters? I said, ‘Yeah, there’s Horace the vacuum cleaner in the swimming pool’ which was a thing you could buy and it went ‘round the pool sucking up things, you know. And I said that could be a monster that sucks. They just took them and never credited it.”

Lennon’s paramour, May Pang stated, “It was a sore point for him because a lot of those characters were based on things that he had drawn himself. There are the Blue Meanies… You can see that this was his style.”

It is documented that The Beatles were not very involved at all with the production and tried to distance themselves from it until they finally saw a rough cut of the final film. The only confirmed contribution from Lennon was a suggestion during a drunken 3am phone call to Brodax that it might be funny to have the Yellow Submarine following Ringo down a narrow street.

Animator Alan Ball recalled, “If I remember rightly, the vacuum cleaner monster was on Heinz’s original concept drawing before the film got underway. The whole phrase ‘blue meanie’ which is now a general kind of term was a Heinz Edelmann creation.”

Heinz Edelman

Heinz Edelmann

Director of animation Bob Balser told author Robert Hieronimus, “Probably the most important person on the film was Heinz Edelmann who came up with the concept of the Blue Meanies that didn’t exist when the film started.”

Edelmann who was artistic director on the film stated, “At the time, I was heavily into monsters and I had just sat down for an afternoon and did them all.” Supposedly, he designed the Blue Meanies over a weekend originally intending them to be red but an assistant coloured them blue. Edelmann later said, “I devised a one page, cobbled-up plot – nothing terrifically original – ‘Pepperland’ vs. the ‘Meanies’ in a rough framework. After that, everybody contributed.”

Edelmann was hugely influential in all aspects of the design of the film and the characters. He explained, “A walk formula was necessary to maintain (The Beatles’) characters. George, John and Paul move at 32 frames per second while Ringo – the shortest – plods along at 24. George walks like a cowboy; Paul like a confident young executive; John like a showman and Ringo like a schoolboy Charlie Chaplin.

“Each of The Beatles is characterized by a well-known part of his personality naturally. Paul is introduced as a ‘Mod Mozart’ playing serious music in a museum. George appears out of a haze of Transcendental Meditation, the mystic philosophy he popularized. John, author of In His Own Write, emerges from a classic literary creation and Ringo is pictured as his inimitable self, wandering winsomely by the shore in Liverpool just as he did in A Hard Day’s Night (1964).”

Edelmann was born in Czechoslovakia in 1934. He began his career as a freelance illustrator and designer for theatre posters, and German advertising.

From 1961 – 1969 he was a regular illustrator and cover designer for the internationally renowned youth magazine twen as well as supplying illustrations for other magazines like Playboy. In 1966 he made animated cartoons for the TV series Schaumagazin on the German TV network WDR.

He took the job to work on Yellow Submarine figuring it would last maybe two months but remained in London for roughly a year.

As Edelmann remembered, “I wasn’t nervous at first because I assumed I was going to learn from professionals. But when I came to realize that nobody had any experience in feature films, I started getting worried. The production was totally erratic. Revisions were still made right up to the end.

“As the production went, the story line would not stand up to close scrutiny. So to create some interest, I did try to consciously overload the audience. I thought from the very beginning that the film should be a series of interconnected shorts. The style should vary every five minutes or so to keep the interest going until the end.”

A few months after the premiere of the film Edelmann went home and had a nervous breakdown.

Between 1968-1970, Edelmann was a partner in a small animation company in London but his desire to work on more feature films did not come about. He did animate the opening credits for the late night film TV show Der Phantastische Film (1970) on the German public channel ZDF, as well as an animated film set to the popular song The Girl from Ipanema.

Edlemann told author Hieronimus, “We did about a dozen commercials, a few film titles and almost sold three of the five feature projects I had written.”

In 1970, Edelmann moved to Amsterdam and designed posters for plays, films and book jackets. Starting in 1972, he taught graphic design illustration and lectured at various institutions. He altered his artistic approach for his professional work to avoid being pigeonholed as a psychedelic artist, becoming considerably less ethereal and decorative .

He died in 2009 in Stuttgart of heart disease and kidney failure at the age of 75.

“He became famous because of his work on Yellow Submarine,” said his friend, graphic designer Milton Glaser. “But that celebrity actually obscured his real talent and imagination.”

9 Comments

  • I’ve been awaiting your return to Pepperland. Thanks for further elaboration on the making of this wonderful film.

    I read an interview with Edelmann in which he said that he disliked “Song of the South” — not for any of the usual reasons, but because he felt that animation and live-action shouldn’t mix. Do you know of any other reasons he might have held an animosity towards Disney that manifested itself in the Blue Meanies’ Mouseketeer caps?

  • So I’m guessing that Playboy interview might have been John’s last as he was sadly assonated the month prior.

    • That’s right. Because magazines normally come out a month or more before their cover date, the John Lennon interview was already on newsstands when he was shot. It was not only his last interview, but his longest and most candid, and his optimism and creative plans for the future made it especially heartbreaking.

  • It occurs to me that the “plot” of YELLOW SUBMARINE is another manifestation of a now-classic trope that was arguably first popularized in THE SEVEN SAMURAI (1954): That of “embattled community sends for aid and enlists a motley band of adventurers who rally them to victory over their enemies.” The fact that it’s a trope that has been revisited any number of times since then doesn’t mean it’s derivative, but only that it’s a trope that has and continues to deeply resonate with audiences.

  • Any thoughts on Jack Mendelson’s contribution to the story, and Eidelman frequently being overlooked by people presuming Peter Max had done the design?

  • I was one of the animators on Yellow Sub and can add a few remarks to the above interview. Heinz’s hoped-for “walk formula” for each of the Beatles’ characters was never really implemented – or even suggested to the animators – as scene planning, production deadlines and budget constraints resulted in all 4 characters walking in the same way. Also, the original drawings of the Beatles portrayed them with short thighs and elongated legs below the knee; test animation proved that this gave them an awkward, plodding action, and subtle changes were made for such scenes to give them a more “normal” gait.
    Just as a footnote; the lobby card of Ringo trying on his Sergeant Pepper uniform was taken from one of my scenes, and the scene of the Lord Mayor’s Quartet was inked and painted by my wife Diana – we became engaged during production!

    • I agree, Cam. There’s no sense of personality when characters walked the same way.

  • Coming soon, volume 2 of INSIDE THE YELLOW SUBMARINE, The Making of the Beatles Animated Classic featuring extensive interviews with Cam Ford and many other animators, and answering many of these questions. http://www.yellowsubmarinebook.com.

    • Wonderful! I love your first book. Please keep us posted on it.

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