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Robert Balser, Beatles Animation Director, Dies

Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Robert Balser, animation director for the BeatlesYellow Submarine film, died on Monday (Jan. 4) after suffering respiratory failure. He was 88.

Balser later produced television’s Jackson Five cartoon series, and directed the inventive “Den” segment of 1981’s Heavy Metal, among other notable projects. But Yellow Submarine, with its eye-popping color palette, quippy dialogue, outlandish characters and psychedelic imagery, stands as his most notable achievement.

He oversaw, along with Jack Stokes, a crew of some 200 artists as they created the film through a series of hand-drawn images over an 11-month period. They had a stunning amount of creative control, as work continued at London’s modest TVC animation studios in the summer 1967 without anything resembling a script. Ultimately, they based the narrative on a loose interpretation of Beatles songs, completing the work on a budget of less than $1 million.

“The final script was typed up a week before the premiere,” Balser told The Miami Herald in 2012. “It’s not a way to make a film – and whenever I’ve given lectures and seminars to talk about film planning, I make that damn clear. The fact it worked was one in a million.”

What emerged was one of the era’s most distinctive movies – and one of its most enjoyable. Years later, Balser screened Yellow Submarine, and “I thought, ‘This is a real fun film,'” he said. “That’s the thing I think will keep it going for a long time. It’s a really, really fun film.”

Balser also co-created the animated title sequence at the end of 1956’s Around the World in 80 Days, along with Saul Bass. His 1979 telefilm The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe won an Emmy. Later, he oversaw ’80s-era episodes of The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show.

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