This is one of five articles on Letraset products which are not Action Transfers, but which should be of interest nevertheless.
You can get from each article to any of the others by following these links; they are all worth a look.
Production of the Beatles film "Yellow Submarine" was carried out by TVC in a variety of animation offices in London from November 1967 to July 1968, for Subafilms / King Features. The film première took place at the London Pavilion in Piccadilly Circus, on 16th July 1968.
The Letraset Special sheet was commissioned to speed up work on the many scenes in which the Submarine would swim about onscreen at a fairly small size. The aim was to save time, which was extremely limited, & the commission would have come fairly late on in production.
The images of the Submarine were taken from photographs of a reference model.
Steve Acworth says:
"1967. For the Beatles' film Yellow Submarine cell frame unit transfer system. Part of my work at Letraset Ltd. There was a set of images for every different view as the thing rotated and swam about. I did 'em all. That was a buzz…"
An abridged excerpt from the book "String" by Steven R. M. Acworth ©2006:
"I was… a layout and retouching lettering artist at Letraset Ltd., Waterloo (as it was then). My… claim to fame was to have been the guy who cut the colour separation master artwork photo-positives used for the animation cells to make the Beatles' cartoon film "Yellow Submarine". This was all done with Letraset "instant transfers" to make the task of animation easier and quicker. Purely a mechanical and non-creative reprographic job."
"Although at the time I was an accomplished lettering artist, through my work at Letraset Ltd., in the mid to late 60's, the training I had received was mostly relevant to Silk Screen Process stencil cutting, a trade that was well and truly obsolete by the 1980s."
Steve's reminiscences are very interesting: you can read them online at his site, Sparkspin.
(N.B.: the "Sparkspin" link has now been removed, since his site is no longer at that address.)
There are five spot colours, which would have been a bit of a stretch for a silkscreen press. Steve left Letraset when they departed for Ashford (after the film première); but since the first gravure job was the Parein Tintin transfers which were advertised in April 1968, the Yellow Submarine sheet must almost certainly have been silkscreen.
To corroborate this, comparison of the sheet (using the various photos available) with the relative aspect ratios of Crown & RA2 sheets suggests that it's the latter, so I think we have a winner: RA2 was the sheet size of the Svecia press.
(The ratio of Crown is 0.75, RA2 is 0.7, & the sheets I've seen appear to be 0.69, which is as close as one might hope!)
The above image is courtesy of eBay Seller c20th, who unfortunately is no longer on eBay. (c20th, please get in touch if you read this!)
All the following were very kindly sent in by Tony Pooley, who says:
"To save time in the animation process, sheets of letraset were produced covering often repeated characters/items in the film. Instead of drawing, tracing and painting the submarine, the Letraset could be simply rubbed down onto cell reducing the process. The sheet contains approx. 150 submarines sizing between 7mm and 6cm. It has a Letraset number of Sheet S10064 with an additional code number of B1790 on the opposite edge of the sheet. The sheet itself measures 39cm x 26cm. There is a light blue backing sheet with the item.
"For authenticity and originality: The sheet was given to me by my father who worked for many years in the animation industry. Please google search "Maurice Pooley" for a list of many of his credits. He did not personally work on the film, but knew many people who did.
"My old man remembers them being discarded around various animation studio floors! From the stories I've heard and the animators I met throughout the 80's, the industry was fueled by booze and whatever other substances so keeping what would become historical items wasn't really a priority!!"
This sheet is particularly interesting to me, since not only is it one of Letraset's finest achievements, but also Yellow Submarine is one of my very favourite films. I've done quite a bit of checking, & the only other sheets reproduced anywhere all have at least one transfer missing — so perhaps this is the only complete sheet left!
Years go by; then a very kind but anonymous benefactor got in touch with a set of professional photos of their sheet, which has only a dozen missing transfers.
Using these & the previous material, I've been able to recreate the entire sheet:
The Yellow Submarine Special Sheet is divided into sections; the main section (shown tinted yellow, below) contains subs firstly numbered from 1 to 48, then 1A to 8A, & finally 1B to 8B — plus four more un-numbered subs for general use, totalling 68 transfers. This section is then printed again, reduced to half-size (shown in red). Finally, there are eleven more general purpose subs (in green). That's 147 Yellow Submarines in all.
The numbered transfers 1 to 48 show the submarine from different horizontal angles in rotation at roughly the same distance; this enables animation of the submarine turning or spinning.
Transfers 1A to 8A show the submarine head on, approaching the viewer (although in reverse numbering; 8A is the smallest).
Transfers 1B to 8B show the submarine from behind, receding from the viewer.
Steve Ackworth's hand-numbering is not exceptionally legible, but it did the job!
I am pleased to announce, for the first time since 1968, a new animation using the Letraset Yellow Submarine Special Sheet!
It's 105 frames, using all the full-size numbered transfers (1-48) plus 1A-8A & 1B-8B in both sizes. So it shows off all the available poses.
For extra psychedelic enjoyment. here's a posterised version in two colours:
(By the way, the original animators would have painted in the propellors by hand; I haven't done that here!)
N.B.: this sheet & these animations represent A LOT of hard work, & of course they are copyrighted: please don't use them without a proper credit & link.
Picture Credit: The SPLAT Scan Archives — Tony Pooley
© Tom Vinelott 2023