Heinz Edelmann is most famous for his psychedelic illustrations, several of which were used as designs for the cult animated film 'Yellow Submarine' (1968) starring The Beatles. Edelmann was born in Ústi nad Labem, Czechoslovakia, in 1934 as a child of Czech-German parents. From 1953 on he studied printmaking at the Kunstakademie of Düsseldorf. After his graduation in 1958 he worked as a freelance illustrator and designer, creating posters for Westdeutscher Rundfunk and Klett-Cola. From 1961 on he published in the youth magazine Twen and also provided graphics for Playboy, Capital, Pardon and FAZ-Magazin. His colourful, fluid and stylized illustration work was strongly inspired by Art Nouveau and perfectly appealed to the psychedelica craze of the 1960s. In 1966 he made animated cartoons for the TV series 'Schaumagazin' on the German TV network WDR.
Since Edelmann was such a trendy artist he was asked by British film director George Dunning to participate with a new film starring The Beatles. This would be their third picture since Richard Lester's live-action films 'A Hard Day's Night' (1964) and 'Help!' (1965). Dunning had the idea of making a feature-length animated film with musical segments set to Beatles songs. He asked the band members to voice their own characters, but the Fab Four weren't really interested. They had been adapted into a cartoon TV series before, 'The Beatles' (1965-1969), with Jack Mendelsohn as scriptwriter. Produced by the American network ABC these cartoons were very low-budget. Not only was the animation crude, but the Beatles themselves were simplified into caricatures of their public persona and voiced by American actors unable to do a convincing Liverpudlian accent. Apart from the musical segments - which were actual Beatles songs - John, Paul, George and Ringo had nothing to do with it. They hated these cartoons so much that they downright refused an offer from Walt Disney to appear as vultures in his animated film 'The Jungle Book' (1967), left alone write music for it. Disney solved the matter by having actors imitate their voices. The Sherman Brothers also composed a Beatlesesque song 'We Are Friends', song in barbershop quartet harmonies to be used in the film.
Dunning too wanted to distance himself from the previous Beatles cartoons. And since the band had completely changed their public image by 1967 the task was made much easier for him. The group had just released their groundbreaking psychedelic record 'Sgt. Peppers' Lonely Hearts Club Band' (1967). Much of the film's overall style was influenced by the colourful, hallucinogenic songs and the military uniforms the band members wore on the album cover. Even the photographic cut-outs inspired some of the backgrounds. Still, despite Dunning's intentions, some of his hired crew members had worked on the dreadful ABC Beatles cartoons. Former scriptwriter Jack Mendelsohn was back, as well as voice actor Lance Percival who did Paul and Ringo on the TV series. This time however he voiced the character Old Fred. Edelmann designed all the characters of the upcoming film, including the Beatles, the villainous Blue Meanies and the odd character Jeremy - who was inspired by Wally Fawkes' comic strip 'Flook'. Edelmann also steered the script into the direction of a musical adventure story. 'Yellow Submarine' (1968), as the picture was finally named, featured the Beatles travelling to Pepperland with a yellow submarine to help Sgt. Pepper to save his paradisical country from the music-hating and overly negative Blue Meanies. The film featured highly imaginative backgrounds, psychedelic colours and effects and musical sequences set to Beatles songs, four of which were specifically written for the soundtrack. While the story was child-friendly it did appeal to youngsters too, since the scriptwriters managed to capture The Beatles' ironic and witty banter. The voices were done by actors. John Clive (who later played the man who beats Alex up on stage in the 1971 movie 'A Clockwork Orange') voiced John. Peter Batten did George, Paul Angelis Ringo and Geoffrey Hughes (who'd later play Onslow in 'Keeping Up Appearances' from 1990 to 1995) took the part of Paul. Among the animators who worked on the film were Greg Irons, Norm Drew, Brian Lewis, Jack Stokes, Paul Driessen, Robert Balser and Gerald Potterton. Potterton would later direct the animated cult classic 'Heavy Metal' (1981), where Balser was also an animator.
When the Beatles saw the first rushes they were pleasantly surprised and more eager to participate with the project. Unfortunately the picture was practically finished at that point, so they just had to be content with a brief live-action cameo near the end. 'Yellow Submarine' (1968) opened as only the second British animated feature in history, after John Halas and Joy Batchelor's 'Animal Farm' (1954). It was distributed by United Artists and King Features. Initially it received mixed reviews. Its style was a complete break with traditional animated films. Rather than trying to look slick, realistic and with eye for continuity and perspective everything was animated in a loose style. The Blue Meanies, for instance, sometimes have six fingers on one hand and seven on the other. Some backgrounds make use of photographic cut-outs and live-action stock footage. Various scenes present colourful psychedelic and strobophobic effects, given an extra kick by powerful Beatles songs like 'Nowhere Man', 'Eleanor Rigby', 'All You Need Is Love', 'It's All Too Much' and 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds'. Gradually it developed a cult following and become one of the few revolutionary animated highlights during the so-called 'Dark Age of Animation' (1960-1988). Its influence can be felt in Terry Gilliam's surreal cut-and-paste cartoons for Monty Python, the animated intermezzos in educational children's shows like 'Sesame Street' (1969), 'The Electric Company' (1971-1977) and 'Schoolhouse Rock!' (1973-2009), Cal Schenkel's animated short in Frank Zappa's '200 Motels' (1971), Alan Aldridge's 'The Butterfly Ball' music video set to Roger Glover's hit 'Love Is All' (1975) and the overall work of Ralph Bakshi and Sally Cruikshank. Matt Groening paid homage to it in The Simpsons episode 'Last Exit to Springfield' (1993) when Lisa is under narcosis at the dentist. In a 'Powerpuff Girls' episode, 'Meet the Beat-alls' (2001), by Craig McCracken the characters from 'Yellow Submarine' also make an appearance. In 1968 'Yelow Submarine' was also adapted into an official comic book for Gold Key Comics, drawn by José Delbo.
While 'Yellow Submarine' increased Edelmann's notability he didn't enjoy being pigeonholed as 'The Beatles' designer'. He drastically changed his style and chose for a lower profile as a teacher in industrial design at the Fachhochschule in Düsseldorf (1972-1976) and lectured in art and design at a similar school in Köln. 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 song 'The Girl from Ipanema' by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Astrud Gilberto. He remained active as a book illustrator for fantasy and SF novels such as 'Andromedar SR1', 'Lord of the Rings' and 'Wind in the Willows'. During the 1980s and early 1990 he illustrated visual essays and made satirical cartoons and illustrations for the Sunday editions of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and other German magazines. In 1989 he became professor of illustration at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart. He also designed the official mascot of the World's Fair of Seville (1992): 'Curro'. In 2004 he published a graphic novel, 'The Incredible!', described on the backcover as follows: "German illustrator Heinz Edelmann, born in 1934, refuses to take part in the twenty-first century. He lives in 1999, indefinitely. In his graphic novel The Incredible, Edelmann records bombs dropping and media battles raging, unaware of their political or economic reason, and all in what might have passed for a breezy style circa 1955." Edelmann's work has been exhibited in Europe, the United States and Japan. Edelmann died of heart failure in 2009.