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Farewell to Another of Yellow Submarine’s Beautiful People: David Elvin, Background Artist

Tribute by Dr. Robert R. Hieronimus

David and Lucy Elvin in 2005

In 2005 I had the privilege of interviewing several co-creators on the Yellow Submarine who were new to me, and not discovered until after I published what was supposed to be the definitive book on this trendsetting film. (Inside the Yellow Submarine, 2002 from Krause Publications). We enjoyed an extensive interview with David and Lucy Elvin and recorded their memories of working on this film as girlfriend and boyfriend, and we look forward to including their complete transcript in a revised and expanded edition of Inside the Yellow Submarine that will be published some day. Sadly we learned a few years ago that David was diagnosed with a fast-moving cancer, and just recently he passed on to the spirit world. Farewell brother David.

One of Heinz Edelmann’s early concept designs for the Sea of Monsters, courtesy of David Elvin.

Born in London in 1943 David began his art training at the School of Art and Design Southend on Sea in Essex, and then St Martin's School of Art and Design in London. Straight out of school, David began working as a background artist at Halas and Batchelor, London's leading animation studio. In 1967 he went freelance and joined the production team on Yellow Submarine and his life was never the same.

His directing screen credits include Nora and the Magic Tree (2001/2); The Christmas Stocking’s Christmas (2001/3); Tadpoles (2001); 3 Friends and Jerry (1999); Ugly Duckling (1997); Bimbles Bucket (1994); Digit 'n' Dawson (1995); The Pink Man (1981/86). His Storyboarding credits include Ugly Duckling, Snow Queen’s Revenge, Renada, Bimbles Bucket, Avenger Penguins, Creepy Crawlies, Captain Zed and the Zee Zone, Duckula, Saggy Baggy Elephant, 3 Friends and Jerry, Horace the Hippo (Nini’s Tree House), The World of Tosh, Nora & the Magic Tree, Sergeant Stripes, Pilots TV Series - Forever Friends, Orson Cart, Digit 'n' Dawson, Pongwiffy. For layout, his screencredits include Feature Films - Ducktales the Movie (Treasure of the Lost Lamp), Heavy Metal, Dick Deadeye, Princess and the Goblins. TV Specials - Ugly Duckling, April Pooh, Jack and the Beanstalk, Father Christmas, Prince Cinders, The Baskerville Curse, David Copperfield. TV Series - Captain Caveman, Monty, Bunbury Tales, The Large Family, Scooby-Doo, The Family Ness, Telebugs, Ozmo, Juniper Jungle, Partridge Family 2000, Captain Cactus, Bill Body, Satellite City, The Buford Files, The Herculiods, Orson Cart, The Super Globetrotters, The Magic Box, The Osmonds, Caribou Kitchen, The Shoe People, Fred Basset, Music Makers. And for Backgrounds David worked on the following: Feature Films- Yellow Submarine, TV Series- Dodo, The Lone Ranger, The Jackson Five, Tomfoolery, Orson Cart, The Pink Man.

David Elvin and Lucy Roberts (later Lucy Elvin) in 1966 on a haystack during a picnic in rural Essex.

His list of studios reads like a who’s who of animation companies including Disney Features, Martin Gates Productions, TV Cartoons, Halas and Batchelor, Fairwater Films, Bill Melendez, Ealing Animation, Collingwood Productions, Rankin-Bass, ICA, Siriol, Burbank Films, Bob Godfrey Films, Maddocks Animation, Telemagination, Manga, Best Films, CEL, Hahn Film, Hanna-Barbera, Animation City, Cosgrove Hall, BBC, Varga TVC, Happy Life, Disney TV, Colorpop, Hog’s Back Films, A-Works TV. But he worked overseas a lot, too in Seoul South Korea, Manila Philippines, Australia, Hungary, Germany and Sweden.

David Elvin taught animation for 10 years at SouthEast Essex College of Art & Technology and was a visiting lecturer at Norwich and Bournemouth art schools.

One of my favorite stories David told me was how he created the heroes we see inside Ringo’s house in a scene early in the movie. Although hired as a background artist, he explained that like everyone on the crew, he was often called in to do other work, as well. “I was a background artist but when the cameras were waiting for those cels, it was ‘all hands to the pump.’ Anyone that could, doubled up as a cel painter.” He fondly recalls working on the scene inside Ringo’s house where he was given “complete freedom on the room with the celebrity statues. This was all my own work. The only stipulation came from King Features. I wanted a superhero and King Features said fine, as long as it was ‘The Phantom,’ one of theirs.”

Lucy Elvin remembers: "Whilst working on Yellow Submarine I was asked to pose for some photographs by an American photographer. I had to pretend to be editing by holding some footage up to the light whilst biting it. About four or five pictures were taken but I've never seen them until one of me popped up in an article on YS in Mojo magazine in October 1999."

Iain Cowan, Kate Cowan, and Lucy Roberts (later Lucy Elvin) – some of the beautiful Submarine people. This photo was taken during a short Easter break away from the Sub in 1968 on a vintage bicycle tour of Somerset in the West of England. The bikes dated from the 1890s. Yellow Submarine fans should recognize the face of clean-up artist Iain Cowan, who appears repeatedly as the man in the bubbles in the Sea of Time during the “When I’m 64” sequence.

Elvin got his then-girlfriend and later wife, Lucy, a job as a trace and paint artist on the Submarine, and she remembers the rollicking times at Knightway House, overlooking Soho Square. With over 200 on the crew at its highpoint, many of them art students bussed in for overnight shifts, Knightway House sometimes felt like “a continuous party,” said David Elvin. “The trace and paint floor really rocked. All the latest music blasting forth 24 hours a day.” Lucy added that, “periodically the door would open, a head would peer round and call ‘Anybody got Paul's left leg?’ or ‘Any more of John's right arm?’ The fact that the Beatles Sgt. Pepper uniforms were all painted with different colored sleeves on the jackets and trouser legs made getting it right essential.” Like many others on the project, Lucy lamented the impact of technology on animation, noting that “tracing and painting by individuals is almost a thing of the past, sadly.”

“This was the late sixties when skirts were really short and hair on both sexes, pretty long,” added Lucy Elvin. “We were, after all, the ‘Beautiful People’ -- even the men were beautiful, as I recall. It was a trendy place to be, and most of the workers on Yellow Submarine reflected the current and colorful fashions. It was Fab…. The atmosphere was generally one of flourishing and enjoyable creativity.”

Inside the Yellow Submarine by Robert R. Hieronimus, Ph.D. with Laura Cortner is available at Autographed copies and related items can be purchased from

Dear Bob,

Thank you so much for sending me your tribute to David - it's wonderful. I am so pleased that he will be remembered for all his hard work in animation - a job that he loved. I have read it carefully and I'm sure David would approve. A lot of people within our animation circle have asked me about this tribute and now I look forward to sharing it with them. Thanks also for your good wishes and kind words, they are a great comfort to me and our family.


Lucy Elvin