RUSSELL: When the Lucasfilm experience ended, I returned to Los Angeles to pursue other film projects. However, I continued to work in animation, and joined the TRANSFORMERS production in 1984 -- an old friend, Bob Kline, having mentioned that Marvel was looking for storyboard artists for the show.
Bob -- an exceptional artist -- also arranged my first Hollywood storyboarding assignment on the BLACKSTAR show.
TCC: What was it like to be one of the artists who essentially created the show's visual foundation?
RUSSELL: It was quite a challenge. I ended up working on a number of episodes: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE, TRANSPORT TO OBLIVION, ROLL FOR IT!, FIRE IN THE SKY, S.O.S. DINOBOTS, and FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN.1
1 Russel's second-season credits will be added at a later date, once he has been able to review his SEASON TWO storyboards and ascertain the episodes to which he contributed.
TCC: Who were the people with whom you mainly worked?
RUSSELL: Nelson Shin was my supervisor. His was a thankless job. Trying to get each TRANSFORMERS show in the can on time wasn't easy, and the pressure on the supervisor was enormous. Still, everyone realized that something special was being created.
TCC: What was it like working at the Marvel facility from a creative viewpoint? How would you describe the environment, and what was a typical working day?
RUSSELL: It was a lot of fun. Animation houses of that sort were always a bit hectic, and could be tense. It was a 9-5 job, though the days often seemed longer! Many artists, including myself, were motivated to do our best work, and the exercise of creativity smoothed many rough patches.
I was in a bullpen with Vic Dalchele and Gregg Davidson, both talented artists. Wendell Washer and George Goode were also doing great boards, but worked as freelancers. Each of us had to do a lot of problem solving. The characters were tough to draw, and the action-packed scripts demanded careful visual planning.
"Time makes all things possible."
TCC: Did you storyboard entire episodes or did you mostly work on selected portions of an episode?
RUSSELL: Only portions. The scripts were way too dense for a single artist to be able to board within the tight deadlines.
TCC: Could you give me an estimate of how large a portion of any given episode you would be able to storyboard?
RUSSELL: About one-quarter to one-third of a script could be handled by a single artist.
RUSSELL: All of the artists brought their particular style and vision to their storyboards. George had a nice sense of mood, and Wendell a good eye for composition. The storyboard artists rarely created hardware or environment designs, though sometimes the work in the boards themselves would influence such designs.
TCC: How long did you have to finish a set of storyboards?
RUSSELL: Hmm... I think each show had to be completed within a month. Whatever the situation, the pressure was always on to speed up the process. The producers did realize that this was an unusually complex show, and granted some leeway in deadlines.
TCC: How much influence would you say that you had on the shaping of the episodes that you storyboarded?
RUSSELL: Like the other artists, quite a bit. There were always some changes, but many sequences that I designed made it to the screen with little alteration.
"You should be proud."
TCC: Storyboards always appear to be done in a fairly simple black and white style. Do the established colour schemes of characters and environments make any difference to how a set of storyboards can turn out?
RUSSELL: Not really. This is not something the board artists ever had to concern themselves with, except on special occasions.
TCC: Assuming that you saw the finalized episodes you had a hand in, how did the finished work match up to your take on them?
RUSSELL: Overall, pretty well. I always hoped for a greater display of animation skill, and less frantic pacing, but...
TCC: Of the episodes you worked on, would you be able to cite any favourites?
RUSSELL: I'm a bit partial to FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN.
RUSSELL: I would say the characters themselves, because films are about people -- or should be.
TCC: In that case, did any of the TRANSFORMERS characters stand out for you? Did any of them inspire you artistically?
RUSSELL: I did like the characters of Optimus Prime, Megatron, Jazz, and Starscream, each of whom lended themselves to dramatic posing.
TCC: I can certainly detect your liking for Optimus Prime in the all-new portrait that you kindly created of him for this interview. I think it has a wonderfully sinister atmosphere and I can't recall ever seeing more character in his comparatively non-descript facial features. Can I get you to share with me what materials you used to create it?
RUSSELL: I used a white prismacolor pencil on black paper, a technique I first utilized for some of my BATMAN concept work and storyboards. The technique is always dramatic, and seemed appropriate for the moody image I was seeking to create.
"Very pleasing to my optic sensors."