RUSSELL: I left Marvel to work as the storyboard supervisor for Nelvana's THE DROIDS show. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Shortly after leaving that production I was hired by Steven Spielberg to board THE COLOR PURPLE. This job broke me into the Illustrators' Union, and thereafter I focused exclusively on live-action films.
TCC: One might be rather reluctant to "mess" with work one did at various points in one's career, but if you could, is there anything that you would have changed about THE TRANSFORMERS or perhaps added to it?
RUSSELL: The show would have been better had it been fully produced in the U.S.; outsourcing to Asia was never a good idea. Additionally, the writers were cramped by restrictions in character development, establishment of mood, multiple storylines, etc. Oh, well, THE TRANSFORMERS was designed to sell toys, not to stand as work of cinematic art. It is a credit to the creative team that the show exceeded these limitations and evolved into something special.
TCC: Was the show at all helpful to your career, or were you already more than sufficiently well known for having worked on high-profile films like RETURN OF THE JEDI?
RUSSELL: It was not helpful in advancing my live-action film career, but it did add to my knowledge of the storytelling process.
TCC: Recent years have seen a development where there is less original animation in the U.S. and more animated series on "import" from places like Japan and Korea. In light of that, the chances of another original-animation TRANSFORMERS series are doubtless small, but if you were offered to do a series like that again, what might your response be?
RUSSELL: I'm afraid I am too focused on live-action filmmaking to consider a TV animation assignment.
"Can we help?"
RUSSELL: There have been many high points, in particular RETURN OF THE JEDI, BATMAN, THE THIN RED LINE, THE COLOR PURPLE, WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?, and MOULIN ROUGE.
TCC: On a slightly more personal note, you're originally from California, but several years back you relocated to Australia, where you have continued to work on both local and international productions. What called you to embrace the land down under?
RUSSELL: In 1993, I was hired onto a Martin Campbell film, NO ESCAPE, which was shot in Australia. I accompanied the production, which was based at Warner's Studios in Queensland. I found myself quite charmed by the land and the people, and was particularly fascinated by the Aboriginal culture. When the assignment ended I went back to Los Angeles, but returned to Australia three years later, this time to stay.
Like Norway, Australia is an egalitarian society; this is primarily due to the influence of the indigenous Aboriginals. I find Australia to be a very congenial place. The land itself is fascinating; this is an ancient continent, and humans have made a relatively small imprint here. Politically, it is rather more intensely democratic than the U.S., which I find stimulating.
"Sure is a lot different than Cybertron out here!"
Nevertheless, it was a big decision to leave the U.S. and start again on a new continent. However, as a student of history, I began to note even in the late eighties that the U.S. was experiencing a simultaneous rise in latent fascism and fundamentalist Christianity. By the early nineties, these trends had conjoined with reckless militarism as well. At that point I decided that the U.S. society was degenerating, and, sadly, events have proven this conclusion accurate.
The Australian Dreamtime continues; this is a society full of possibilities. Unfortunately, the American dream has largely faded away. Following the remarkable events of September 11, 2001, Americans have awakened to discover that their society is actually based upon rampant militarism, global economic exploitation, and delusionary religious concepts. It has been difficult for many Americans to reconcile this, and there is a tendency to regard people such as George W. Bush as an aberration, when in fact such persons are a true mirror of the country and its calamitous policies. Once this unpleasant reality is faced, the society can move forward, but at present I see no signs of this occurring.
RUSSELL: Noting the lack of quality storyboard education in film schools, I began holding occasional seminars to fill this gap. There is now considerable interest from many parts of the globe, and this year I am scheduled to present seminars in Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, Budapest, Oslo, and Stavanger.
TCC: You've certainly covered a lot of ground in your career. Big Hollywood movies, mainstream animation, book illustrations, computer games, and you're a novelist, to boot. So, what does David Russell want to do that he hasn't done yet?
RUSSELL: Writing (screenplays, short stories) has always been an interest, but has now become a primary focus. At present I am completing my first novel, HIDDEN MAGIC, an urban fantasy. It will be released this year, to be followed in 2005 by a sequel. I also expect to become involved with one or two film productions this year.
I have been invited to exhibit my film art next year at the Paris Cinematheque, and look forward to this occasion. Additionally, a book on my work and career is now being prepared in France, which is a complex undertaking.
TCC: Is there anything you would like to say to the fans?
RUSSELL: You have made THE TRANSFORMERS an iconic show for all the right reasons. It is personally satisfying to have been part of the show's evolution, and, like my fellow storyboard artists, I feel that it was well worth the effort.
TCC: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions, David, and a very special thanks for the Optimus Prime portrait! I wish you every continued success in the future.
RUSSELL: Thank you. It's been a pleasure. Keep up your own good work!
For more information on David Russell's work, visit www.storyboardart.com, his official website. Launched in 2002, it includes an overview of his most significant credits, a wholesome portfolio of his evocative storyboards, concept illustrations, interviews, and information about his storyboard seminars.