Hollywood artist David Russell on the art of storyboarding

David Russell has designed concepts and storyboards for more than 80 films. We talked to him about his career and advice he has for aspiring artists – ahead of a special workshop for Hyper Island students.

How did you get started with the work you’re doing today?

“In my teens I intended to become a comic book artist. Jack Kirby was a major influence. And later, a book and magazine illustrator. I’ve worked in both disciplines, but film is my preferred medium. I began my film career working as a TV animation storyboard artist. However, I quickly became bored with this field, so when the chance to join a film company beckoned I took it. Luckily, that first film happened to be Return of the Jedi.”v

Please describe the work of a storyboard artist.

“Your job is to create a visual narrative of the script, which then can act as a shooting guide for the entire production team. The storyboard artist works as a kind of auxiliary brain for the director, helping he or she to realise the film they envision.”

What is the difference between a storyboard artist and other types of artist?

“The concept artist creates a series of key illustrations – often in full colour – which help establish the look and mood of the film. Many storyboard artists also work as concept illustrators. Although games often have strong, narrative spines, the pace of the storytelling wildly differs from that of film. In recent years there’s been good cross-pollination between the two mediums, and this will continue.”

What advice can you give budding storyboard artists?

“Digital storyboard software will continue to simplify and improve the technical requirements, but a certain level of focused creative intensity will always be required to design memorable films. It really doesn’t matter how an individual artist creates a storyboard, as long as the work meets the stipulated criteria. I find great expressive possibilities in both digital and traditional mediums. Study the techniques of current and past master directors, learn as much as possible about the function of the camera, practice and constantly hone your technical skills.”

About David Russell

David Russell has designed concepts and storyboards for more than 80 Hollywood films, including Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), The Thin Red Line (1998), Batman (1989), Moulin Rouge (2001), The Wolverine (2013), Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017), The Meg (2018).