Joy Keys chats with Film Illustrator David Russell

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Exhibiting the sensitivity which guided him throughout the lengthy process of developing Red Tails, George Lucas invited illustrator David Russell in 2008 to design key action sequences in the film, including the powerful opening attack scene.  Russell, whose father James C. Russell was a decorated Tuskegee Airman, was understandably thrilled to work on the production.  In designing these sequences Russell wanted to make the viewers feel they were “in the cockpit”, and brought his considerable storytelling abilities to bear, enhanced by his father’s exciting wartime experiences.  And the Seattle Post Intelligencer critic Tim Hall writes: “What does work for Red Tails is the intense action sequences. Each dogfight puts you right in the cockpit with the pilots.”The Variety senior film critic Peter Debruge described these airborne scenes as “dazzling.”  

Lucas gave David Russell his first industry break on Return of the Jedi.  Russell went on to become one of top Hollywood concept and storyboard illustrators.  A master of visual storytelling, his remarkable list of credits includes Paradise Lost, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Voyage of the Dawn Treader, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Moulin Rouge, Master and Commander, The Thin Red Line, Tombstone, Terminator2: Judgement Day, Batman and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  

In 1985, Russell became the first African-American to be admitted to the Illustrator’s and Matte Artist’s Union, courtesy of Lucas’ good friend Steven Spielberg, who hired the artist on The Color Purple, another groundbreaking film.

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