What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Ron Russell and I am a background painter for Adventure Time at Cartoon Network.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Probably the craziest one was Hamburger Taster. When I was in my early 20s, I worked for a market research company for a (very) short time. It was my job to rate the food at different Carl’s Jr.’s. Each day they would give me a stack of cash, a list of locations, and some survey forms. I was supposed to order the same thing at each restaurant and rate the food. At the end of the day I would give them the surveys and receipts. After the first day, I stopped tasting the food and took it all home to my roommate at the time, who was unemployed.They called the position “Mystery Shopper,” but I called it “Hamburger Taster.” I haven’t eaten at Carl’s Jr. since.I also worked at a record store and a couple of bookstores before I went to art school.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
The two that stand out for me are Mighty B! and Adventure Time. The crews on both of these projects are/were full of incredibly talented people. and fun. and nice.
How did you become interested in animation?
Well, like almost everyone I know, I grew up watching a lot of cartoons. I really loved them, but never considered it to be a real thing that you could do (or that I could, anyway.) So, I just watched and read about them and admired the art. My favorites were, and still are Popeye and anything Jay Ward. I also have a really strong memory of my mom taking me to see The Jungle Book when it came out in 1967…I was 5. It really knocked me out.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I grew up in Southern California. I went to art school in Chicago, where I was painting and screenprinting. My concentration was painting, so I wasn’t really considering the animation business or working toward it. But, I still liked the cartoons. After I finished school, I moved back to Los Angeles and started working at an internet company as a web designer (this was the early days of the internet ’95-’96), which I hated. A friend was working as a BG painter at one of the studios. He called one day and asked, “Would you be interested in painting backgrounds for animation?” to which I replied, “Hell yes.” I took the test and got the job and I’ve been doing it ever since. What they did not tell me when I took the job was that I would be laid off in 4 months! That was my introduction to the “hiatus.” So, getting into the animation business was sort of a fluke, for me.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Calm on the outside, not on the inside. No, it’s really a good situation on AT. The Art Director will give me my section of the episode at the beginning of the week. We talk about it a little bit…story points, times of day, special lighting situations, etc. Then I get to it and I don’t see him again until I hand off the work to him. On a typical day, I’m sitting there working and listening to music. A couple of people on the crew have given me a hard time because I keep my door closed. Just about everyone leaves their door open…I think I’m the only one. It’s not an exclusive kind of thing. I just like my quiet time.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Quiet time. I like researching, because I get to watch a lot of cartoons. Meeting new and amazing people on each new project is really good.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Sitting down all day, every day, because it is unhealthy. Tight deadlines, because rushing the work is stressful for me. We can’t always make things look they way that we would like…sometimes we just have to bang it out. That can be demeaning, in a way.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Having to look for a new job every time a production comes to an end. It sucks.
Long stretches without work are very difficult! I had one long stretch. After Invader Zim was cancelled, I couldn’t find work for a year. This was also soon after 9/11 when everything had tanked. That was a rough year. But, I have been very lucky and working pretty steadily other than that. Another difficult thing is that the schedules for TV animation seem to be getting shorter and shorter.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
An iMac, a Cintiq, and headphones.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Every day! Let’s see…I met Gary Owens.
Really, I could give a shout-out list of people I have worked with or currently work with, who I consider to be greats. Should I?
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I’d rather not.
Any side projects you’re working on you’d like to share details of?
I play the bass.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
So hard for me to say, because I happened into it by chance. I think internships are a great thing. Many of the interns I’ve seen at Nick and Cartoon Network end up being hired there. Really, hang out where the animation people hang out, because a large part of it is getting to know the people who already do it. Go to the smaller comic conventions like APE in San Francisco. Talk to people. Listen to people….the listening part is probably more important.