Career

I'm the animator who can't draw

Chrissy Metge, 37, of Auckland, works in animation and writes children’s books.

"My son Hunter, who is now two, was born six weeks early – on my last day at Weta Workshop.

They literally sent my leaving flowers to the hospital! I’d had the idea for my books for a while, but up until then, I hadn’t done anything about it. As a premature baby, Hunter slept a lot, so I grabbed the opportunity to start writing.

My nephew Max and the way he saw the world inspired the first Max and His Big Imagination book. The latest one is dedicated to Hunter, and came from his love of cars and a cardboard box. He can spend hours doing things with a box.

I combined those two interests and came up with the story about Max imagining competing in a car race.

Dmitry Chizhov, the illustrator, is based in Russia. I found him on an online artists’ base. He had posted some amazing artwork and he’s been along for the ride ever since. He’s great, I’m really lucky.

I’ve never asked how old he is, which is funny, but I think he’s in his late twenties. The woman who lays out my books is a stay-at-home mum in South Africa, so it’s an international process.

I’ve worked in the animation field for 18 years, but I can’t draw! You wouldn’t want me on your Pictionary team. I started off doing a Bachelor of Computing, but dropped out after I found out there was an animation college in Auckland.

I did the Diploma in 3D Computer Animation in 2001. It was the second-ever class. I was one of only three females in my class of about 20.

The animation industry was almost non-existent back then, so I did a lot of temping, a lot of office work and a year of working for free before I got my first full-time paid job on bro’Town, as a digital ink and paint artist.

That was in 2004, the same year my husband Russell, who is a Lieutenant Commander with the Royal New Zealand Navy, and I got married. He got posted to Afghanistan for about six months just after that, which was a bit scary.

I moved into ’front of house’, which involves managing teams and overseeing the whole animation process. I ended up on the Gold Coast as production coordinator for Roadshow Productions, then it was back to New Zealand to work on The WotWots, which was a Weta Workshop production.

I used to have to walk past a giant rabbit, a wall of weapons and a cabinet of skulls to get to the toilet there! After that, I went to Sydney to head the animation crew working on Zac Snyder’s Legends of the Guardians for two years.

I was then offered the choice of working on Happy Feet 2 or heading up the animation department at LucasFilm animation studio in Singapore. I did that and managed some of the best talent in the industry working on Strange Magic, which was George Lucas’ first fully animated feature film.

Russell was doing his Masters while we were in Singapore. He left the navy for a couple of years so I could pursue my overseas career, but we had ageing parents and missed our families, so I got a job at Weta and we came home.

I did 10 movies there, including The Hobbit trilogy, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and The Jungle Book, which won an Oscar for best visual effects.

I’ve been chipping away at a New Zealand-China co-production for the last two years. I can’t tell you what it is because it’s a secret, but it’s really exciting. It’s created more than 100 jobs across Auckland and Wellington, which is great.

I love that I am able to give something back because we have such incredibly talented people here.

I’ve always worked with crazy, creative people and I’m still doing that, juggling the books and animation. I’m not in any hurry with my books. I’m not in it to make millions. I do quite small publishing runs – usually around 300 each time, although with the third one, I did 100. And I’ve just re-printed the first one, so that’s quite a milestone.

I test all the books on Hunter. I get a proof done and read that to him for a couple of months, and if it’s not working, I’ll fix it before it goes to print.

He’s quite funny about them at the moment. We were in a bookshop in Auckland, which stocks them, and I almost had to buy a copy of my own book so we could leave. He sees them as ’his’ books.

People have been asking me for a girls’ book, so I’ve been working on that for the last little while. It’s called Amy’s Dream Adventures.

Amy’s the name of my niece. It will be bigger and longer than the Max ones – it’s a rhyming one with unicorns, fairies and lots of pretty things."

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