Austin Wright animated on an Emmy-winning Netflix show
KELOWNA, B.C. — When Austin Wright graduated from Lynden Christian High School, he had his sights set on cars.
The son of Eunice and Doug Wright grew up in Lynden until his family moved to Custer in 2000. After his high school graduation in 2007, Austin headed to Bellingham Technical College to become an automotive technician. He had no idea that 10 years later, he’d be working on an animation project that would win him and his team an Emmy.
Wright graduated from BTC in its automotive tech program and went to work for Marlin’s Automotive Service south of Lynden. He spent about five years there and eventually decided that he didn’t enjoy working on cars for a living.
He did, however, love to draw cartoons. Wright loved movies like “Toy Story” and television cartoons like “Tom and Jerry” and the ones produced by Hanna-Barbera.
“When I was in high school, I would just get so distracted that I couldn’t focus, so I would draw in the textbooks, as if they were little flip books in my math and English books,” he said. “I usually got in trouble for doing that.”
With the help of his mother, Wright made the decision to pursue his art.
“I always loved drawing comic strips and just doodling cartoons,” he said. “My mom had been doing a lot of research with me just trying to figure out where to go, just to make a job out of this.”
He decided to attend the Vancouver Institute of Media Arts, also known as VanArts. He studied 3D animation there and when he graduated, he was immediately hired on at Bardel Entertainment right in the British Columbia metropolis.
Eventually, Wright and his wife, Katie, decided that the big-city life wasn’t for them. Luckily, Bardel had a remote studio in Kelowna, about 240 miles east of Vancouver on the shores of Okanagan Lake.
“Kelowna is about the size of Bellingham, so it felt a little more like home,” Wright said.
Austin and Katie Wright now live in Kelowna with their 3-year-old daughter, Alena, and 10-month-old son, Noah.
At Bardel, he has worked mostly on Netflix properties, including “Dinotrux,” “Dinotrux Supercharged” and, most recently, “The Dragon Prince.” The latter recently won a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Animated Program, and Wright displays his certificate proudly.
He said a lot goes into producing shows like “Dinotrux” and “The Dragon Prince,” and it’s very much a team effort.
“I tried to kind of work on my own because I have such a passion for making cartoons, but making it all yourself is so much work that it’s just kind of overwhelming,” Wright said.
On these Netflix productions, he works with an entire production team, including editorial staff, a director, lighters and the client commissioning the work.
For his part, Wright focuses on animating specific characters.
“I just focus on how the character moves and how the character acts,” he said. “Essentially, I get to be an actor, but I do it all behind a computer. I’m essentially putting all my acting into a puppet. We’ll tend to find reference from other movies or something that the client wants the character to act like or look like.”
Wright finds joy in taking a flat, lifeless character and making it move and live.
He said winning the Daytime Emmy award was a little strange, as animation work often has a very long lead time between the animation and the final product reaching viewers. On “The Dragon Prince,” for example, Wright worked mostly in 2018, wrapping animation in February 2019.
“Most of my stuff didn’t come out until 2020 or at the end of 2019 even,” he said.
Wright recently moved on from Bardel, joining the Vancouver-based ICON Creative Studio. He can’t yet talk about the still-secret project he’s working on, but ICON allows for remote work, so the Wright family has stayed in Kelowna.
Wright said he likes to reflect on the road he took to get where he is today and all the people who helped him long.
“It was really cool how God put so many people on my path of life in that moment just to kind of lead me to where I am today,” he said.