‘Comics Kickstarted My Dream Career’
The London-based Kiwi creative says Footrot Flats sparked her spectacular success.
By Leena Tailer
On the surface, their careers couldn’t sound more contrasting – while animation producer Chrissy Metge has helped bring fictional wars to life on blockbusters like The Hobbit, her naval officer husband Russell Metge has dedicated his career to bringing peace to real-life war zones like Afghanistan.
Russell, 41, has also been posted to places including East Timor while Chrissy, 42, carved out a 20-year career, which has seen her help resurrect the late Paul Walker for the big screen in Furious 7 and lead a team animating 30 super-hero suits for Iron Man 3.
“Strangely, film and the military are actually very similar,” says the London-based Kiwi. “You’re so focused on a task, give everything to that world and work so closely with your teams. You know everyone’s faults and weaknesses, and all about their family – and dogs!”
While Chrissy’s work is a world away from saving lives, she knows the powerful joy animation can bring people. After all, she was just six when her dad Bruce Dawson introduced her to his towering stack of Footrot Flats and Donald Duck comics. While spending her childhood in Papua New Guinea (where she was born), Fiji, Tonga, then New Zealand, Chrissy also spent hours watching cartoons like Road Runner with Bruce, fuelling her love for animation.
Bruce encouraged 17-year-old Chrissy to begin part-time Navy Reserve training, where she met Russell. “We saw each other and the rest was history!”
After high school, Chrissy continued naval training while also completing a Bachelor of Computing and Diploma in 3D Animation, before working on local series bro’Town. “I got to tell my parents, ‘I get paid to color in!’ It was so fun. Morningside for life!”
Developing a passion for “front of house” (managing and supporting animation teams), Chrissy eventually quit the navy to pursue animation full-time. After she and Russell wed at Her Majesty’s Naval Base in Devonport in 2004, they juggled military and film postings.
Joining Wellington’s Weta Digital in 2007, Chrissy worked with “so devoted” Sir Peter Jackson on The Hobbit trilogy. “We’d sit for hours until we got it right,” she recalls. “He keeps to himself, but when he’s talking about what he loves, he lights up like a Christmas tree!”
Chrissy also led animation teams creating baboons for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, worked on her favorite project, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and faced the heavy task of helping create computer-generation versions of Paul Walker for Furious 7, after he died during filming.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime project,” she shares. “We brought someone back from the dead. It was surreal and often we were in tears. We wanted to ensure we got every detail correct. There are scenes where fans can’t tell if it’s the real Paul or CG.”
While wrapping Oscar-winning The Jungle Book, Chrissy and Russell’s son Hunter arrived six weeks premature. Feeling lost as work slammed to a halt, she used long hours by Hunter’s side in NICU to write the first of 13 children’s books.
“My brain wasn’t slowing down and I’d always wanted to write books. They were good for me because I found it tricky those first months to not be considered ‘useful’ as a mother who stopped working,” tells Chrissy, who recommenced animation work once Hunter started preschool.
It’s Hunter, seven, who inspired her new book, The Great Crown Mystery after the family moved to London (where Russell’s currently supporting the NZ Government’s contribution to Ukraine) in 2019. The two were outside Buckingham Palace when Hunter questioned, “Why does The Queen need so many rooms?”
The pair contemplated what was inside Her Majesty’s 775 rooms for the search-and-find book. “Hunter came up with the room ideas, like a dinosaur room and aquarium. It was fun showing him how to create a book. Now he staples A4 pages together to make his own!”
In London, Chrissy’s also working for visual effects and animation studio DNEG on projects like Netflix’s adult animation music series Entergalactic, inspired by Kid Cudi’s forthcoming album, and starring Vanessa Hudgens and Timothée Chalamet.
When working on such big-name projects, Chrissy credits Aotearoa for teaching her to cultivate warm working environments. “Just because I’m a producer, it doesn’t mean I’m better than the person bringing coffee. I learned that on ‘broTown.”
She also co-founded production company Fuzzy Duckling Media (which produces children’s content and works with Gisborne-based indigenous content producer TORO and sister company AMO Group), offers coaching for creatives, and speaks in schools.
“New Zealand kids ask, ‘You can get paid to do what you do?'” says Chrissy, who’s looking forward to a mince-and-cheese pie during the family’s winter visit home.
“I want everyone to know working in animation isn’t unreachable. It all started for me by reading a comic book!”