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The Curious World Of Whidbey Island Animator Drew Christie

If you spend enough time in Drew Christie’s world, you’ll learn about everything from an invasive rodent living in Lake Washington to “holiday demons” that scare children in Europe. Christie digs deep into various subjects through short animated films that are packed with well-researched information and a heavy dose of dry humor.

Christie’s studio is a cabin in back of his main house on a couple of acres near the town of Langley on Whidbey Island. The space is filled with natural light. His handmade woodblock prints hang on the walls. A German workbench from the 1800s is used as a table, and various instruments including a rebab are scattered around the room.

“It’s considered the national instrument of the Afghanistan. It’s related to the Indian Sarad,” said Christie.

The rebab looks like an elongated banjo with a lot of extra strings. This place, these things are all pretty new for Christie, who is 30. Before he started making a living as an artist he worked in Seattle doing a variety of odd jobs; pizza delivery man, park groundskeeper, the person who collects your stuff at donation centers. With his fisherman’s beard and his taste for authentic objects, he’s often asked if he thinks he’d be happier living in an earlier century, a time before plastic.

Credit Dan Carrillo
Drew Christie

Tugging at his beard that hasn’t yet been marked by time, Christie said, “I’m glad I was born, and that’s about all the thought I put into it.”

On a shelf nearby is the small skull of a nutria. It’s about the size of a softball with yellow teeth that are about 3 inches long. These rodents from South America that now live happily in places such as Lake Washington were the subject of one of the first animated short films Christie did for the New York Times. 

In a little over three minutes, Christie covers the history of the fur trade in the United States and how it gave rise to cities like Chicago and New York. The nutria was brought to the Northwest for its hide but no one wanted to wear rodent fur. 

“Now they’re this invasive species and sort of thing. But the more I thought about it I thought I’m this invasive species so I don’t even know where’s the line really,” said Christie.

Christie voices most of his stories, but the nutria film was narrated by Mike Murphy, his cousin who is a comedian with Jet City Improv. All of these pieces are created at a desk that lights up from underneath. It once belonged to an animator at Disney Studios. Each one can take anywhere from two weeks to three months to complete.

Credit Jennifer Wing

Christie’s animation business is called Kalakala Company. He runs it with his girlfriend and partner Amanda Moore. Along with music videos and custom films for companies, Christie has produced seven animated shorts called “op-docs” for the New York Times website. He’s produced more of these than any other contributor. The drawings are scratchy with a lot of texture. You can see the pen strokes.

In this style Christie explores how eels were once a staple for Thanksgiving feasts before the turkey got popular. In another he makes the case that American children would do better academically if they ditched Santa Claus and adopted a more frightening holiday icon, such as the German half-goat demon called Krampus.

Jason SpingarnKoff is the commissioning editor for the op-docs at the New York Times. All of Christie's pieces are fact checked and vetted. Koff is impressed by how much reporting goes into each story.

“Sometimes he’s ahead of the big story, even for the New York Times," Koff said. "Like for the Drones For America story, he’d been working on it for a few months. He wrote in the voice of a fake KGB agent talking about how wonderful it is the United States is embracing drones, and how this is a surveillance state and this is what the KGB agent always dreamed of for America. 

“Suddenly it became a big New York Times story in the newsroom. And I was surprised because this animator has been working on this for a long time, and now the newsroom’s discovered it.”

Christie says there isn’t enough time for him to deep dive into all of the topics that interest him. The next piece he wants to animate is about the role alcohol plays in the American presidency.

“Many of the highest-rated presidents drank beer and/or cider and/or other things like madeira. George Washington had his own distillery after leaving the presidency. John Adams would start every morning with a tankard of cider. I think there is something to this,” said Christie, his mind working fast and spewing out the information he’s been storing up.

Eventually Christie would like to break into television. This might worry fans who don’t want his work to become too commercial. Those fears can be put to rest when you hear his ideas. One pitch that’s getting some interest is about a fictional 1970s Soviet children’s show. The main characters are a robot boy and his vodka-drinking, chain-smoking, lecherous pet wolf. 

Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.