Newsmaker: 'Augustana Grad Draws on Talent'

The following feature on David Wolter, class of 2004, ran in the Saturday, June 16, edition of the Argus Leader:

Augustana Grad Draws on Talent
By Jill Callison, Argus Leader

David Wolter walked onto the Augustana College campus intending, he says, to major in basketball.

He took a beginning drawing class only because he thought it would provide an easy A on his transcript.

Instead, it led him back to an early interest in art.

Today, eight years after he graduated from Augustana, Wolter works as a story artist with Dream-Works Studio.

“(Wednesday) I spent all afternoon drawing a polar bear jumping off a building to punch an octopus in the face,” Wolter says in a phone interview. “It was one of the best days of my life.”

He is working on a spinoff of the popular “Madagascar” series, this one propelling the penguins into starring roles. The movie probably will be released in 2015.

On June 9, Wolter received the top award in the animated category during the 39th annual Student Academy Awards, which celebrates new talent.

View Wolter's Academy Award-winning film, "Eyrie."

He won for “Eyrie,” a four minute animated film that tells the story of a young boy who needs to protect a flock of sheep from a threatening eagle.

Wolter created the film while a student at the California Institute of Arts.

“Any talent I have is a gift from God. It’s been shaped and honed by the people he’s placed in my life,” he said in his acceptance speech after receiving the gold medal.

Wolter, a native of Colorado Springs, Colo., thanked his mother, sister and wife and dedicated the award to his late father, saying the film’s themes of perseverance, discipline and stewardship came from him.

“Eyrie” comes with a twist ending, so it’s difficult to reveal much of the plot.

It’s set in the American West with wide views and towering mountains. “It’s funny, I love the West and I’m obsessed with the West, and Augustana has the Center for Western Studies, and I never took a single class there,” Wolter says. “I totally regret that. Now I have to read about it in books instead of taking classes.”

Wolter came to Augustana on a basketball scholarship. He had loved drawing as a child, but as he grew to his adult height of 6-foot-10, basketball took over.

But his basketball career at Augustana was, he admits cheerfully, abysmal. He says he averaged .7 points and .3 rebounds a game.

Wolter had to ask himself, “Who am I if not a basketball player?”

The answer came in Professor Carl Grupp’s Drawing I class. “It was really hard,” Wolter said. “We spent like three weeks drawing a chair, and I thought, this is ridiculous. But I learned about drawing and perspective.”

In his junior year, Wolter started a comic strip that ran in the college newspaper.

“He liked cartooning, and I liked cartooning, and I encouraged him along that line and exposed him to a lot of different cartoonists,” Grupp said.

“When I first looked at his sketchbook, he was drawing shoes. He wanted to become a shoe designer at first. Then he started doing the cartooning.”

Grupp describes Wolter as a hard worker and “the perfect student.”

Grupp has watched “Eyrie” multiple times.

“It’s a metamorphosis,” he says. “It’s about a boy trying to take care of his sheep. It’s just interesting, trying to figure out what will happen.

“The one thing I really like about his drawing is it’s going from real loose gesture drawing into more defined animation.

The thing that I find wonderful about his little movie is the sense of space he’s got and the sense of action.”

For four summers, Wolter draw caricatures for tourists visiting theme parks such as Valleyfair in Shakopee and Knott’s Berry Farm.

That allowed him to be part of a family memory.

Today, he focuses on what he loves best: storytelling.

“Drawing is one way to do that,” Wolter says.

Watch Wolter's acceptance speech at the 39th Annual Student Academy Awards: