Former police officer is now creating special effects for film, TV, video games


Some say a specific college major does not matter, and Tom Wright ’94 would have to agree. Wright graduated from Western Carolina University with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, but he is currently a senior lighting artist for DICE, a video game developer located in Los Angeles and Sweden. “Staying in college and getting a degree is more meaningful than what you major in,” he said. “It shows that you can start something and stay with it until it’s finished.”

Tom Wright

Even though Wright majored in criminal justice, his college career was very much linked to computers. Wright worked for WCU’s Division of Information Technology during his undergraduate years. He wrote his senior paper about Internet crime and began doing computer rendering and digital sculpting on his personal computer, a Commodore Amiga, for fun. When he graduated, he worked as a police officer in Waynesville – but not for long.

As a police officer, Wright did security work for “My Fellow Americans,” a movie filmed partly in Waynesville. He met the art director of the film, who acknowledged Wright’s digital talent and encouraged him to pursue his dreams in digital art. After serving as a police officer in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for a year, Wright went to school in Orlando, Florida, to learn more about digital animation and visual effects.

Tom Wright

Wright had his big break as a lighting artist with “The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius,” a computer-animated children’s television show. Since then, he has developed visual effects for big company names including Sony Imageworks, PDI/DreamWorks and Walt Disney Feature Animation. He worked on films such as “Green Lantern,” “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa,” “Meet the Robinsons,” “The Ant Bully” and “The Golden Compass.” He developed lighting for video games including “Call of Duty: Ghosts,” “The Last of Us,” “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” and “Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception.” He also was the lighting artist for the television show “Auto-B-Good,” a five-time Emmy Award-winning series. In 2007, Wright worked for the visual effects and animation company Rhythm & Hues as a lighting and composition artist on “The Golden Compass,” and his team won the Academy Award for “Best Visual Effects.”

With more than 12 years of experience in television, film and video games, Wright said it takes 10 months to a year to design the lighting for an animated feature. “We have giant projects in this business that take a long time,” he said. “I strive to always be in a state of learning. It is my goal to consistently push the envelope of what computer graphics can visually achieve.”

Wright has been working for DICE in Los Angeles since October of 2013. His current project involves the “Battlefield” franchise. The company is developing a new version of the video game “Star Wars: Battlefront” and a sequel to the “Mirror’s Edge” video game. DICE also recently released its next downloadable content pack for “Battlefield 4,” which is called “Dragon’s Teeth.”

For Wright’s work, visit the website

Kaitlyn Connelly, a senior majoring in English with a concentration in professional writing, was a summer 2014 intern in the Office of Communications and Public Relations.