Once upon a time in 2012, far from the magical kingdom of Atlanta, there lived Bridgette Wiley and Alex Powell—two College of Computing alumni in the faraway land of California, where people’s dreams often come true. Little did they know how soon it would include them, too.
But that’s not where their story begins.
Bridgette Wiley’s childhood was filled with cartoons and the cosmos. Ultimately, one became her career and the other a lifelong passion. Not even she anticipated which would be which.
Cartoons have always been a constant for the Wiley family. Bridgette was always impressed by the amazing animation in the cartoons, but without an interest in traditional art, she didn’t see a future for herself in the field.
Outer space was assuredly where you’d find her instead. Bridgette was crazy about space, rockets, and all things NASA. She enjoyed math and science along with everything required to send a space shuttle into orbit. Bridgette attended space camp in seventh grade and unknowingly experienced a bit of foreshadowing.
“My favorite part was doing the simulations,” Bridgette says. “I later learned that the simulations were basically miniature movies created using computer graphics.”
Bridgette and her family at Space Camp.
Bridgette followed her dreams of outer space to Georgia Tech, where she majored in computer science. She even interned at NASA’s famed Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Afterward, her professional interests began to shift.
“There are a lot of understandably rigorous tests that have to be run and passed, but I wanted to get more into an industry where it was faster paced.” Bridgette says.
Animation had now become a viable career path. Years after first watching Toy Story, Bridgette discovered a Pixar video documenting the film’s production process. Now Bridgette could quote the film in its entirety and intelligently discuss how it was made. She became intrigued by the possibilities.
Bridgette finished her degree at Georgia Tech and headed west for a master’s degree at the University of California, San Diego. She interned with former DreamWorks subsidiary Pacific Data Images during her first summer. That professional victory would have monumental implications for the rest of her life.
Bridgette at Pacific Data Images.
Alex Powell’s family purchased their first personal computer when he was 2. Young Alex’s curiosity was sparked when he first heard the whirring and humming of the disk drive ejecting a disk while it was being read.
“I would eject the disk over and over again, just to hear that noise, which got my parents’ attention,” Alex says. “They noticed that I was very interested in computers and were supportive and bought the family several computers.”
Alex cut his teeth programming on the TI99/4A, Commodore 64, and his family’s Apple IIc. As he grew up, Alex built games and other software to share with friends. With multiple Georgia Tech alumni in his immediate family, it was only a matter of time before Alex too would become a Tech student, and the College of Computing’s top-notch computer graphics program was his destination. He can still recall a rainy day walking down North Avenue as an undergraduate, wondering how to best render reflections of rain in the street.
“Real-time 3D computer graphics in games were taking off by this point,” Alex says, “and this is when some of the concepts started to really click.”
Alex didn’t stop. He earned a master’s degree in computer science, focusing on the interpolation of motion with Professor Jarek Rossignac. Such interests are often a perfect fit for the film industry, so Alex found a software engineering job with DreamWorks Animation.
There, he received eight patents and led development of countless novel approaches to standard animation. Amongst those innovations was an integrated character-rigging environment for defining the movement of bones, muscle, and skin of a 3D model, used in more than 10 feature films and is still in use today.
His greatest act at DreamWorks was still to come.
Bridgette & Alex
Bridgette transferred to DreamWorks’ Los Angeles-area headquarters in late 2011, enabling her to finish a master’s degree in computer science at UC San Diego. Not long into her tenure, she received an invitation to join a colleague’s weekly bar trivia team. That’s when Bridgette met Alex, a fellow GT Computing alumnus who missed her at Tech by just one year. Bridgette and Alex enjoyed each other’s company and began spending time together.
“Soon, we were inseparable–at work during the day, and either exploring our hometown of Los Angeles at night or staying in, while Alex serenaded me on the piano with improvised ballads and love songs,” Bridgette says.
Their first official date was at the GVU Center’s alumni reception at SIGGRAPH 2012, a popular computer graphics conference, in Los Angeles.
“We reminisced about school, talked about technology trends and our favorite amusement parks, and danced all night,” Bridgette says.
Bridgette still has the original reception invitation.
Bridgette and Alex soon began working together on DreamWorks films like How to Train Your Dragon 2, Kung Fu Panda 2, Puss in Boots, and more. Alex ascended to a principal engineer role at DreamWorks where he deployed a new animation tool allowing animators to more quickly manipulate animated characters, as if they were puppets. Soon after it was deployed, Bridgette and Alex embraced new challenges departing for Disney and Google respectively.
At Disney, Bridgette landed the opportunity to earn her first official movie credit. Bridgette will be billed as the assistant technical director for Zootopia, to be released March 4, 2016. Her role was to support the film’s artists throughout production.
“If shots are not opening properly, taking too long to open, or rendering incorrectly, it’s a sign that there may be bad data being passed through the pipeline,” Bridgette says. “A technical director would then have to diagnose where this bad data is coming from and figure out how best to fix it.”
Disney’s great influence in Bridgette and Alex’s lives took center stage in their recent engagement photo session. Mickey and Minnie Mouse joined Alex and Bridgette in a few of their photos at a beautiful, historic Southern California winery.
“Incorporating Mickey and Minnie was my idea as a way to acknowledge our history with the animation industry,” Bridgette says. “The specific style of the dolls also just coordinated well with the photo shoot.”
Four years to the day after their first date, Bridgette and Alex will marry.
And they’ll live happily ever after…