Ugrad Alum Profile: Matthew Territo

From the Spring 2009 issue of Threads

Matthew Territo

Watching Jurassic Park in 1993, Matthew Territo had an epiphany. “I saw that movie, and I was like, ‘Holy cow! I have to do that,’” he recalls. Territo, BS ’06, was awed by the special effects and graphics, and he wanted to produce them himself someday. Problem was, he didn’t know how.

Territo entered Duke as an electrical engineering major, following in his father’s footsteps and hoping they would lead him to the movies. But on the first day of a CS class with Professor Owen Astrachan, he opened the textbook to read, “Computer science is the study of computer graphics and 3D imaging.” Shortly after, he switched his major to computer science and never looked back.

Territo and rest of the the surfacing department make sure that a wet hippopotamus looks as attractive as...well, a wet hippopotamus

Today, Territo is the Surfacing Technical Director at DreamWorks Animation studio in Northern California. With one credited movie already under his belt, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, and experience with various other films and short animations, Territo is living his dream. But it wasn’t easy at first. Despite his experience at Duke, including a certificate in the Film/Video/Digital Program, Territo spent his senior year job-hunting with no success. “I couldn’t get many people to pay attention to me from the industry,” he says. But he continued to apply for studio positions.

There are a whole lot of animals on the African veldt: Territo helped make sure that texture and color appeared on every one of them...even the savanna itself!

Just a few months after graduation, Territo got a call from DreamWorks Animation. Two weeks, two interviews, and a cross-country flight later, Territo started as Technical Director in the Surfacing Department. As part of the surfacing team, Territo designs and maintains technical tools for the art team (“Tech support for artists,” he likes to say), which can vary and change with each new project. Territo occasionally takes part in the art itself; he helped design a grass system for Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. “We actually grew and landscaped the grass as if it were real grass,” says Territo.

Territo’s CS training made all the difference at DreamWorks Animation. During two senior-year graphics courses with Rachael Brady and Robert Duvall, Territo was introduced to the computer graphics pipeline. Now he sees it in action everyday at the studio. In addition, his work involves a good amount of code and software writing.

Overall, Territo believes he was well prepared to enter the workforce after graduating. “The CS Department trains people correctly,” he says. “The focus is on understanding computer science and making sure what you do is extensible, accessible, and applicable. I think Duke students have the capability to really excel out here.”

Territo is currently working on a DreamWorks Animation project slated for a 2010 fall release, and he couldn’t be happier. “I’m making movies,” says Territo. “I never thought I’d be able to say that for real.”