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From TCC to Hollywood and the American dream

Once upon a time, Nigel Tierney sat in a classroom at Tidewater Community College where he learned computer basics along with graphic design.

Today, Hollywood is his home, and if you’ve seen the final “Shrek” film or have been among the 160 million viewers watching Lil Dicky’s latest music video, you’ve seen his genius.

Nigel Tierney at DreamWorks
Nigel Tierney at DreamWorks.

The former senior technical director at DreamWorks Animation today heads content at the Emmy-award winning media company RYOT. It’s a fairytale story that started at TCC.

“Community college is a necessary part of American society and helped me reach the American dream,” Tierney said from Los Angeles.

The native of Kilkenny, Ireland, came to this country in his early 20s to work in the Leprechaun store at Busch Gardens, enjoyed Hampton Roads and decided to study computer science at TCC. Tierney earned his associate degree in computer science in 2005, and from here, transferred to Old Dominion University for his bachelor’s and master’s.

“I was recently telling my son about the time I was taking a ferry across the water to the Portsmouth Campus for a graphic design class,” he said. “I was standing on the deck when a seagull stole a Pop-Tart right out of my hand. I remember being so bummed, as I was to be gone a half a day and now had no breakfast. But then I had this beautiful, reflective moment where I was blown away to be in America and taking a ferry to class.

“TCC was a core part of my journey, and not only the education, but the hustle it instilled in me. I was confused on how to make my way, and TCC really empowered me to traverse the American education system.”

Two weeks after presenting his master’s thesis, Tierney was in Hollywood working with DreamWorks as technical director. His first project, “Shrek Forever After,” is the final chapter of Shrek and Fiona’s adventures full of more computer-animated graphics that enchant on the big screen.  “DreamWorks taught me to care about the pixel, the final image and every frame,” said Tierney, who later managed creative teams for “The Croods,” “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” and “Kung Fu Panda 3.”

Tierney recently co-produced and co-directed the animated music video “Earth,” for the song by rapper Lil Dicky. The project, co-produced by his own company, Tierney Corp., won a bronze award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It brought together 32 artists to shed light on climate change and encourage people to do their part to save the planet.

“We recorded all of these celebrities at different times and created a very beautiful video that reminds me of a children’s book,” Tierney said.  “With ‘Earth’, I got to bring an entire team together to execute a vision. And the end result is something really special and impactful.”

Tierney’s work at RYOT includes content creation for Verizon’s 5G studio as well as Verizon brands such as AOL, Yahoo, Tublr and Xbox.

“We’re creating content that is innovative, powerful and tells a meaningful story. We’re using interactive 2D video, augmented reality and virtual reality,” Tierney said. We can be adaptive, because we are not constrained to a 90-minute film or a 22-minute TV show.”

The married father of two is at work on a new project in partnership with Time Magazine that will bring Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech to virtual reality for the first time.

His TCC roots remain dear to him. He returned to Virginia for the first time for Pharrell’s “Something in the Water” festival as Verizon was a sponsor.

“Even an hour ago, I was writing project notes with the knowledge I gained in class,” Tierney said. “I still feel part of the area and even have my 757 number,” Tierney said. “Thanks to Tidewater and everyone there for all you do.”