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Renaissance Man

Peter McNerney (CS ’00, MS ’03)

Peter McNerney (CS ’00, MS ’03)

In some ways, Peter McNerney (CS ’00, MS ’03) could be described as a Renaissance Man. While earning his master’s in electrical engineering at Boston University and standing out in his courses, he also found time to pursue his other passion – the arts.

When a friend founded Theater for Engineers, McNerney took a chance and decided to audition for The Odd Couple. He wound up getting the part of Oscar, one of the lead roles.

The tendency to shine in many fields is nothing new for McNerney, who previously worked on video games development at Insomniac Games. Today, as a senior software engineer at Dreamworks Animation, he’s found a way to combine his passion for both the arts and engineering.

Though you may not know his face, his work can be seen in popular family-friendly movies like How To Train Your Dragon, Monsters vs Aliens, and Kung Fu Panda.

“I really enjoy the product we put out,” McNerney said. “It’s exciting to know that I’m helping produce movies that are going to be enjoyed by kids.”

At Dreamworks Animation, it’s important to be able to work in a team since few engineering challenges are solved individually. McNerney said that at BU, he learned how to think about problems and approach them in a group setting.

“A lot of what I learned at BU was how to communicate,” he said. “In order to really accomplish big things, you need to be on a big team, willing to collaborate and listen to other ideas.”

As part of his role in Dreamworks Animation’s production process, he has worked on tasks like maintaining the company’s software and advancing the creation of three-dimensional movies. Today, he’s the technical lead of the lighting program, helping produce the images seen on screen.

“In the last 15 years, computer animated movies have been getting more complex,” said McNerney. “Everyone is trying to support better and better films, and we’re here to help that effort.”

While at BU, he worked closely with Professor Janusz Konrad, who quickly discovered McNerney’s passion for filmmaking. Konrad bonded with McNerney over their shared interest in 3-D imaging.

“Peter developed a method to artificially change the lighting of a scene, which is necessary in movie post-production and commonly used today in 3-D movies such as Avatar,” said Konrad. “He always dreamed of making movies, especially in 3-D, and today his dream has become a reality.”

McNerney decided to go to BU for a number of reasons. He had received the coveted Trustee Scholarship, heard about the university’s “tremendous reputation,” and could think of no better environment to go to college.

“One-fifth of Boston’s population are students,” he said. “That has always provided an eternal youthful energy and spawning ground for ideas and innovation.”

David Castañón, professor and ECE chair ad interim, met McNerney during his junior year and said that the young student stood out immediately, in part because he excelled in class and in part because he was so involved. McNerney was a mentor in the freshman advising program and coordinated activities of several campus groups like the Catholic Center Pastoral Council and a movie production company.

“He’s what you like to see as an undergraduate,” said Castañón. “He took advantage of the full BU experience.”

McNerney is thankful for that experience, adding: “I developed so many close bonds with a number of the professors here. Though it’s a large university, I never felt lost.”

And he continues to feel at home today in his position at Dreamworks Animation.

“For a long time, I really wanted to be working in special effects,” said McNerney. “I love what I’m doing now, and it’s a spectacularly fun industry.”

-Rachel Harrington (
October 2010