Hailing from Ontario, Smiths Falls native and Scouting alumnus Derek Bradley received the award of a lifetime—a Sci-Tech Oscar from the Academy Awards. Leading as a Senior Research Scientist for DisneyResearch|Studios, Bradley’s inventive facial reconstruction program has designed famous characters featured in recent films like The Avengers and Star Wars series, along with remakes like Aladdin, The Jungle Book and many more.
Before embarking on his journey in sci-tech movie magic, Bradley’s early experience in project planning, teamwork and resourcefulness began with Scouting. Attributing his professional accomplishments to the invaluable lessons he learned through Scouting, Bradley reflects, “I’m very good at planning out all the projects that I’m doing now [at DisneyResearch|Studios], and I think that was one of the things driven home when I was going through the Scouting program.”
I’m very good at planning out all the projects that I’m doing now [at DisneyResearch|Studios], and I think that was one of the things driven home when I was going through the Scouting program.
Bradley joined Beaver Scouts at the age of five in 1984, advancing through each Section to complete the program through Rover Scouts. Grateful for what the program taught him since the beginning of his Scouting journey, Bradley reflects on how it prepared him for success in the world. “Some of the things that I learned at a young age from Scouting are respect for other people, working together in teams to solve problems, and planning—the kind of skills that help you in other areas of life,” he shares.
As a science researcher for Disney, Bradley spent years designing and engineering the Medusa Performance Capture System with a team of three other researchers—all of whom received a Sci-Tech Oscar for their achievement as well. Medusa, a facial capture program used to create some of today’s most visually compelling characters like Thanos of The Avengers, is able to create realistic digital reconstructions of an actor’s face by duplicating the performer to create a completely computer-generated character.
To lead such a complex long-term project that became the Medusa program, Bradley considers planning skills to be a key contributor. He explains that the ‘Be Prepared’ motto and Plan-Do-Review nature of Scouting prepared him for the forward thinking, problem solving and organizational skills that his career demands.
“People learn these lessons throughout their lives, but Scouting helps you learn it at a younger age and that was definitely impactful for me,” Bradley explains.
Some of the things that I learned at a young age from Scouting are respect for other people, working together in teams to solve problems, planning—the kind of skills that help you in other areas of life.
It was during his time as a Venturer Scout when Bradley’s planning skills were put into play to a greater degree than in previous Scouting years as his Company pursued the Queen’s Venturer Award. For the year-long endeavour, the Venturers planned ahead to ensure that all the hikes, camps and service hours needed to qualify for the award were achieved.
“That’s exactly what planning a project in my work life is like now,” says Bradley, “We look a year out in our research, determining what milestones we need to hit to be successful.”
While Bradley is a seasoned and recognized sci-tech researcher today, the path to his current profession began with an interest in computer programming during high school. He had envisioned being a software engineer, and so attended Carleton University to pursue computer sciences. It wasn’t until the end of his time as an undergraduate that a professor prompted Bradley toward research. He continued with a PhD in Computer Science and specialized in 3D graphics at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. As Bradley had always been fascinated by film, it was only a matter of time before he connected his research to motion pictures, his interest evolving in his current career field.
Through Scouts Canada’s STEM program, youth can explore Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics through adventure and play. When asked about the importance of engaging youth in STEM activities at an early age, Bradley responded:
“I learned about sci-tech only at the end of high school. Things have changed so much and so fast that it’s important for kids to learn about how technology works earlier in life. It’s never too soon to start budding your interest in what you might want to do in the world.”
In true Scouting Plan-Do-Reviewfashion, Bradley is a believer in learning from failures in order to turn them into successes. His advice for Scouting youth interested in innovation and invention? “Don’t get discouraged.” He adds, “Anytime you’re looking into something interesting in technology and science, you actually tend to fail more times than you succeed. It’s learning from failures that helps you to succeed. Review failures to plan different directions.”
It’s important for kids to learn about how technology works earlier in life. It’s never too soon to start budding your interest in what you might want to do in the world.
Today Bradley lives in Zurich, Switzerland, where he continues to light up screens across the world with magical characters through DisneyResearch|Studios. Although no longer in Scouting, Bradley continues to enjoy outdoor adventures while hiking in Switzerland.
“What I liked the most about being a Rover was the Rover Vigil—self-reflection by yourself in the wilderness,” Bradley recalls, mentioning that one of his 2019 goals are to get back to camping.
It is truly remarkable what Scouting alumnus, Derek Bradley, has been able to accomplish already in his career. We look forward to hearing about his future endeavors and can’t wait to see more of his work in theatres this year.