November 12, 2018

By Darick Charbonneau, Spoke News

Wesley Rodricks considers his latest project, the animated movie Next Gen, to be the highlight of his career.

The movie follows a lonely girl named Mai Su, who befriends a top secret robot that turns her life upside down as they team up to save the world from an evil madman and his army of robots.

Next Gen was recently purchased by Netflix for $30 million and was available to watch on the streaming service as of Sept. 7.

Part of what made Next Gen and, by extension, Rodricks’ work on the project, such a big deal is that it was produced using Blender, an up-and-coming, open source 3D software program that no other professional studio environment had used before.

Rodricks’ passion for learning and his willingness to tackle challenges led to his being hired as lead at Tangent in 2015, after working as an animator in the industry for almost 10 years.  Part of the job was a requirement to learn Blender, and to then teach his animation team to use the software.  And all this happened during the production of their first movie, Ozzy.

“The biggest challenges was that it [Blender] wasn’t ready for prime time when we got a hold of it.  A lot of improvements needed to be made to it, which they did make over a certain amount of time,” said Rodricks. “Part of the problem was that we were in production while we were making these requests for certain things, so some things might come in fixed a little ways in, some things halfway through production, some things closer to the end…. Our needs were met with the software.”

Rodricks’ pride in having worked on the project shines through.  His eyes sparkle as he recounts different moments of his career that led to Next Gen, the challenges overcome and the rewards from the fruits of his labour.

“My goal was eventually becoming an animation supervisor of an animation team, and it was through my work on Ozzy that I was considered and hired as supervisor for Next Gen.

Not long after work on Next Gen, Rodricks began working at Conestoga College as an animation technologist.

When asked what he would say to someone interested in pursuing a career in animation, Rodricks said, “I would say animation is awesome. I love doing it. I am so glad I chose this career; it is awesome to make cartoons for a living.  There is a lot of hard work, a lot goes into it, but it is so rewarding.”

He added, “To students who are already in the animation program [at Conestoga], as well as its graduates: Never stop being a student.  Keep learning, keep progressing and trying to hone your craft…. I was in the industry for 12 years before starting here, continually improving my skills and that’s what got me to where I wanted to be. Being an animation supervisor was my end goal and I achieved that through hard work and dedication.”

“No matter your skill set, no matter the talent you have, there is always something you can learn,” Rodricks mused. “Stay humble.”

According to G2crowd.com, a real-time technology review platform with over 400,000 independent and authenticated users, Blender carries a 95-per-cent user satisfaction rating over 95 reviews, for a total of four-and-a-half out of five stars.  Many reviewers stated how much they love how easy Blender is to use after they get used to the hotkey shortcuts, or how flexible and customization the program is.  The downsides to the program, they point out, are that it is initially intimidating to learn, and that its open source concept, being worked on by volunteer programmers, means that you can’t often find a clear documentation on the upcoming features or release schedule.

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