‘Star Wars’ animator visits USM


The USM Department of Art and Design hosted a discussion by renowned digital animator and Southern Miss Alumnus Ken Wesley on Nov. 17.

The event took place at 5:30 p.m. in Gonzales Auditorium in the LAB and brought in a full crowd of students, faculty and community members. Wesley graduated with a degree in computer science and math from The University of Southern Mississippi. He went on to become a digital animator for countless projects in his near 35 years of experience in his field.

Wesley is currently a professor of a design course in the Digital Media Arts and Engineering program at Louisiana State University.

Some of the many large names that Wesley has worked for include Lucasfilm, Industrial Light & Magic, CafeFX, Sony Imageworks and The Orphanage. He was part of the creation of computer generated effects seen in the “Harry Potter” series, “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Star Wars.” His specializations within the computer design industry include particle and fluid simulations.

Wesley was somewhat of a guinea pig for the program Maya, which has emerged into a huge and widely used program in digital animation today and has been involved in the use of other programs such as Houdini as well.

Wesley gave an engaging and entertaining discussion on the ups and downs of his creative career. He began his career on a whim when he sent in his resume to a project and was chosen to join a digital animation team directly out of college. He contributed much of his creative skill to learning to draw, which he reportedly picked up during his time at Southern Miss.

To give his audience an idea of what kind of work he does, Wesley showed some demo videos of scenes he was a part of making from films such as “Alice in Wonderland” and “Star Trek.” Wesley played an older demo first and then moved on to his most recent work to show the evolution of technology in the field.

One topic Wesley emphasized was the importance of understanding the field and knowing what to expect before graduating college.

“It’s important to have an edge,” Wesley said. “Everyone’s an expert on computer animation these days, and I think that the new age of digital design is a personalized digital experience. The convergence of music, entertainment and media is the next big thing.”

Sophomore graphic design major Darius Harris said he always wanted to be in animation.

“I couldn’t wait to hear what he had to teach us,” Harris said.

“It gives me so much confidence to hear Dr. Wesley speak,” said junior painting and drawing major Myranda Lavigne. “It’s so amazing to see a student from my school go on to be so accomplished in such an interesting industry.”

After giving a quick look into some of the software involved in digital animation, all those attending gave a standing ovation for Wesley’s insight and discussion.