Rodríguez was born in San Antonio, Texas, the son of Mexican-American parents Elizabeth (née Villegas), a nurse, and Cecilio G. Rodríguez, a salesman. He began his interest in film at age eleven, when his father bought a VCR that. came with a camera. While attending St. Anthony High School Seminary in San Antonio, Rodríguez was commissioned to videotape the school's football games. He was fired soon shen he shot footage in a cinematic style, getting shots of parents' reactions and the ball traveling through the air instead of shooting the whole play.
Rodriguez went to the College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin, where he also developed a love of cartooning. Not having grades high enough to be accepted into the school's film program, he created a daily comic strip entitled Los Hooligans. The comic ran for three years in the student newspaper. In the fall of 1990, his entry in a local film contest earned him a spot in the university's film program.