My quest for new, local convention venues brought me to CTNX and Designer Con 2016 this past weekend. I attended for enjoyment, educational value, and to scope out future exhibiting venues.
I went to CTNX on Saturday with a 1-Day Exhibit Floor Plus Pass, wanting to see some demonstrations without paying the higher price for access to panels and workshops. With that said, this ticket is twice the cost of a 1-Day Exhibit Floor Only Pass. Was it worth it? Lets see shall we...
When I arrived in Burbank, I parked at the Metrolink Station, expecting to find a CTNX shuttle that would take me to the Marriott. I couldn't find the shuttle schedule online, so I reached out to my friend I knew was a CTNX volunteer, who happened to have the shuttle times. With the lack of shuttle information online, my expectations weren't too high, but it was still a let-down to find no sign of life at either the Metrolink or the nearby shuttle stop at Nickelodeon Studios. The shuttle may or may not have been running, but the lack of shuttle-stop signage suggested the later.
After my morning workout, I found my way to the Burbank Airport parking lots. I wasn't quite sure where to go for on-site parking (one reason I didn't park closer), but I did see a formidable line of cars that may have been for on-site parking. In retrospect, I could have paid the same price for closer on-site parking as I did at the remote airport parking lot, but I decided not to risk a potentially long wait for parking.
I made my way over to registration and was happy to find no line. I picked up my wristband, but was surprised to find that a lanyard was not included. I thought I was crazy and accepted my no-badge fate, but later checked the What Does My Admission Include? .pdf, which clearly lists "Wristband and Designer Badge" for my ticket type. No badge wasn't a bid deal as long as I got the same access, but I was looking forward to putting my badge design in my lanyard. I made a design as part of the "Design Your Badge" contest, which may also be host to some last-minute changes. The voting period for the contest should have opened almost a week ago, but no entries have yet been posted for public voting.
The morning's experience was a little disconcerting, but I was still pumped to visit some friends in the Exhibit Hall and behold the amazing artwork. Vendors included artists, art schools, animation studios, and artist supply brands like Copic. This was clearly the heart of the convention where aspiring artists met face-to-face with seasoned and emerging professionals in the entertainment industry.
While the quality of work was stunning, the same can not be said for the structure and layout of the exhibitor tent. Floors were uneven in places, creating a funhouse experience while walking through packed aisles. As much as I enjoyed talking with the exhibiting artists and perusing their lavish sketchbooks, the crowded areas made it uncomfortable to stay in any one spot for too long. Perhaps most concerning was reports of leakage and power failures during the rainy weather on Sunday of CTNX.
At the indoor demonstration area, I watched a little bit of digital painting and traditional animation. During two of my "breaks" at CTN, I sat at each of the life drawing stations, which function as little oases for overwhelmed, introverted souls (like me).
The most engaging demonstration I saw during my short visit was for SyncSketch. The online program is like Skype for animators and provides a basic set of tools to draw on top of the frames of an animated sequence for critiquing purposes. I don't see myself using Syncsketch personally, but I liked the fact that the critique was open to the public. Within just a short amount of time, I learned vicariously through the participant whose animation was on display. It made me wonder why other studios and exhibitors weren't doing the same thing. No doubt, they come across scores of student portfolios with the same technical and conceptual weaknesses. By selecting a few portfolios of different ability levels, studios can provide more in-depth critiques that a host of attendees can watch and benefit from. This may also provide more time for studios to do private portfolio reviews for the top candidates. Live paint-overs could work similarly, showing with just a few strokes the difference between "student" work and "professional" work.
My day ended with a mesmerizing demonstration by drawing master Kim Jung Gi whose brush pen prowess caused the spontaneous combustion and miraculous re-generation of my internal organs.
Overall, my CTNX experience was worth a first-time visit, but the high ticket prices, challenges with accessibility, and organizational issues will probably keep me from attending in the future. With that said, CTNX is one of few opportunities to meet in-person with studio representatives and will continue to draw crowds of eager students.
Designer Con was a whole different ball game. It should be noted that Designer Con's exhibiting artists target a different audience and industry. Most exhibitors at CTNX were looking to attract the attention of animation studios, while exhibitors at Designer Con attract individual consumers and collectors. There were just a few studio-oriented character designers at Designer Con, which may grow as the convention continues to expand. Most artists had fully-fledged brands and original IP that they applied to prints, toys, accessories, and apparel.
Sunday morning I encountered a small hiccup while parking near the convention center. I planned on parking at a lower rate in the Paseo Colorado parking structure, but it appeared closed. Instead, I followed signs for event parking and paid the $12 fee for on-site parking. I paid a little more than what I did at CTN, but the process was smooth and the walk to the convention hall was a breeze.
Stepping into the exhibit hall was like stepping into Jim Henson's Labyrinth. There was a new curiosity on every corner blending equal amounts of cute and creepy. The spacious aisles allowed for leisurely browsing and ease of conversation with exhibiting artists.
I found myself stopping at every-other booth and met some artists that I had been familiar with through social media. Valency Genis was one of them and kindly answered my questions about her sculpting process. With several artists at Designer Con, I asked about their relationship between 2D and 3D artwork. This was valuable information for my current artistic process, since I'm exploring ways to use my 2D illustrations for other applications, including collectible sculpture.
The degree of creativity at Designer Con was unparalleled. Every artist had a strong voice and displayed unique products that appeal both to art lovers and the average consumer. I would love to see workshops and panels at the event, but close interaction with exhibitors still allowed for an educational experience. I'm pretty sold on exhibiting next year at Designer Con!
Here is a quick comparison of my expenses for CTNX and Designer Con as an attendee. It does not reflect all of the options available for ticket types and parking, just the ones I went with personally when I attended:
Comparison Chart: My Expenses