Wednesday, December 6, 2017

2017 Update 3 - CTNx Round 2 (ding ding)

I’ve been to CTN Animation Expo every year since 2013, but I’ve only gone to shop around a professional portfolio once before, in 2014. (My recap from that occasion can be found here.) This was the 9th year of the convention.

For those who don’t know what CTN is or have never been to a convention of any kind before, there are 3 basic components of the weekend - 
  1. Individual artist tables, where artists and illustrators (generally those working within the industry) are selling prints, enamel pins, art books and various other Etsy-esque products 
  2. Live art demos, Q&A panels, and workshops 
  3. Industry Giant booths, AKA large sections of the floor where Disney, Dreamworks, Sony, Nickelodeon and the like are set up to do portfolio reviews and recruit potential new talent.
Essentially it’s a giant networking event for the animation industry, with a side focus on art for gaming and illustration. I’ve made acquaintances from all my classes at the Concept Design Academy over the years, but very few of them were there, so it was a good 3 days straight of me talking to people I don’t know for 8+ hours. (If you know me personally, you know this was hard.)

I was genuinely shocked, after submitting my portfolio for studio review in advance of the convention, to get a recruitment call-back from Nickelodeon, who I almost didn’t even submit to because I figured my stuff wasn’t their style. This meant that I had a professional interview with them on Saturday morning of the convention at their booth. Getting that email was the best kind of validation of the past few art-focused years of my life - a professional at a major studio had looked at my work and determined I was worth talking to. 

Because I hate drawing things out, I’ll cut to the chase and let you all know that I feel like the interview went... okay. It was fast - they roll people through there like Krispy Kremes on a conveyer belt. (Mmm.) The recruiter was really kind and genuine, took his time looking through my work, and gave me some feedback (more props, especially vehicles, was my main takeaway.) I didn’t get the sense that it was a “We’ll be calling you ASAP” type of situation, more of a “You’re on the right track, keep going and stay in touch” situation. Which is a great thing! I mostly wish I hadn’t gotten so nervous right beforehand and done the entire 15 minutes with my face beet red. I wanted to fly casual and I definitely did NOT fly casual... just call me Tomato. Oh well. Acting Natural is not my strong suit.

I had some other portfolio reviews throughout the weekend - you could wait in line to meet with people from DreamWorks and Blue Sky, which I did, and those were fairly positive (although again, not glowing. It’s a competitive industry). I got quality, actionable feedback from Brett Bean and Justin Rodrigues, two great artists (and personal favorites of mine) who I’ve gotten to know over the years, who both told me to simplify and push my shapes - which was going to be my next directive anyways. :) I caught up with Kelsey Eng, a former CDA classmate whose work & career have taken off, and attended a great panel about doing authentic work, featuring presenters Peter de Seve, Carter Goodrich, Nick Galifianakis, and John Kascht (whose name I initially didn't recognize, but who I was delighted to discover I knew of as I've posted about him before). Most of all, it was truly wonderful to meet in person some of my fellow Oatley Academy mentees from the summer - I had a great time hanging out with down-to-earth Natalia, hilarious Leanne, super sweet Melissa, uber-talented Amie, and beautiful Dooz. You should make time to check out all of their work, it’s truly phenomenal and I was privileged to be in their company. Other notable new friends from the weekend include fellow OA students Craig Russell, Laura Belevica, Abigail Kraft, Gabriel Leal, Rebecca Whitley, and Nora Jirau.

Photo from an Oatley Academy meetup at Simmzy's in Burbank

Two of my best interactions came completely out of the blue at the very end of the day on Sunday. I just happened to strike up a conversation with DreamWorks TV character artist Ivan Mendoza at his table - I actually didn’t even know who he was, but right off the bat he was extremely easy to talk to after 3 days of exhausting, slightly awkward conversations. He ended up taking a huge chunk of his afternoon to chat with me about my portfolio and draw a personal caricature in the art book I bought from him, which was more than kind. 

Immediately afterwards, on a whim, I decided to get a ‘portfolio’ review from renowned caricature artist John Kascht (the one who I’d recognized in a panel the day before - I'd connected with him briefly afterwards, during which he’d told me to come by and talk to him on Sunday afternoon). 

I had only these three feeble Hirschfeld-wannabe attempts to show him, but he was more than complementary, practically demanding that I continue my pursuit of caricature (something I’d been interested in, but putting aside for some time to focus on the animation portfolio). It was the best kind of conversation with an artist you look up to - meaningful, motivating, and fun. In the space of 20 minutes we managed to get deep about what the art of caricature means and the ways in which humans relate to each other visually. He told me when I get into the weeds on a portrait that I’ve been working on for a while, to go back to your very first, initial impressions of the face, and “hang on to them like a life raft in a raging storm.” And he recommended me to two new caricature artists’ work for reference - William Auerbach Levy and Ralph Barton - who both worked in the simple, linework-focused, reductionist style that I’m trying to achieve. It was a wonderful exchange, made more so because I could sense that he was as delighted to talk to me as I was to talk to him.

It was on this note that the weekend ended, and my fifth year at CTN came to a close. Going forward into 2018, I have a few directives: 
  1. Concentrate on creating characters and illustrations with simpler, bolder shapes and lines 
  2. A new simplified-style portfolio story, tailored for my passion genre, kids’ educational TV (now that Pinga is leaving me alone) 
  3. A few personal mini illustration series that I’ve had in mind for a while
  4. Caricature study on the side
  5. Finally start pulling my weight in terms of house settling-in and decoration so that I don't get divorced
But first... the annual Sous Family Christmas card calls. Happy holidays everyone!

© Gina Florio 2017

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