Thursday, February 5, 2015

CTN 2014 Recap

Heeeeeeeeeello everyone... I'm just going to pretend I'm Phil the Groundhog today, poking my head out to see if it's really, actually 2015 and I really, actually haven't posted in 3 months. (Two and a half if we're being really precise so put down those pitchforks already.)

I wanted to do a recap of the 2014 CTN Animation Expo before it got too far away, since building a professional concept art portfolio to show at that convention was ultimately the goal that I've been driving towards for... the entire time I've been writing this blog. To start off, here's a cute little recap video shot by artist Anthony Vu. (You can even see yours truly from 2:03-2:12!)

For anyone who doesn't know, CTN Expo (stands for Creative Talent Network) is a 3-day convention held every November in Burbank, primarily for the creative side of the animation and videogame industries. The convention floor mainly consists of artists selling originals, prints and books from their booths, but the major animation studies (Sony, Disney, Nickelodeon etc.) all have representations there as well. There are professional portfolio reviews that you can apply for ahead of time, as well as art-related panels and demonstrations that are constantly going on. It's almost frustrating to be there, because at any given time, 5 different things could be happening, all of which you want to be present for.

This was the fourth year of the convention (started in 2010). I had been the previous year, in 2013, but just for a day to walk around and see what it was all about. This year I went all out. I bought a 3-day pass and made reservations for a couple of art demos that I didn't want to miss. And most importantly, I worked really hard, for four months, to get my portfolio in order so I could have something at least mildly professional-looking to present for reviews. My completed portfolio can be seen here (or by just clicking the 'portfolio' tab above).

Firstly I just want to say that the energy at this convention is insane. It's a growing event in a fairly small space, so it can reach Comic-Con levels of crowdedness - but it's so awe-inspiring to be in a place where you know everyone else is just as much of an animation and concept art geek as you are. That said, it can also get incredibly taxing, especially if you enjoy your personal space as much as I do. My first day there (Friday) was an extremely long 8 hours of waiting in lines and jostling with crowds, as well as approaching artists I had been admiring over the internet for years, introducing myself, and asking them to look at my vastly inferior portfolio and give me feedback (which feels about the same as vomiting in front of an attractive stranger). I also had a professional portfolio review with Disney and with Bento Box (the producer of Bob's Burgers. Interesting side note, I found out they operate out of the same office building as 51 Minds, the reality TV production company I work for. Hollywood is a really small town sometimes).

I got really wonderful portfolio feedback - in that I have a fairly clear direction for what I want my next steps to be art-wise. I had several people say "Your skills are in a great place, you could be working as a prop designer right now, no question" (which got a little frustrating after the 4th or 5th time, because of course the ideal response would be "Okay, so... here I am!!") Lora Innes and Justin Copeland of the Paper Wings Podcast literally freaked out over my portfolio, giving me a huge boost at the very start of the convention. I was able to meet Pascal Campion, Cory Loftis, Brett Bean and Justin Rodriguez (both of whom I knew from the Drawing Club), my former character design teacher Jose Lopez, Oatley Academy helmer Chris Oatley, Clio Chiang, Stephen Silver, Bobby Chiu, and James Gurney (!), the author and illustrator of Dinotopia which I have loved since I was four. In addition, I was able to ask most of the above for a portfolio review, most of which were, at the very least, favorable. Almost everyone said something along the same lines - that I need to imbue my characters with more personality and I need to work on my storytelling. They all said this in different ways - some more specific, like tailoring environments to fit the characters more - and some more vague, like “It’s all in the line - you just have to find the line that speaks to the personality of the character.” They all asked for more action poses and more expressions, and more process work, like silhouettes and rough sketches, and they all encouraged me to do more plain observational drawing, painting and sketching. But the true revelation came when I talked to Dutch artist Edwin Rhemrev, and he said “Character Design isn’t about how the character looks. It’s about who the character is.” He showed me a page of sketches he’d done for a single character and said “See how these all look different? Here he’s old, here he’s young; here he’s fat, and here he’s skinny. But they all have the same personality. And you can tell.”

Ahhh. The clouds parted. I don't know that I've ever felt such sudden clarity in my life.

© Edwin Rhemrev

But the best thing about the convention was that by the end of the third day, I felt like I wasn't a lone little fish swimming against the tide anymore. Just from the sheer amount of time I spent there talking to people, asking questions, being polite, generally networking, I felt like I belonged there. My normally overactive imposter's syndrome had faded. On Sunday afternoon, I made the rounds to revisit the artists who gave me portfolio reviews, to thank them and buy something from their booths (the least I could do after the free advice they'd given me), and they all recognized me and greeted me warmly. I no longer felt, or feel, like an outsider in the Los Angeles animation community. Since the convention ended, I've been to several of the drop-in lifedrawing sessions and sketch clubs that I know of around LA, and almost every time I recognize someone and am able to quickly strike up a conversation. Even though I'm just an amateur artist, and it looks like I'm going to stay that way for the time being, I no longer feel like a phony sitting down to draw next to professionals from Dreamworks or Disney. And that feeling is priceless.

© Gina Florio 2015

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