The second CTN Animation Expo happened the last three days in Burbank, and I’m really glad I went for the whole thing this year. Despite some rough edges, it was well worth the time and money (and I came away with some ideas for several blog posts).
One of the great things about gatherings like this (actually, CTNX is the ONLY gathering like this these days) is that you run into scores of old friends, students, and colleagues, and you get to meet a ton of new people (here’s a nice summary with photos of last year’s event by Randall Sly; the photos look like they could have been taken at this years event, so this gives an idea of what it was like). I was pleased that several people talked about enjoying my blog, so I’m also fired up to try to post more regularly.
I got into the animation business because I happened to go to the ASIFA Animation Opportunities Expo at Universal City in 1996, and got an informal portfolio review from the always gracious Andreas Deja. One thing led to another, and a short time later I was working professionally. That was during the animation boom, and the event was absolutely packed, and buzzing with energy. As the hand-drawn boom died, so did the ASIFA Animation Expos, and for years nothing replaced it in the Southern California area, which is ironic given that there are more animation professionals and studios here than anywhere in the world. Now, of course, Tina Price and CTN have rectified that, and the second annual CTNX feels like a sustainable, valuable event that deserve an annual mecca to Burbank. I may yet get an online survey to give Tina my thoughts and opinions, but while my thoughts are fresh, I thought I’d put them down here.
My first impression, on Friday and Saturday, was that they had already outgrown the space in Burbank. There were long lines to get into most of the presentations and panel discussions, and if you didn’t get into the room when the event started, you were locked out (no coming and going, like at a comic convention). This really annoyed me when I arrived a couple of minutes late for Mike Nguyen‘s July Films presentation, and the guard at the door waved me away. I then skipped a couple of other presentations, because I didn’t want to invest spending an hour or so in line when I could be browsing the booths, especially when many of the events were starting late (which happened a lot of Friday and to a lesser extent on Saturday).
If the door guard and the volunteers had done a better job of explaining that there were overflow rooms at the other end of the building, with large video monitors where you could not only see the presentations, but come and go (since there were always two panels/presentations going at once, this was often desirable), I would have been perfectly happy. I wouldn’t have missed anything except the rare event where even the overflow room was packed to overflowing. So I recommend in the future that the overflow rooms be advertised better, and make sure the guards and volunteers know to steer people in that direction. Also, if there’s any way to get slightly larger overflow rooms, do it.
Finally, put up some signage, indicating what’s happening in what room! On the same corridor, away from the main entrance, there were three rooms in a row: a post-presentation Q&A room, where the presenters and moderator would retire after the presentation to take questions in an intimate setting (a fantastic idea), and the two overflow rooms. Many people didn’t know these rooms existed. People frequently wandered in and out of these rooms, interrupting and asking what was going on in that particular room. There was even the funny moment when Charles Solomon, Tadahiro Uesugi, and Tadahiro’s interpreter showed up in one overflow room and started taking questions from people sitting in for a different presentation, while the people from Tadahiro’s presentation sat in the Q&A room wondering where he went. A large sign above the entrance to that corridor, and a smaller sign at the door of each of those three rooms, would have made my first couple of days at CTNX far happier.
I also learned, on Sunday morning, that for people who registered for all three days, there were Fast Pass tickets available. If you had a 3-day registration, you could get a fast pass ticket to three of the events, so you wouldn’t have to wait in the general admission line for those three presentations (at least until the fast pass tickets for that event were gone). If you got one of these first-come, first serve tickets, you were guaranteed a seat. Someone told me these were advertised on the website, but I never noticed this, and when I registered in advance I don’t recall that valuable feature being highlighted. It would have been great to know that I didn’t have to plan half of my day around getting into the few events that meant the most to me. When I picked up my registration, someone should have directed me to a line where I could have picked some Fast Pass tickets, or at least let me know they existed.
The screenings were also sub-optimally organized. I was able to see The Illusionist on Thursday evening, and Tangled on Sunday. This was a wonderful perk to registering for CTNX, and I thank the respective studios for making this happen. I won’t go into detail, but the online registration for these events was confusing, to say the least. Additionally, sending out urgent emails that there are only 50 seats left, and then getting to the screening and seeing hundreds of empty seats available (as happened at The Illusionist screening), is counter productive. I know people who didn’t go because they assumed it would be a packed house, and they weren’t sure they even get a seat. Finally, an off-site system where it takes about a minute to confirm each audience member leads to staggering and exhausting delays before each screening. Perhaps those who successfully RSVP could print out a ticket off their home computer, and show up with that. Having a few volunteers searching though pages of names one by one is a terrible system. For the Moebius event, we all picked up rubber bracelets in advance, and entry into that event was smooth and easy. Consider something along those lines for future screenings.
The lines that formed before the on-site CNTX events were also sometimes a mess, and I know a lot of people were annoyed that they’d wait in line for an hour, and when the line started moving other people would suddenly jump into the line and get the best seats. I know managing these lines is a pain, and a certain amount of the honor system must prevail, but the volunteers probably could have gotten a little more preparation in advance. By Sunday the line system seemed pretty dialed in, but on Friday and Saturday there were times when the corridor outside the main room was in gridlock, it was impossible to tell where some lines started and ended, and there was a ton of frustration.
One common refrain I heard was that the event was a victim of its own success, and had already outgrown Burbank. I said the same thing on Friday and Saturday. But by Sunday I changed my mind. On Sunday, the crowds were down, and was very easy to spend time chatting at the booths and hanging out at the numerous excellent demos, and I realized that the intimacy would be lost if the event moved to a huge venue like Anaheim or the LA Convention Center. It was annoying having to walk a hundred yards to the second vendor room, and larger meeting rooms would have been a big help for many events, but there’s something vital about being in Burbank, one of the animation capitals of the world, and being in a space where you’re constantly literally bumping into friends and animation celebrities. It also makes it easy for people working in nearby studios to come over on Friday, without taking an entire day off from work. So my final thought is, stick with Burbank, and improve some of the organizational aspects.
All in all, it was a fabulous event! I wish I’d brought a camera and taken pictures. My hat is off to Tina and her staff and all the volunteers, and I’ll definitely be back next year.