CTN Animation Expo Recap

This past weekend I attended the first annual CTN Animation Expo in Burbank. What a fantastic weekend! Hundreds of animation artists descended on the Burbank Marriott for three days of workshops, seminars, networking, and hanging out. There were dozens of artists exhibiting their work and some top people in the biz giving incredible lectures and interviews.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the many highlights

Throughout the Expo several top artists were stationed out in the lobby doing live demos. Here Tony Bancroft (former Disney animator and director of Mulan) does a demo animation of Pumbaa from The Lion King. An overhead camera projected his work on large monitors.

A drawing workshop was held off and on in one corner of the lobby. I don’t know who the model was but he wore fantastic costumes and struck wonderful poses. The first time I saw him he was a pirate. Later he returned as a 20’s-era gangster complete with pin-stripe suit, and came back again as an Arabian sheik. There was so much going on I wasn’t able to sketch him very much but I did snap several photos and hope to do a few drawings of him later back in my studio.

Here’s one small section of the Expo floor. Dozens of artists set up booths selling sketchbooks and artwork. Several major animation studios (Disney, Sony, WB, etc.) were also there with recruiters reviewing portfolios. I “spent my wad” and then some, bringing home an armload of inspirational goodies. I was also able to show my character design portfolio around and several people gave me very valuable info as to how I can increase my chances of landing more character design work in the industry.

Artist Chad Frye volunteered at a booth called “Help The Hodges”. Recently the teenage son of animation director/producer Tim Hodge was struck by a train and is now in a coma. Several artists donated original sketches, books, dvd’s, signed posters, etc. for a raffle to raise money to help the Hodges with medical bills. I’ve worked under Tim Hodge and he is a terrific guy. It’s very hard to watch their family go through everything they are enduring. In the near future more original artwork will be auctioned off on ebay. You can learn more about the cause here.

In one of the most popular events, a group of Pixar artists participated in a panel discussion on the story process at Pixar. The room filled to capacity so the event was broadcast onto TV monitors to an overflow crowd in the lobby.

Disney producer Don Hahn interviewed art director Andy Gaskill (best known for his work on The Lion King). Later I was able to corner Mr. Gaskill and he graciously took a couple of minutes to look over my portfolio and offer me some pointers. That was a real treat!

Lead Disney animator Andreas Deja (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, Hercules, Princess and the Frog) has finally released a sketchbook and was signing copies.

Another popular event was a panel discussion on character design, which also played to overflow crowds out in the lobby.

Famed illustrator and character designer Peter de Seve was on hand for the release of his new book, A Sketchy Past: The Art of Peter de Seve (Amazon.com link). It’s a beautiful hardcover weighing in at 238 pages. It contains sketches and final artwork for several of his covers for The New Yorker, as well as concept art from animated films such as Disney’s Hunchback and Blue Sky’s Ice Age movies, and dozens of other projects.

Peter de Seve (pictured on the right) also gave a live demo of his work and talked about his work during one of the seminars.

Each night the Expo finished up with a party. I had a lot of fun and met some very talented folks, which was also very inspiring.

Late Saturday night Disney producer Don Hahn treated everyone to a viewing of his new documentary, Waking Sleeping Beauty. It’s a fascinating film that takes viewers behind the scenes at Disney animation from 1984-1994, a period often referred to as the Disney Renaissance.

The decade began with the rise of Michael Eisner as the new head of Disney along with the release of The Black Cauldron, an underwhelming film created by a struggling animation department. Things were so bad that the Disney animators were banished from their own building on the studio lot—the same building in which Walt himself supervised the production of his classic films—and relocated to a small run-down structure across town. Rumors were everywhere that the animation unit was very close to being disbanded altogether.

The struggling team of young animators pulled together and eventually produced genuine blockbusters, culminating with Beauty and the Beast winning an Oscar nomination for best picture. But as Disney animation climbed to new heights and animators rose to new levels of fame, tensions rose within the leadership at Disney. Through rare behind-the-scenes video and interviews we get an insiders look at internal conflicts within the studio. The film closes with executive Jeffrey Katzenberg eventually leaving Disney to form a new animation unit at DreamWorks.

If you’ve seen the Disney documentary Dream On Silly Dreamer (Amazon.com link, iTunes link), Waking Sleeping Beauty might be considered a sort of prequel.

Waking Sleeping beauty will begin a limited run in movie theaters in April 2010. I sincerely hope it eventually makes its way to DVD and Blu-Ray.

One of the best and most energetic presentations at the Expo was given by Bruce Block. He gave a seminar entitled “Visual Structure and Story Structure in Filmmaking”. It was a fascinating look at how visual principles (composition, camera movements, lighting, color, etc.) are used to engage and audience and tell a compelling story. After the seminar I picked up a copy of Block’s book The Visual Story (Amazon.com link) and have had a hard time putting it down. It’s loaded with great info presented in an easy-to-read manner. There are loads of illustrations and many chapters end with a list of films that Block recommends you watch to study the principles discussed in that chapter. If you want to get a solid introduction to the visual side of filmmaking, I highly recommend this book!

The final event at the Expo was a 45-minute interview with legendary character designer Harald Siepermann. Siepermann is a brilliant artist and I am a huge fan of his work. He came all the way from Germany to show us slides of his concept art from various Disney films and other projects and to discuss his work. He also mentioned that a book is in the works showcasing much of his work. I don’t know when it will be released but I am eagerly looking forward to it.

The CTN Animation Expo was a huge success and it was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. All of the organizers deserve a huge thumbs up. I can’t wait for next year.