It’s hard to believe now, but a few months back I was lucky enough to be invited on a trip to sunny LA, visiting the CTN Expo and getting tours around a whole bunch of animation studios. The initiative was a brainchild of legendary Scottish animator Fraser MacLean. Along with Fraser, we had a range of Scottish animation professionals of many disciplines including traditional animation, CG animation, music composition, writing and production. The aim was to learn about the industry in California, spread word of the talent in Scotland, and make valuable contacts.
On the days leading up to the main CTN event, Fraser was kind enough to fill our schedule with visits to famous LA animation studios. First up was lunch with former Disney animator James Lopez. He was completely humble and down to earth, taking the time to discuss our work and what we do. Currently animating a new crowdfunded indie feature, Hullabaloo, James shared pristine artwork from the movie whetting our appetites for the forthcoming release.
Next, we took across the Hollywood Hills to Lexington Avenue and the studio of indie bad boys Titmouse. Our tour guide Steve Kellener introduced us to the animation team, hard at work on their range of famous TV shows, and the amazing looking new R-rated feature Nerdland. Over in Glendale, we got amazing access to the sprawling utopian campus of Dreamworks Animation. Our group got to experience the full studio atmosphere, and have lunch with bigwig David Burgess who talked about the upcoming Dreamworks feature Trolls.
Later that day we headed to Sony Animation in Culver City. Sony are an interesting setup, producing animated features as well as dedicated VFX work. We were treated to an incredible afternoon masterclass from Sony animation artists, including James Williams and Michael Kurinsky.
Just as the jetlag began to kick in hard, it was time for three days of awesomeness at CTN Expo. Based in Burbank, organised by The Creative Talent Network, this event is now in its seventh year. It’s a huge celebration, bringing together a unique blend of students and professionals of all levels of experience from all around the world.
The main draw is the incredible panels of industry heroes, who are happy to discuss their work with the crowds of animation lovers. My favourite panels of the weekend were indy studio Moonbot, British animation god Peter Lord, a line-up of talent from Disney’s Zootopia, stop motion pioneers Laika, character designers from Inside Out, and an amazing discussion of new French movie The Little Prince.
Two huge exhibition halls featured an array of artists and creative companies, there to sell merchandise, show off their work, or just to talk with fans. Throughout the halls were periodic live demos from animation mentors practising their art for the live audience - the best had to be animation royalty Toby Froud, who performed live with puppets from his new short film. Around the halls I got a chance to talk to some of the smaller (yet just as interesting) studios, who had come to CTN. 6 Point Harness - who recently produced the animated sequence in Spongebob 2 - demoed a fascinating Oculus Rift VR film. In the other hall, Powerhouse Animation were willing to give me useful feedback on my current showreel.
Another big draw was the educational element of the weekend - intimate workshops were put on for all those willing to brave the long queues. I found an excellent presentation about sound design from Boom Box Post, a studio who work with Nickelodeon, among others. They talked about their work and and demoed some of their innovative foley techniques to a rapt audience.
So that’s about it from me. Now I’m back in the cold, and it all seems like a distant dream. I’d fully recommend CTN Expo to animators, or just animation fans. The range of things to do is pretty great (albeit often over-subscribed). I’ve met some heroes, made tons of new friends - from both the UK and the States, received loads of career inspiration, and heard about other great animation events to attend.
Now I just need to a place to stay for CTN 2016… where did I put Brad Bird’s business card...?