CTN-X: A Real Animation Conference in the U.S.
written by Rick DeMott
CTN-X kicked off its first edition on Friday. Nov. 20th, bringing a new animation conference to Los Angeles. In it's first year, the event had quickly outgrown its home at the Burbank Convention Center with attendees lined up to attend various standing-room only panels. As can be expected from a first time event, there were a few hiccups I heard of from some attendees, specifically regarding registration lists, but overall the event ran smoothly and was put together with an desire to give people the biggest bang for their buck. In the halls of the convention center, there were animation demonstrations from 2D artists. Panels were broadcast in the halls for people to casually watch. A pirate was on hand for artists to sketch. There was plenty to do in between panels and walking the convention floor.
Sessions ran in two rooms in either 45-minute or 20-minute intervals. In a wonderful move, participants went outside after the panel to meet one-on-one with attendees to answer their questions. This gave attendees a more intimate time with panel members and also allowed for a steady flow between panels.
I attended two panels on the first day — the first being "VFX in Animation." Rhythm and Hues brought a trio of their animation supervisors — Keith Roberts, Matt Shumway and Kristin Solid — to talk about the differences between animating for visual effects and for animated features. Their advice to animators wanting to get into visual effects animation is to gear your reel to the studio. They mentioned that many animation schools don't teach realistic animation to students and that is what VFX studios need to see if they're going to hire someone. When hiring, vfx animation supervisors are looking for a sense of weight and line of action. Reels should also be kept simple. One to one and a half minutes max. DVDs should be professional looking but simple. Don't waste your time on fancy packaging. An applicant is better served by spending their time perfecting a short piece of animation. As far as what software one should, the supervisors said it really doesn't matter. Studios have proprietary software they will train you on. In the end, learning how to sell a performance is far more useful than mastering a particular piece of software. A bit of advice they gave to people applying for modeler or lighter positions is to think outside the box. For example, they see hundreds of modeler reels with realistic cars, so throw things up and model something like Cinderella's carriage. One of their final notes was that most vfx artists are freelance so it is key for animators to manage their own careers.
The second panel was "Crafting the Pitch" led by script consultant Pilar Alessandra. The energetic script guru had a lot of simple tips on keeping pitches focused. For log lines, start out with a "what if" question. So the log line for BIG would be, "what if a boy woke up one morning and was 30 years old?" For plot summaries, she said it's important to convey the title of your script and its specific genre such as courtroom drama or romantic comedy. She suggested that producers like to hear what films your ideas are similar to. In describing the main characters writers should not use character names, because producers won't be able to keep track of them during a pitch. However occupations are useful. Alessandra suggested using their flaw plus their job. So for THELMA & LOUISE, it would be the fiery waitress and the put-upon housewife. Then it's time to break down the acts describing the second act activity, the complications and the third act strategy. If it's a longer pitch, you'll have a change to talk about the unique approach your story will take and even some memorable set pieces. Alessandra suggests discussing theme only when you think it will be a selling point for your particular project. Because she is focused on live-action mainly, the session did however hit some bumps when it came to the Q&A. She either couldn't answer specifics about animation pitching or in one instance gave bad advice when pitching animated series. However, overall, the session was a solid one on helping creators organize their ideas for a pitch.
At 6 pm, the event through a wonderful VIP reception that later flowed into a party for all attendees that featured a DJ and dance floor. Many of the attendees, VIP or not, were impressed with the event simply after the first day. Don Levy of Sony Animation said it was nice to not have to go to Annecy, France to find talent from L.A. Many attendees enjoyed meeting artists and studio reps on the convention floor. Some hope that for next year the event will grow and bring more of the smaller studios in so artists have a chance to meet players they haven't heard of yet. All in all, the first day of this new event showed great promise for not only the next two days, but the future as well.