I am still recovering from my Jet lag after a day long flight, and while I was cherishing the memories I brought with me from CTN, I thought of writing down a post with my thoughts about the expo, and present a guide which could be useful for someone wanting to attend CTN next year.
1) About the expo: CTN-X is a known name to most of us connected to Art and Animation. Between hundreds of more conventions and expos (like Comic Con), this expo stands out by putting the Creative Talent in the Center. It is special as it brings the largest gathering of Animation industry professionals exhibiting, delivering workshops, talking, or simply attending. This was my first time attending it, and I was told that it just gets bigger every year. More on the expo can be found easily on their website, so I will proceed to sharing my personal experiences/recommendations instead.
2) Preparing for CTN: Go with an extra suitcase! Or a suitcase big enough to add more items in your return journey. You might end up with double the items you came with. Print around 100-200 business cards, and keep some freebies if you can (art prints, postcards, candies). For Portfolio, print (album/book) or digital (iPad) anything works. Don’t make it too heavy to hold, or too many slides to show. The people who will see it will be very busy, and you won’t get a lot of time from them. 10-15 images should be enough. Use your own picture (or a very resembling avatar if you really need to) as your profile picture on Facebook, so people can recognise you there. I met a friend who had her business card pinned to her shirt pocket, which was a good idea too to get spotted.
3) Duration of stay: I personally recommend you to book your stay around 2-4 days in addition to the expo dates. You might need those days for making more from the expo, meeting people you took appointment with, or visiting studios.
4) Where to stay? Clearly staying in Los Angeles Marriott Burbank Airport Hotel excels over staying anywhere else. It’s the same hotel where the convention hall is, and has most number of guests exhibiting at CTN. It might appear a bit expensive than other options available (especially from Airbnb), but is totally worth it. Keep an eye on the availability of this place though, as it gets booked in the blink of an eye. Here are some advantages of staying at Marriott:
a) You stay closest to the expo: The hotel has connectivity with the expo area from inside, so you don’t need to drive or walk down. Saves your energy during a hectic routine.
b) Easy unload: You can unload your shopping bag by coming to your room, and returning to the expo as many times, with ease. I ended up buying lots of stuff from artists, and it made difficult for me to experience the expo, so I quickly came to my hotel room, dropped off my purchases, and went back. Plus, you can stretch your legs on the bed for a few minutes regaining energy, while your phone charges a little.
c) Ideal for meetings: If you made a new connection with someone, and want to invite him/her to your room to talk about projects/profession, you get more privacy and focus than the crowded spots around the expo.
d) Bump into professionals: Like I said, most exhibitors stay in this hotel, it increases your chances of accidentally finding someone in the lobby, room floors, and get a conversation started.
e) Stay late!: If you stay in the same hotel, you can without any worry stay late in the expo area, make friends, having dinner or drink with people. On the final day of expo, I was sketching with a great group of artists, and we all stayed there till 1 AM. I was able to be there, as I knew my hotel room is just around the corner.
5) What to do at an Artist’s Table? Now, this is the heart of the whole expo, and there are a lot of things that can be important to you when you’re visiting an artist at their desk. Here’s some of my recommendation:
a) Meeting the Artist: Almost every artist exhibiting at CTN-X will be very welcoming and happy to see you. Return the warm welcome with a good smile, greeting, and make a nice short introduction. If you are familiar with his/her name and work, congratulate them. If you are an Artist yourself, and the artist on table is your social media connection, don’t expect that he or she may recognise you. Artists are connected with thousands of people, and it is very natural if they don’t know or recognise you. On your side, prepare a bit before coming to the expo, by discovering their work, and talk about their work that you know when you meet them. Don’t sound like a stalker though by telling them about the Ibiza vacation pictures you saw in their Facebook.
b) Talking to the Artist: Now, how much will you end up talking with the artist is entirely dependent on you and them, the time available, and how much you know each other or are curious about. With some, I ended up staying at their tables for more than 20 minutes, and with some others, we just smiled at each other and I kept walking, while he or she was occupied with something else. You can start off by asking the artist what he or she does (if you don’t know already), or ask them how’s their day going? Maybe they might ask you about yourself, and that’s a good starting point to tell them about you and your expectations from the expo, especially coming to their table.
c) Browsing Artist’s Table: If you spoke to the artist, and used some of their time on table, don’t just keep an eye contact without looking around at what they have brought. Even if you are familiar with their work online, spend some time by flipping over their prints, sketches, or books. Don’t just go to someone’s table, and scream out, ‘Hey! I Love your work! Bye-bye!’. Even if you don’t have the budget of buying their products, they might appreciate you for your time going through their things and showing respect to their Art. Be very watchful while you do that, and don’t ruin the arrangement, or drop anything on floor. Keep your water bottle aside, and don’t put your book, shopping, tablet, bag or any such thing on their table (if you really-really need to, take their permission). If they have a business card, pick one gently, and if you want another, humbly ask them if you can.
d) Showing your work: If you were carrying your portfolio, and you wanted the Artist to see it, you could do that here. But remember that the Artist might have less time available for you, as there are others waiting, or they must be tired, etc. Make a humble request asking if they have a few minutes to spare to look at and critique your work. If they say yes, take out your book/tablet, and offer them to browse through it. While they see your work, pay attention to the comments they have for you. Keep a small notebook if you can, and bring it out to write down what they’re saying. Most importantly, do not defend or give excuses when someone is commenting on your work. Lastly, thank them for their time for going through it, and if possible, make sure you buy something from their table, as a token of thanks for their time spent on you.
e) Buying at the tables: Major reason to go to CTN-X after getting the opportunity to meet the artist, is to buy their Art. Things there are rare collectibles, because most of them are self-published/printed, and not easily available elsewhere. So make sure you go with a budget in mind, and spend wisely. Now, I don’t know what budget may work for you. I went with around $400 to spend (and spent all of it), while some may spend more than me, and some may have a lot less. One thing is for sure, that no matter what your budget is, you might easily end up spending whole of it, while still being left with things you wanted to buy, but couldn’t. One tip here is to prioritise your purchase. If you have an artist you admire most, among all others, make sure you have bought your dream book/print from their desk before you end all your money. Keep an eye on posts from these artists before CTN, and if they are limited prints, make sure you buy them on day one! If you want to reserve a copy, contact the artist. Most artists might have a price label next to their products, if not, feel free to ask. It’s alright if you don’t buy it, and they won’t mind. If they have a freebie on their table, take it, thank them for that, and keep it. If you had something in return to give, you could give them that (business card, print, pin, etc.). Most Art Prints or originals are already signed, and usually they sign and/or draw if you buy a book from them.
6) Panels and Demos: Besides Artists’ Pavilion, CTN has workshops, talks, etc. If your type of ticket allows, you can go and attend these panels. The format of 2016 was a bit different from previous years. This year, entry to these panels was given through Add-Ons that were purchased through their website, and then some cards with the panel title was given at the time of badge collection. Irrespective of you holding a VIP pass, this new system requires you to stand in the queue with everyone to get into the room. I was also told that add-on was not compulsory to have, and they allowed people in if there were seats available, though I didn’t test that out and therefore do not know. Usually arriving 15 minutes prior to the session ensures entry, and nice seating location. Truthfully, I bought a lot of add-ons, but attended just one session, as I was satisfied enough with the Expo area, and all of my three days were spent there. You might also see demo tables, with some very talented artists drawing live!
7) What pass to buy? CTN-X lists various options of tickets to buy through their website. Starting with one-day expo pass to 3 days passport and VIP pass (being the most expensive). I bought the VIP pass, as I wanted to make the most out of my expo, especially as I was travelling from so far, and was already going to spend a lot on my flight and stay anyway. VIP pass gets you everything including entry to expo area, first preference to buy an Add-On, and early/priority choice of winning a lottery for CTN-X special events (like studio tours etc.) and some VIP lounge access which I didn’t go to. Previously, VIP pass holders had a separate queue to enter the panels, but I guess they changed it this time, to make it easier for all, and the opportunity open to everyone. However, in my personal opinion, it kind of levels the importance of VIP pass equivalent to any other pass, whereas the VIP pass was quite expensive. It was mentioned that VIP pass holders have a greater chance of winning lottery. However, I signed up for all of the events (breakfasts with the pros, Disney/DreamWorks studio tour, close and open the show), but my name didn’t come out in any of those. In fact, I did find many of non-VIP pass holders winning it and going to these exclusive tours/events. This made me a bit sad, but then that’s that! In other words, if you don’t want to buy a VIP one, it’s all right, and going to the expo in itself will be enough and satisfying, I can guarantee that!
8) Where to eat? CTN brought in some food stalls near the expo area, making some food and drinks available to purchase, which was really good. You also find hotel’s restaurant named The Daily Grill nearby, but since it’s quite expensive, I will recommend you to cross the road and go to other options like McDonald’s, Panda Express, Del Taco, etc. The Daily Grill also charged my card twice for the breakfast I had once (that too on different dates), so I am not going to them again! J About water! If you are a European, relax and chill. Water in that area is free, and there are also dispensers around expo area, which you can use for refill.
9) More to do! CTN also offers Portfolio Reviews, and similar activities, but I didn’t sign up for those, so do not know much about them. However, there’s still a lot you can do during your CTN trip:
a) Studio Visits: As CTN happens in Burbank, there are lots of Animation Studios around that area, and if you have time during your stay, you could visit them by taking the official tours. You can find brochures with more info on that at the Burbank Airport.
b) Designer Con: That’s another convention that takes place in LA around the same time as CTN. It doesn’t see these many known artists like in CTN, but if I need to talk about the size of the expo, how it was spaced out, and some awesome collectible toys it had, it’s a great place to go to! I wish CTN and D-Con didn’t overlap, so anyone coming to Burbank at this time of the year could go to both.
c) Stay Out! If you want to make most out of CTN, don’t just crash on bed, but stay out! Walk around in the lobby, go to the restaurants, and meet as many people as you can! You will make company with people you didn’t know before, and it’d make the experience of coming to CTN-X memorable and rewarding. Don’t stress yourself. Don’t force an agenda/objective on you. Don’t pressurise yourself that your portfolio needs to be seen, or someone should offer you work opportunity, or anything else that could benefit your career. Let it go easy, that place is all about relaxing and spending time with people from your industry. The rewards will come on their own; you don’t need to run after them! So, go, mingle, have fun, relax, and if you are lucky, you might end up having breakfast with Mel Milton, while he draws his routine Morning Dook, and you could watch him draw right in front of you! Isn’t that a lottery?
The thoughts presented here are based on my personal experiences, and my opinion/recommendation may bring different result to someone else. I have tried to cover everything I remember, but if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to e-mail to email@example.com :)