This review is long overdue, so to make up for the delay I'll be touching on the experience in 2015 as well as the aftermath news to follow. There have been a lot of speculations of what to expect of 2016, and I hope this article can give you the facts you need to make an informed decision if CTNx 2016 is right for you. There was a lot of love and support poured in from the community in conducting the following research. I'm grateful for those of you who took my surveys, and have gone so far as to reach out to me privately. This article would not have been as successful without you. It is also extra lengthy, so I've made hyperlink to help you speed to subjects that interest you.
If I could describe what the culture of CTNx felt like in one word, it would be passionate. There are so many talented individuals both attending and exhibiting, and people gather from all around over to be at this expo. It has some of the superstars in the animation industry, recruiters seeking new talent, great panels just filled with knowledge, experiences, and wisdom, and so much more. Everyone who goes to CTNx holds an immense love and passion for their craft, and it's inspiring to not only see this talent but to communicate with the brilliant artists behind it.
The attendance review will focus primarily towards the exhibitor halls, and any events or subjects that may have affected the halls. Hall A is in reference to the exhibitors located inside the Marriott Hotel, while Hall B is in reference to the large tent in the Marriott Hotel's parking lot. Hall A was where all the top-notch superstar artists were located as well as several companies and the center-stage live demo. Many attendees felt this hall in particular was filled with inspiration, but was very cramped and loud. This was in part due to the majority of superstar artists being in one room, as well as companies holding portfolio reviews or timed raffles which quickly created large crowds. With exception to the portfolio review lines formed outside the hall, there didn't seem to be any crowd management. Hall B had somewhat more room for walking, but often felt overheated and uncomfortable. Some attendees have suggested installing fans, getting rid of the tent overall, or breaking the extra long tent into smaller rows of tent for more air circulation and faster accessibility to small groups of artists as oppose to "running forever in a video game corridor."
The CTNx app got excellent reviews of being very helpful, but only for attendees who purchased wifi access from the Marriott. There wasn't any free wifi; and to be fair, there isn't a single convention out there that doesn't have this issue. This also created conflict with being able to complete CTNx's surveys for panels, workshops, and so forth. Unless you're a die-hard fan of CTNx and are willing to fill out the surveys to all your events after returning home and having your own wifi, or possibly make trips to a nearby Starbucks to use their wifi it's highly unlikely you'll even remember to do so. Additionally, the printed booklet that has a schedule of every event taking place more than often proved inaccurate and changes to the schedule were often last minute.
The "fast-pass", a special card you could purchase to get ahead of all the lines to attend an event, unfortunately caused more problems and frustrations than solutions. It was often the case the lines would be filled with fast-pass attendees, all of which have been waiting in line a good 1-2 hours before the scheduled event, and even then you weren't guaranteed a spot inside. The only ones guaranteed were VIP attendees, and if you didn't have a fast pass, you best save 2 hours of your life and do something else. Solutions suggested by the CTNx 2015 attendees were to completely get rid of the fast passes and possibly return to the system two years ago (where you chose a fast-pass with a specific panel written on top, so you had to really think about what you wanted to do that day), or to "register" your name on a sign-up list so that you could actually enjoy the convention and when it came time for the event you'd show up. If you didn't show up, the people on the "waiting list" would then take your place. For those able to attend a panel, workshop, etc. the actual content provided was often rewarding and beneficial. Not many notes were given on panel/workshop performance, however, since many attendees were only able to make it to 2-4 panels max for all three days.
Overall, the organization of the expo could improve for better attendee experience. I do hope CTNx and other conventions can learn from their attendees and continue to find ways of improving these three-day experiences.
Hall A primarily consisted of veterans and professional artists who have been in the industry for at least 8+ years, while Hall B consisted of a mix of professional artists and continuing students. The CTNx Sketchbook booklet provided some guidance of artists, examples of their work, and their location; but it didn't prove helpful in actually finding artists. Attendees requested there be a map with artist names listed. The typical booth space provided a 6'x3' table with a black table cloth and 6'x4' of space behind the table, 2 chairs, decent lighting, and 0-4 outlets with free electricity. The types of items that sold best included prints between 5"x3" and 8.5"x11" and small books; all products pricing between $5-20.
When surveying and interviewing CTNx 2015 artists, many of them commented that artists wanting to hold a booth should not expect to break even or exceed the cost of their booth unless they are superstar status. Unfortunately I do not have the 2015 booth price charts to share here, but based on my survey many artists noted spending approximately $250-800+ on a booth as well as $100-400+ for commute/transportation of art goods, hotel, food, etc. Many exhibitors do wish CTNx were more transparent about their pricing (prices seem to fluctuate at random times; this is not in relation to the early bird specials), or charged everyone the same price for their table space. CTNx is recognized more for its networking capabilities, and as such the primary attendees are often continuing students and artists looking to break into the industry or for continuing work. So what's the payoff of holding a booth if you could get that same networking in as an attendee? You get to promote yourself and your work (grow your fan base), your work and booth get reviewed by recruiters before they conduct any portfolio reviews, and you get invited to the exhibitor-only events and parties.
One of the loudest comments in the surveys was exhibitors feeling uncomfortable and for some upset by CTNx allowing an "opening night show" where attendees could walk around Hall A to get a feel of the space while the majority of exhibitors were not present. This left many tables unprotected, especially those that weren't covered in drapery. Many exhibitors and even attendees are asking CTNx to please not hold an "opening night show" unless there is actually a show.
Exhibitors would often be approached by students asking for portfolio/demo reel reviews. Many exhibitors do not mind, and are often impressed by some of the quality work students dish out every year. This creates many great connections, and for some could lead to potential job opportunities. However, some students don't know how to ask for portfolio/demo reel reviews or make meaningful connections. I asked exhibitors what they would advise students seeking portfolio/demo reel reviews and these were their answers: tell us your name (nothing more awkward than trying to hold a conversation with someone when you don't even know their name), let us know what you're looking for in a review, tell us what it is you want to do, don't try to defend your work, and actually want the review from that exhibitor (as oppose to approaching reviews like collecting Pokemon cards).
Exhibitors hold years of experience and have expressed a deep appreciation for CTNx. Simultaneously, it's evident the expo has room for growth and unless concerns are addressed the expo may lose exhibitors in the coming future.
For this aftermath, I am grateful I did not post this review on its initial release date. I have learned a lot about the CTN Staff, its creator Tina Price, and fellow artists' views of the expo. As always, I do not write these articles to state my own opinion, but rather to provide information to you and thoughts to consider if you plan on attending or exhibiting.
CTNx was first held in 2009 during what is officially known around Burbank, CA as "Animation Week". It has grown over the past seven years as a networking hot spot for young and veteran artists in the animation industry, and has since then only expanded. There is a clear sense of love and family within the CTNx staff, and it is openly shared through social media. I remember while writing this review back in December 2015 the CTNx Facebook page posted an album of their preparations for 2015's opening day. There were dozens of photos, each with a unique description, and they showcased people hard at work as well as appreciation for its staff and paid help. Since then I have had the pleasure of interacting with Price on small occasions through the internet. I did not interview Price due to time constraints (I shall note more about my life in next week's article), so unfortunately I cannot share her thoughts or future plans of CTNx here.
The subject around CTNx and Designer Con is very similar to that of California and Oregon; lots of artists love California, but can't afford to be in such a crowded expensive state so they're moving to Oregon, the cheaper alternative that still provides a rich artist community. Designer Con started in 2013 and is held in the Pasadena Convention Center on the same days as CTNx. Though it's a quick 21 minutes drive with no traffic between Designer Con and CTNx (Burbank Convention Center), it's enough to make exhibitors and attendees question which of the two is more financially beneficial. Investments must always have a balance with benefits. Between the two, CTNx has the larger sum of professional artists and veterans as well as a reputation of delivering high quality panels; and Designer Con has the immediate appeal of being fresh, spacious, and affordable. It's a safe bet to say if you're looking for networking experiences CTNx is your expo, but if you're looking for a convention where you can spend more money on buying art than your entry ticket than Designer Con is right for you.
However, more and more professional artists are migrating to the new convention for a majority of reasons including affordability, higher profit opportunities, breathing space to comfortably interact with attendees and potential customers, and most importantly having reassurance that their voices will be heard. Concerns regarding artists being heard is covered in the the following sub-section "The Aftermath: Suggested Solutions From the Community". Will CTNx continue to hold its reputation of being one of the best animation expos for networking? Will Designer Con replace CTNx and become the new platform for networking possibilities? I hope to conduct further research in the coming months, and be able to answer those questions for you.
Throughout my surveys, private interactions, and even artists openly expressing their thoughts on social media it's quite clear that CTNx is facing difficulties in supporting its fans and consumers. The two most popular demands include space limitations and financial costs of tables and tickets. It is true CTNx's success has flourished, but the expo hasn't been able to keep up with its growing number of attendees and exhibitors. A known fact among CTNx goers is that the expo cannot accommodate for the number of attendees anymore. Artists have openly expressed to CTNx and myself that the issue could be resolved if CTNx were to change locations away from the Burbank Convention Center. Many artists believe the expo refuses to move as it is within walking distance to the Burbank Airport, and therefore a considerate gesture for attendees and exhibitors. Whether this belief is true or not, the considerate gesture will unlikely be appreciated if the overall experience of the expo suffers. Where could CTN be relocated? That's something the CTN staff will have to figure out.
Some artists express frustration that CTNx does not try to solve problems regarding space or costs, and feel ignored. CTNx has tried on separate occasions to find a solution by playing with the layout of the outside tent as well as ticket pricing and their "fast pass" system. There has not been a solution yet that seems to satisfy both CTNx and its attendees and exhibitors. I've asked many artists what advice they would give CTNx 2016, and received lots of interesting solutions (some of which were noted earlier). I recognized a pattern fairly quickly in everyone's solutions, and it all based from one simple fact: people believe CTNx's mission has changed from animation networking opportunities to gain profit from artists.
CTNx continues to hold a special place in all of our hearts, but there is a shroud of doubt if that love is reciprocated. Every artist I've interacted with wishes to see these very real concerns resolved. However, the question doesn't revolve around how much we love an expo or how much effort was put into it, but can we afford to continue to be a part of future CTNx?
I wish the staff of CTNx a successful year, and that they take this article as information and facts gathered from the artist community. For past and future attendees and exhibitors, I wish for you to pause and reflect on this expo and after processing everything you've read (and any additional information you may have experienced or researched), to then come with an informed decision of CTNx 2016+.
This will be my first year exhibiting at CTNx. Though I can see many ways the expo could improve, I also know what makes this convention worth going is the artists. My first time attending in 2013 it felt like Christmas for three days. My second time in 2015 it was like a family reunion. Both were positive experiences, and each time it was truly the artist community that kept me wanting to come back. I'll be curious to see if there will be returning or missing faces this year.
I hope to gain many new experiences and perspectives, and shed even more light on the expo's future. What do you think of this review? Do you believe this review is fair? Do you feel CTNx is right for you, or do you still have questions left unanswered? Would you like to me to review other conventions and events? Let me know in the comments below.