Sunday, November 30, 2014

CTNX and California Part Deux!

Well, it's getting late but I'm still pretty awake. At least I am as I'm starting this. Let's see how much I can cover before I pass out!

Thursday! The pre-CTN day. They did some CTN related stuff that day, include a screening I missed that I wanted to see, but it was for an exceptionally valid reason! Thursday started with a quick breakfast, then we got the whole group together again for a new adventure!

Oh, before I go farther, one of the best parts of this trip was meeting new people. Or in a fair amount of cases, people you've only met online. Animation Mentor has been a big thing in my life for the past year, and a big reason for that is meeting so many people that feel the way you do about animating. I've made a couple of very close friends because of my classes. I stayed with them at the hotel for the duration of the trip as well! Technically it was Thursday when she arrived, but the first of these friends got there after a couple of plane delays at, give or take, one am. So after we all napped, we got to actually spend our first day together touring the town! I apologize again Kimberly for being less than half awake when you got there. Haha.

Anyways, it all started with a quick trip down to Hollywood Blvd to try and find John Lasseter's star for Shanel. It wasn't the most glamorous place, but it was still a good bit of fun! It was bittersweet to see Robin William's star. What a great man... he will be dearly missed. And all of Hollywood knew when she saw the star... She squealed. Everyone on the street stopped to watch us all. It was a true animation groupie moment. The giant Baymax balloon over the El Capitan Theater was really cool too! And speaking of Disney, we stopped at the Disney store on the Blvd, because, well, why not? It was great, because it was a Disney slash Ghiradelli store. It smelt so good... They had a bunch of Jim Shore's figures as well. I love that man's statues. If you get a chance, check him out; exceptional craftsmanship. I was hoping they'd have the Sally one I need for my collection, but alas, they did not...

Shanel with John Lasseter's Spirit- I mean star...
Group shot at the Chinese Theater
I think I need some sunglasses... (left > right: Chelsea, Kimberly, Myself)
I somehow didn't move at all between these pictures...
I'd rate my pleasure an 8 out of 10, Baymax.
After this, the group split up. Phil and Jacob had to go on a tour of the Walt Disney Animation Studio; Animation Mentor was doing a special tour for graduates. So Jacob went as a plus one. Haha. The rest of the group decided to get in touch with our friend who works for Riot and drive to Santa Monica for a tour! The drive was a little long, but we got to see so much of Cali on the way! Beverly Hills looked amazing... Anyway, we made it to Riot Games! Sarah, you are super awesome for letting us in for a tour and to geek out for over an hour!

Omg... so close... *heavy breathing*....
You jealous yet Austin?!
Group Shot! L > R: Angelo, Myself, SARAH, Chels, Shanel, and Kimberly
We went inside and signed our silence assuredness clauses (NDA's), and it began. It was so cool, in the lobby they had a giant TV with live streams of games playing. Beside that screen, were two smaller ones with live events being flashed across them. The first place we went to was like a game area, where everyone got to chill together and hang out when they put on events for the employees. Very cool. Then we got to go upstairs to the see the real stuff!

And unfortunately, I can't talk about everything that I saw up those stairs, but man it was awesome. Got to meet so many of the people that make the art for the game, and see some of the stuff they were currently working on. One of the coolest bits was seeing the animators working. Everyone was having so much fun working too! One of the animators, I can't remember his name unfortunately, literally said "They tell me that this is working, but it's just too much fun!" What a great guy, sums up all the feels in one sentence. Everyone there was so nice, and the atmosphere was so inviting. We all wished we could've just chilled there with them all day, chatting and playing games. And maybe the coolest thing in the studio was the art along the walls. Getting to see progressions for some of the splash art was inspiring. Or getting to see just images with line work only, oh man, I was losing it. They were all so good! So much talent at this studio. Props Riot, you're doing it right! 

Can't thank you enough for letting us visit Sarah! This was also the reason I missed the first screening for CTNX, but it was so worth it. Wouldn't change a thing.

We did get back in time to prep for the Animation Mentor Graduation Party though! After the arduous journey driving from Santa Monica back to Burbank, we were all able to register and pick up our badges for the conventions. Now that was an experience in and of itself. I got to meet another one of my classmates/great buddies, Zeina, who'd arrived before us. I met her in the VIP lounge to get my VIP badge, and it was all chill. I was just chatting away with the two girls manning the table in the lounge, when I looked up toward the back of the room, and Glen Keane was just leaning against the back wall drinking water. Glen Keane! I was trying to get my head around that, when I turned back to talk to Zeina, when Carlos Baena, Shawn Kelly, and Bobby Beck walked in. What the heck! It seemed so surreal; all I could do was say "What's up Bobby?!" Because, you know, he was first in line, and I couldn't function at that point being in the presence of celebs. Or are they royalty? *Shrugs*

As a note, for anyone who doesn't know who these gentleman are:
     ~ Glen Keane is a famous Disney animator, who's been working at Disney for decades. He is credited as developing the style that Disney Princesses have followed from The Little Mermaid on. He also brought the feel of 2D animation to Tangled after Walt Disney Studio's revamp a few years ago. Most recently, he worked on the short "Duet" for mobile platforms.
     ~ Carlos, Shawn, and Bobby are the three co-founders of Animation Mentor. Carlos and Bobby were both Pixar animators, and Shawn works at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM). 

Bobby was so cool about it too. He just threw his arms out and replied "Heeeyyyy!" It was greater because it felt like he kind of recognized me from the AM campus, but couldn't really put his finger on it. I was all smiles watching these idols walk past me to go meet with Glen. I ran back to Zeina and we were both just having a mental conversation with each other. No words were spoken, only hand gestures, but this was what transpired between us:

"Dude, did you see that!"
"Yeah man, I told you, VIP Lounge!"
"This is insane, it's them! They are real, and here, and so close!"
"Stop drooling, we should go talk to them!"
"Oh my gosh, yes, we need too. How's my hair?!"

Roughly what was said. Haha.

So while we were silently making our way toward them and waiting, another Animation Mentor buddy joined us. Brad came up to us like "Hey, Chels and Kim wanted me to let you guys know they are waiting out there, you ready?" Zeina and I didn't even say anything to him, just pointed to the back of the room. It took him a second, but when he he saw who they all were, he agreed to stay with us in the lounge for a little bit longer. We began inching toward them all again.

And just when I thought it couldn't get any more amazing or crazy, it did. I get a tap on the shoulder and Steve Cunningham is there, asking who let us into the VIP section. Steve! My mentor from Class 03 at AM, and current animator working at Reel FX! Though his credits include Frozen, El Dorado, Sinbad, and more. It was great to meet him in person. He was the same face to face as he was in class. He was so kind and funny, and he gave us more of his Animation Analogies for understanding Animation and the Theory Behind It. (I hope he sees this and writes a pamphlet or something called that.) 

Sadly, our conversation had to come to a close because they all had someone else to be. They were meeting up before they all went to the AM Graduation Ceremony. Then they all got together for an impromptu photo op. It was only supposed to be for like, CTNX publicity I think, or for themselves, but everyone in the room pulled out a phone to snap a pic of them all together. So much amazing in one pic.

The Idols Convene L > R: Carlos, not sure, Glen, Shawn, not sure, Bobby, not sure, Steve. (I hope these not sures don't see this >_>)
Then they all began to leave to go to the ceremony, but obviously got stopped and separated on their way to the door. We chatted with Shawn for a little bit. He was so chill and nice! We told him how we were looking forward to his eye animation workshop, and he got all excited. "All right, at least three people will be there!" I laughed and told him "Of course! But hey, don't you have somewhere you have to be?" "Oh yeah, I should probably get to that. See you guys later!"

The convention hadn't started yet, and already it was kick ass. 

At this point we all decided to go upstairs, settle in, and head out for dinner before the graduation's afterparty. Back in the room, we met the final partner in our five-man hotel room, Lorenzo! So then we all went across the street to Del Taco for dinner. That's where this lovely image came to be!

Del Taco Dinner Party! L > R: Brad, Me, Lorenzo, Jacob, Chelsea, Kimberly, and Zeina taking the picture.
Then after dinner we went back to the hotel for the afterparty. It was another great socializing event to meet new people and classmates! Met so many AM "celebs." And for whatever reason, they showed my reel as part of a loop that they had going during the party. I'm not quite sure why my reel was in there, I thought it would've only been for grads, but hey, it was really cool to see it up there and hear a couple chuckles over my pie shot!

We stayed there for a while until we all got tired. Then we made our way back up to the room to sleep. 

And thus, the Pre-CTNX Saga comes to an end. Upon the next day we would wake, it would be the real convention. 

I made it through the whole post! Woohoo! Stay tuned for more Californian escapades!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

California and CTNX! Part 1

This past weekend may have been the best weekend of my life, no foolin'. It was the weekend of the Creative Talent Network eXpo in Burbank, California. It was SOOOO much fun. It was a big convention made pretty much exclusively for animation enthusiasts, for anyone who might not have known that.

It was such an amazing experience. For starters, this trip was a lot of firsts for me. First time flying, first time leaving the east coast, first time one a big trip that wasn't with family. Not the first time sleeping on the floor in a hotel room though... ha. But that wasn't even a bad thing because of how awesome the weekend was! I'd go back and sleep on the floor the whole time if it meant I'd get another weekend with a couple thousand people who love animation like I do!

One of the best parts about the trip was the people. Not only did I get to fly out with a group of good friends, but I got to reconnect with friends that had already left for Cali. Then on top of that, I got to meet people I'd only ever talked to through my computer screen! I flew out there with my roommate Chelsea, who went to college with me, and is also an animator. We flew out with our friends Phil, Shanel, and Jacob, all whom we also met in college, but they were the year ahead of us. That first five our flight was something. It took forever to get to the bathroom. And it was Shanel's first flight too, and that was a lot of fun to watch. She wasn't the most composed on take-offs, haha.

From the left: Phil, Myself, Jacob, Chelsea and Shanel. First leg of the trip to Cali!
When we landed, it was immediately apparent how different the other side of the country was. There were mountains, something you never see in Florida. Heck, you're lucky to see a hill. The best part about the airport was that it was right next to the hotel where the convention was at and where we were staying! But to meet us at the airport was another member of the college class before me, Matt. He picked all five of us up in his car and took us over to the hotel so we could put our stuff down. Then I got in touch with a friend from Chels and I's class, Angelo. We all met up and Matt led us on a mini tour of the Burbank area. It was insane to drive by the Disney Animation Studio. I wasn't able to get a picture of it when we passed, but it became real at that moment. Like, you always see the movies they make, and you know they are out there. But then you see it in person, and it's real. It's right there. Disneyland, Disney World, no, not the happiest places on earth. The Animation Studio is where the magic is. And then we went to Dreamworks!

Angelo, Shanel and I, standing in front of Dreamworks!
Another moment where it became real. The security guard kept poking his head out of the booth to watch us. I almost went over to him to shake his hand and just say "Hey, you're gonna let me in here one day." 

The Matt took us to Griffith Park and their Observatory. That was really cool. You could see so much from up there, all the way to Santa Monica! It was great to see the little pockets of cities from up there. And I love spacey stuff. I've only ever wanted to be two things in my life: an astronaut/astronomer, and an animator. So going to planetariums and observatories are awesome to me. It was a little cold, but it was a lot of fun.


Yeah... that's my finger in the last one... Haha, no edits.

So then the final thing for Wednesday was dinner. We were all hungry at this point and hadn't eaten much all day. I wanted some Mexican food, and we wanted to get everyone in Cali together again. And we were able to! We hit up all the people we knew from Cali (we realized after that we forgot a couple, sorry guys if you read this!) So we all met and had some awesome food, and we all got to catch up. Not only that, but Shanel also introduced us to someone new! In one of the earlier classes of our college program, a short was made called Atlas's Revenge. One of the riggers on the short was a guy names Mike Navarro. He recently got a job at Walt Disney, and he was actually one of the main riggers on Hiro in Big Hero 6! And he went to school where we did! There's hope after all! It was so cool to meet someone who came from where we'd all started and made it happen. And he's so down to earth, we all just chatted and were introduced. It was so chill. That was something else I'd come to learn over the course of the weekend; that most other people within this industry are just so personable and awesome. You can walk up to almost anyone and just start a conversation. But Mike was really cool. We chatted about working on Big Hero 6, to daily life, to even playing League of Legends. He had some good behind the scenes stories about working with the animators and the assistants, and his work on Hiro shows. I think Hiro has some of the best subtleties I've seen in recent movies. He was telling us about how he kept adding in controls for the animators because they kept asking for more. And that facial rig is intense, just watch some of the TV spots and watch how the face moves. You can tell there's a lot of time and care put into it. Great job Mike! Especially for your first true feature!

Catching up with everyone was great. We got to hear about how everyone in Cali had managed to get some form of job. I'm in the wrong area.... Sarah and her boy are working at Riot Games, makers of League of Legends, Ben is working at Dreamworks TV, Mike of course is at Disney, and Erik and Matt are at visual effects houses. Seriously, I'm in the wrong state!

I think I'll wrap up this blog here. Kind of a summary of the first day there. I'll get into more later or tomorrow. But it was amazing. After just this one night, not even at the convention, just in Cali with people I went to school with working in the industry, I was so inspired to get back to work. Even mroeso as the weekend continued. I'm more determined than ever to make it happen. I won't be happy unless I'm animating. That's my bottom line! Animation, animation, animation! Hoorah! See you all soon with more of my escapades in Cali and CTN!