I’d always wanted to come to Pictoplasma, I’ve got lots of their books and after all… they have changed the face of character design and art irreparably. So now here I was finding my way to the .HBC to get the pink wristband I’d wear for the next four days to give me access to a staggering amount of talks, films and workshops, with artists such as Pleix, Grant Orchard, Nathan Jurevicius, Gary Baseman and more. Each year they always have the next wave of character designers talking and this year’s lineup too was a cracker.
Each year begins with the Character Walk – this was a series of 15 exhibitions by artists from the conference, dotted in a big loop around the Alexander Platz/Rosenthaler Platz area. When i showed the map to my friend Ray, he said “wow, that looks like it’s made by a graphic designer” – it was a bit minimal but very attractive – and whilst I overshot the mark by a few block on the first location, soon I was threading my way through the back streets of Hackescher Markt, finding heaps of other cool places I want to go back to – yes that’s you I’m looking at Gestalten bookshop. I also saw a shop the specialises in selling bells of all kinds (aaah germany, you crazy thing).
Big faves for me were Ben Newman’s show of Masks (I snuck back and bought a litho print), Joshua Ben Longo’s felt creatures and also some cool drawings he did and seeing Mark Gmehling’s beautifully rendered forms up big – I had only ever seen these things as little jpegs. All the shows were great though, check the program. Later in the afternoon the beers started flowing at every venue, artists were everywhere and the excitement was building. Having worked my way back from a dusty start to the day, I called it quits on high after Pleix’s great interactive installation and went back to my room to rest up for Day 1.
Day 1: began with 2 hours of screenings (I saw about 60 films all up so will post some of the highlights in another post). Mark Gmehling was first up to bat – talking through his life of coming from teenage graff writer to 3D solo artist. I was lucky enough to do a Cinema 4D workshop with him where he showed an audience of half “newbies”/half 3d users, just how elegantly and simply you can twist nurbs into beautiful 3D characters. I can’t say I mastered Cinema 4D in 2 hours but I got a good taste for how to make some stuff applicable to my needs without having to learn some crazy Pixar action.
After that was Joel Trussell, whose life has taken many twists and turns and has gone from making crazy videos for Kid 606 with pieces of fruit to just recently directing 20 full length episodes of an animated series for Tom Hanks. After this came Australia’s reigning vinyl champ, Nathan J, and Oscar nominated animator for Studio AKA, Grant Orchard. He had a major turning point when he took off 3 months sabbatical, which is always nice to hear, and his latest short film, A Morning Stroll, is quite great. I missed the last three talks unfortunately but was lucky to hang out with Aaron Leighton (Uppercase mag) and Lucas Zanotto at the closing party and they are both top guys (really sorry about the lack of negative reviews so far… but you might not find any later on either).
Day 2: more great screenings – madly scribbling down notes in my program. One thing hit me sitting there is just how much better it was watching these films on the big screen in a relaxed viewing situation then as little web previews in stolen moments during a work day. Even things I’d seen before were given full justice.
After we crowd surfed Florentijn Hofman’s big inflatable duck…
I saw Pleix explain their slick French communal ways and then went to a talk Nathan J gave about Indie Game development, outlining the stages behind the Scarygirl in its several incantations and his new Latvian owl inspired game “Paleda” – although as he says “I was into owls since before they were cool.” Having done quite a bit of digital media assessment it was cool seeing someone who loves games and art putting them together in a way which was good, and making games which actually worked rather than them seeing like an add-on. His work and characters sprawling through a variety of mediums from vinyl toys to movies to graphic novels in several countries all of which he somehow steers them from his ornate treehouse studio (I imagine) in Toronto.
After this I did a live drawing class with sound designer, David Kamp, where he would play soundtracks to imaginary creatures and we would have to draw them. Like any life drawing class – there were long and short poses, we knocked out 9 creatures over 2 hours and I can safely say I’ve never done anything like that before. This is my hairy tusked pig creature from Sound Drawing #18…
The night ended with talks by Ben Newman (Nobrow), Animade (who are hilarious) and resident Mexican artist Melissa Godoy Nieto. In the foyer Joshua Ben Longo and a small craft army were building the Biggest Feltmonster Ever and as it took form the excitement of the festival was becoming palpable. One amazing thing about this festival was just how approachable everyone was – I had drinks, conversations and good times with many of the speakers there as well as other visiting artists and animators and it was all totally normal. Y’know like it should be.
Day 3: French illustrators Sauerkids and German Illustration Institution, Henning Wagenbreth, started the proceedings on Day after another big morning of screenings. I was workshopped out by this point and just let the last 6 speakers wash over me, ducking out for coffees with fellow Aussie, Alex Grigg, and beers with Mikey Please. Gemma Correll, showed how you can be nice and shy and rule the world drawing little pugs; Jeanspezial, are like a French Wu-tang collective of stoner surrealist character art; Joshua Ben Longo, was exhausted from building his huge felt monster but still an irrepressible ball of enthusiasm offering “Love what you’re doing… don’t fucking stop…. and when someone asks what you do, lie with a smile and make its sound heaps better than it is.” as his takeaway advice. Femke Hiemstra, from Holland, closed the conference with a jaw dropping detailed insight into her process and crazy detail seeing her tiny paintings blown up so big behind her.
And then, BOOM! it was over. The night rolled into the after party – it was crowded, dark and loud. Backs were slapped, rounds were bought and the vibe was great. I dont know how Peter and Lars, the organisers, do it year after year, when most people would be happy to organise just one conference like this. But they are the heroes of the character world, toiling at the coal face, bringing together the players from this weird little world I work in, pulling them out of their studios, bedrooms and shoeboxes to get totally hyped and share that excitement. So much good times. I got out of there about 4am, inspired as hell but too tired to draw.