Within eavesdropping distance, we overheard an artist remarking to their friend while pointing at our booth, “It’s a new animation app. And It’s really cool.” Aw shucks, as they say in the USA. We were in Los Angeles for Lightbox Expo 2023, held at the Pasadena Convention Center, October 27 – October 29. The support we received during our visit is what fuels us — people literally ran to our booth when the doors opened.
The expo is a magnificent pool of panels, demos, hands-on events, talented artists, film screenings, and afterparties. It attracts exceptional professional talent in both exhibitors and punters — which is why we returned in 2023 as principal sponsor. The engaged crowds arrived early, some slogging it out for the entire three days, trawling over 300 stalls and struggling to decide which of the 200+ panels to attend.
It’s exhausting in the best possible way.
Our booth was in the heart of the expo, known as Artist Alley. Here, exhibitors showcase their art and have precious face-to-face time with fans, fellow artists, and, potentially, future employers. The enthusiastic chatter was so immense it was often hard to hear our iPads, even at full volume. With such a quantity of discussion, we’re sure voices were lost by the end of expo. We certainly came close, only saved by a kindly stallholder delivering our team a generous handful of throat lozenges.
We brought along the latest pre-release version of Procreate Dreams and oodles of iPads for our splendidly large booth. Attendees of LBX were some of the first people in the world to play with our upcoming app. It was non-stop movement both in the booth and on the screen.
When we arrived for the first day, strong coffees in hand, eager crowds were already snaking around the exhibition center. Nearby at City Hall, artist and author James Gurney (Dinotopia) and 12 orange-capped, art-professional friends were setting up a special event to open the expo: a plein air (outdoor painting) session. Hundreds of participants got involved, each drawing a giant character of their choosing descending on peaceful Pasadena. As a metaphor, it fittingly summed up the collaborative spirit and colossal force of LBX landing on the sleepy suburb.
The city of Pasadena is located northeast of downtown LA and Hollywood, a charming and diverse area, full of trees and Art Deco architecture. Apart from the vibrant attendees, the most noticeable characters were the three returning event mascots stationed outside the exhibition center: Arra, Gigi, and Bebe (aka RGB).
Entering the hall, we were greeted with an enormous portrait by Airi Pan, senior concept artist for Blizzard. In it, two women are sailing a small boat at night, fishing stars from the ocean, while a celestial shower rains down overhead. It was an epic introduction to the sea of artistic treasures waiting to be scooped up within the exhibit hall.
Lightbox started in 2019 and, after a few virtual Covid years, is rapidly building momentum with illustrator, animation, industry, and fan audiences. 2023 has proved to be LBX’s busiest yet, with attendees enjoying ample opportunity to network and speak directly with industry-leading exhibiting artists. Plenty of demonstrations were on offer across the program, including Aaron Blaise (The Lion King) taking attendees through Procreate Dreams and how he created his short film in the app.
Helping democratize creativity for ticket holders was a giant communal doodle wall, which quickly started to fill up. Clearly, everyone was in a mood to create. Attendees got hands-on at group drawing events and a unique ‘sketching with clay’ workshop. This offered an instructive opportunity to problem-solve concept development and accurate lighting, color, and structure using clay. Sometimes it pays to get your hands dirty.
The dizzying array of panel talks covered many niches: technique and tools across different disciplines, the art of storytelling, developing a healthy mindset (clue: discipline, dedication, and resilience), triumphs and challenges in fostering diversity in the industry, tips for pitch and locking in a gig, managing side hustles to avoid burnout, and upping your social media game. Artificial intelligence was, of course, a hot topic. LBX offered plenty of surprising subjects too, such as the pivotal role of horses in fantasy storytelling, and a deep dive into capturing the texture present in natural forms, from pinecones to minerals.
We like big booths, and we cannot lie. Ours was hard to miss, and over the next three days, we introduced thousands of attendees to Procreate Dreams. After so many years developing the app, it’s surreal to see it in the wild. And hugely encouraging. We felt the love and excitement from creators expressing ideas for future work that Procreate Dreams will make possible. With only a few weeks until the November 22 release, to say we are eager to see what people create is understating things massively.
Lightbox shone a light on the fact that creating requires work and collaboration. The finished product of that culture and labor was on display in the film screenings. LBX partnered with the Animayo International Film Festival to present a showcase of award-winners. Alongside this, there was the premier of the documentary Pencils v Pixels. It’s an important exploration of the rise of 2D animation in the 1990s, its fall in the 2000s as Pixar and DreamWorks dominated the cinema, and its potential return to favor as CGI fatigue sets in. We’re hopeful that Procreate Dreams can help in the rejuvenation of traditional 2D animation and usher in a new era of creativity.
Following our Dreams & Nightmares afterparty the night before, we left the final day with hearts and enthusiasm overflowing. The energy of the crowds continued to impress as they wrung as much as possible from the last moments of Lightbox 2023. Thanks to everyone who popped by to say hi. You give meaning to all the work that goes into an app like this.