With just an easel and sketchbook in hand, artist and author James Gurney will kick off LightBox Expo in front of Pasadena City Hall. His live plein-air painting event reveals the core of what LightBox Expo represents: the simplicity and power of art.
In its fifth year, LightBox Expo brings together artists, character and concept designers, illustrators and animators in the entertainment industry behind well-known films, TV shows and games. The convention runs Friday, Oct. 27, through Sunday, Oct. 29.
As animators, concept artists and illustrators descend upon Pasadena for LightBox Expo 2023, Gurney, known for his illustrated book series “Dinotopia,” along with 12 professional artists wearing orange caps, will lead “Colossal Characters.”
Starting noon Friday, Oct. 27, artists will draw or paint onsite while imagining a giant character visiting Pasadena. The character can come from film or television, animation, video games or comics, and the interaction between the character and city can be anything from whimsical to apocalyptic.
“This is, in part, a positive, creative response to the looming threat of computer systems that can visualize anything,” Gurney said. “We’re just going to do what humans do best: grab our paints or markers and a blank sheet of paper and have fun using our imaginations to do some plein-air surrealism.”
The event is open to the public, and all ages and skill levels are invited to join the artists to create their own “Colossal Characters,” experiencing a collective collision of fantasy and reality. All are welcome to join, and participating artists do not have to be part of LightBox Expo. Participants should bring their own materials, which could include a toy or figurine for reference. Others who just want to come to see artists at work are encouraged to join as well.
In addition to Gurney, mentors will include artists Marco Bucci, Gary Geraths, Angela Sung, Michelle Lin and four concept artists from Blizzard Entertainment, an Irvine-based video game company. Mentors will conduct live demos and mill about offering support and encouragement.
The event was inspired by Gurney’s impromptu live demonstration in front of the Pasadena Civic Auditorium during last year’s LightBox Expo. “Last year, I brought my paints along and did a spontaneous, on-the-spot painting demo in the plaza,” Gurney explained. “People seemed to enjoy watching painting in public, so this time, we want to do the same idea, but much bigger.”
Gurney’s connection to Pasadena dates back to 1980, when he was a student at Art Center. He lives and works in New York’s Hudson Valley. During the expo, Gurney will be on a panel about illustrated books, along with Iain McCaig, who designed characters for the “Star Wars” franchise, and artist and illustrator Armand Baltazar.
Unlike similar conventions, LightBox Expo focuses solely on the creators and art behind books, movies, games and TV rather than the actors or characters themselves. Over 12,000 guests and 500 featured artists will come together this year to share their work, further their skills and make meaningful industry connections.
“It’s not Robert Downey Jr. that designed Iron Man. (At LightBox Expo) you can meet the person who designed Iron Man or the characters from a favorite show that you love,” said Bobby Chiu, LightBox founder. “You can actually meet the designers, talk to them and hear their thoughts.”
Chiu has been in the industry for over 18 years, since he was discovered at San Diego Comic-Con, launching his career. He has worked as a character designer on movies such as Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” “Men in Black 3” and “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” and as an executive producer on the Emmy-winning TV show “Niko and the Sword of Light.” His resume includes starting the first online art school, Schoolism, which has reached hundreds of thousands of students.
The convention includes live demos, lectures, a marketplace and book signings. Well-known artists behind fan-favorite movies and television will be in attendance, like Peter de Sève, who designed characters in the “Ice Age” franchise, “A Bug’s Life,” “Finding Nemo” and “Robots”; Christian Alzmann, the character designer behind Grogu; and Megan Nicole Dong, creator of the series “Centaurworld” on Netflix.
For artists, it will feel like “home,” explained Chiu, and for people in the industry, “a weird high school reunion. You’ll meet colleagues you haven’t seen for years, sometimes decades.”
Top industry artists will also be available for portfolio reviews for those looking to break into the industry. “It’s like if I was learning basketball, and I have Michael Jordan teaching me how to do a jump shot,” Chiu explained. Beginning artists can expect to broaden their network of contacts and get exposure by meeting artists in the industry. Studios and sponsors milling about often recruit artists directly at the event.
“It’s an absolute honor to be in a position to be able to help other artists and the next generation,” Chiu said. “I feel like that’s the real legacy we’ll leave.”
WHEN: 10 a.m. to noon Friday, Oct. 27
WHERE: Pasadena City Hall, 100 Garfield Avenue, Pasadena
WHEN: Noon to 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, through Sunday, Oct. 29
WHERE: Pasadena Convention Center, 300 E. Green Street, Pasadena
COST: Tickets start at $70.96