Have you ever been to a CG conference where the first day involves building sandcastles? That’s exactly what happened this week at Trojan Horse was a Unicorn - the Portugal digital art/illustration/animation/vfx event that is unlike any other.

This Trojan Horse Warrior lay in the sand for three hours.
This Trojan Horse Warrior lay in the sand for three hours.

The sandcastles thing, of course, was designed to be a mixer for newly arrived artists (called ‘Warriors’), speakers (‘Knights’) and everyone else. But it was also crafted as a way to remove all egos, since the intention of Trojan Horse is to allow anyone to speak to anyone - at all times of the day. And that literally does mean: at all times of the day.

Some of the talks here don’t start until 10pm. The ‘art battles’ kick off at midnight. People kick on way past then at this resort location here in Troia. And then it all starts over again around 9am, or 10am or midday….

So what’s actually at Trojan Horse? Well, that’s the interesting part of this conference - it’s incredibly diverse. There is perhaps a core audience of digital illustrators, concept artists and designers here and so presentations are tailored towards them. But even then the kinds of talks, workshops and sessions range from life drawing to 2D to 3D to VFX to games and animation.

And not all of it is about the tools and techniques - in fact, often a talk won’t even delve into that stuff. Instead, the Knights at Trojan Horse are encouraged to share their stories of inspiration, struggles and success. One of the best talks already has been from the artist Ian McCaig, known widely for his work on several motion pictures like The Phantom Menace (Darth Maul and Queen Armidala), The Avengers (Hulk), Guardians of the Galaxy (Groot and Rocket Raccoon) and the forthcoming The Force Awakens (no we didn’t see any concept art…).

Ian McCaig on stage.
Ian McCaig on stage.

McCaig showcased his work, sure, and even did a run-down of how an artist might approach storyboarding a movie scene. But the crux of his presentation was about how to make it as an artist. He recounted his first job interview at an animation studio in the US in the late 70s where he rocked up with drawings only. They asked him where his reel was. He’d never heard that term before (‘Is that like a flipbook?’) so he lied and said he left it at home. Luckily, the studio said, they had an Oxberry disc camera upstairs and he could go and animate something right now. So McCaig did that for about an hour and produced what he says was ‘a piece of shit’. But when he finished and the studio saw the work, people were clapping. The lesson, he says, was to ‘keep your big mouth shut - they might just like your work.’

Apart from showing his stellar art, including personal pieces, McCaig also told the story of the Jurassic World game pitch he worked on. When a reel from the pitch surfaced out of a Star Wars Celebration event in Germany in 2013, the internet exploded, assuming it was part of the concepts for the actual Jurassic World film. But that was not the case - McCaig had actually produced some boards and then made the short, in which a pterodactyl attacked a group of surfers right from a Californian wave, as a pitch to Universal for the game only. The game was never made but the timing of the showing of the reel (which was filmed and leaked by a fan) coincided with the announcement of Jurassic World the movie, leading to some slightly tense conversations with the film studio.

A board from the Jurassic World game pitch.
A board from the Jurassic World game pitch.

McCaig’s talk involved some honest assessments, too, about the industry - in terms of his sweat and toil on projects, how difficult it can be to get films off the ground. That’s an aspect repeated in other Trojan Horse discussions also: honesty. There are almost no company presentations here at the conference, which means often people are speaking their minds. Trojan’s ‘grandfather’ and VFX veteran Scott Ross can probably take a lot of credit for that, since he has championed change in the effects industry and been vocal about what works and doesn’t work in it. Here at Trojan, Ross is leading many of those discussions with the Knights and Warriors alike.

The location of the Trojan Horse conference is spectacular.
The location of the Trojan Horse conference is spectacular.

The conference is only three years old, but almost has a cult following. It sold out incredibly quickly to a guest list limited to around only 500 people. Thankfully, one initiative started this year has been THU TV, in which several of the talks will be live-streamed and several shows will be post produced from the conference to watch this week and in coming months. You can find out more detail on THU TV here.

The presenters here are all incredible. We’ve already been able to chat with Legacy Effects co-founder Shane Mahan about the melding of practical fx and digital art at his studio. Stay tuned to fxguide for more interviews from the Knights, including VFX supervisor David Prescott, formerly of Digital Domain and DreamWorks Animation, and with Kevin Mack, another former DD supe who has transformed his own career now into the combined areas of fine art and VR. We’ll also later sit down with the studio Juice from Poland, who were responsible for creating Trojan’s opening and closing video pieces.

Meanwhile, it’s back to building sandcastles in paradise.


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