Review: Promised Land 2017
by Miłek Jakubiec
Art is often seen as a solitary pursuit. Hunched over their workstations, the stereotypical artists toil day and night, fuelled by stimulants and obsessive thoughts, never seeing the light of day through ever-closed drapes, never hearing another person’s voice, aware of other people’s existence solely thanks to the overflowing email inbox. These days, however, this stereotype is under threat, thanks to a growing number of live events focused on artists working and aspiring to work for the entertainment industry where the participants have an opportunity to interact face to face.
Promised Land is one such event.
The festival took place in the city of Łódź, located in central Poland and is organised by CD Projekt Red, a game development company known for the Witcher series. The EC1 building in which the event was held comfortably accommodated all 760 attendees (including the speakers and staff). The main attractions included lectures, workshops and meetups by and with various well established artists from the fields of 3D, 2D and animation, as well as veterans of production pipelines.
Conducting all of the above without it turning into a hot mess requires a considerable amount of organisational skills. Fortunately, the industrial aesthetics of the former power plant now hosting the event infused the team with a level of efficiency matched for the task. I witnessed merely one instance of a talk being delayed due to technical difficulties and one instance of a lecture being postponed. In comparison to other such festivals that are often mired by delays caused by many overlapping organisational issues, Promised Land seemed to run like a well-oiled machine, worthy of the legacy of its venue. The same was evident during the last edition a year ago. This sort of consistency leaves one optimistic for next year’s event. The few changes in the schedule that did take place were clearly communicated ahead of time, both from the main stage and online. The events ran from 10 am until 7pm when discussion panels were hosted on the main stage. The talks and workshops overlapped, so one had be prepared to face some hard choices, but it helped to know that whatever you chose, you won.
CDPR made good use of the venue, utilising different rooms for specific tasks, some used as lecture halls, with the main one using spotlights, a large projector screen and excellent sound, others as workshop classrooms with multiple desks equipped with computers and tablets set up for attendees, a drawing room with beautifully costumed and lit life drawing models (also with workstations available for all, equipped for both digital and traditional techniques), a VR room with three sets of HTC vive, each one complete with a helpful technician to facilitate one’s first virtual steps, whether it’s sculpting a giant monument or dispatching zombies, a motion capture technology presentation room, a 3D printing corner and plenty of space to sit down and socialise.
From the moment they exchange their ticket for a badge with the festival ID, the attendees are made to feel welcome. Each is handed a bag containing a printed schedule, a T-shirt, a poster, a sketchbook with a pencil, a decorative pin and 4 vouchers, each one good for a meal available in three food trucks waiting outside, serving crêpes, burgers and ramen with plenty of options, vegetarian and vegan included. The indoor café offers coffee, cake and hot bagles, with much appreciated free coffe policy throughout the whole event. Two cloakrooms facilitate the transition from the cold, wet streets of Łódź into the comfortable interior of the EC1 building.
The cold, grey, oppressive, post-industrial city surrounding the venue was a blessing in disguise. You will find no sunny beaches, picturesque countryside or architectural wonders left by ancient civilisations in Łódź, and I am very glad about it. Lack of such distractions causes people to band together and concentrate on the main reason for which they had come to town. Why leave the artistic enclave filled with people you share interests with, when alternative ways of spending your time seem bland in comparison? Below are some reasons why sightseeing seems like a bad use of one’s time.
The list of lecturers comprised of professionals in the fields of animation, 3D modelling, 2D illustration, storyboarding, concept art, VFX and production. The subjects of talks ranged from technical, such as describing working methods used for particular tasks and projects, to more personal, be it the speakers’ creative journeys or their reasons to pursue their craft. Those who hoped to learn and get inspired were not disappointed. Each lecture was followed by a meet and greet in a more relaxed environment outside of the lecture hall, with more opportunities to ask questions and witness demonstrations.
For those looking to learn by doing, the festival offered well equipped rooms dedicated to a more hands-on approach. Digital painting, digital sculpting, traditional sculpting, pixel art or animation were all available to try (on a first-come-first-served basis), both to professionals looking to expand their toolbox and curious souls looking for a new hobby. The small size of groups enabled the speakers to approach their students individually and offer advice tailored to all skill levels and personal needs. The digital workstations were equipped with intuos tablets and computers, whereas traditional sculpture desks had clay, support and tools ready for anyone eager to have a go.
The drawing room comprised of two raised platforms on which models draped in interesting fantasy and sci-fi costumes posed basking in strong, directional lights. For those willing to have some good old fashioned life drawing time, Cintiq tablets placed on desks and large format sketchbooks mounted on easels awaited. For those more interested in learning from others, workstations manned by speakers offered an opportunity to observe and ask questions.
While all of the above took place, the main lobby was also teeming with life. The speakers were surrounded by the attendees, providing advice, demonstrating their techniques in real time, reviewing portfolios. Many friendships were made, jokes told, coffees drank and cards exchanged. It was also possible to see 3D printers in action, buy art from the three sculptors Tomasz Radziewicz, Aris Kolokontes and Romain Van Den Bogaert (as well as ask them even more questions), use more workstations with tablets for digital painting and sculpting and visit the stall of the publishers of Best Polish Illustrators artbooks.
Attendees interested in digital tools had the opportunity to visit the VR room and the Motion Capture room, as well as the representatives of the event’s sponsors, to find out about the possibilities offered by their products.
Each day concluded with a discussion panel, during which prominent professionals bounced ideas around, after which everybody retired to their acommodations. Not to finish the day, but to regroup and get ready for what came after.
Gather a few hundred people sharing the same passion. Get them to fly to a town that offers little in terms of entertainment. Then, funnel them all into the same bar and watch the magic happen. This seems to have been the strategy CDPR adopted regarding evening plans. The results were a thing of beauty. Apart from one exception, when indoor room was scarce, outdoor room plentiful and the rain continuous, every night was a blast, with people loosening up and getting to know the party side of others, whom they often only knew by means of their work. Sculptors drank with painters, veterans laughed with beginners, people spent time talking without realising they had been admiring their conversationalist’s work for years. All of this, combined with closing times at circa 5 am surely resulted in many interesting interactions. And even those parties were only a warmup before the final one, the closing ceremony, which took place in the main lecture hall and the drawing room, quickly transformed into a club, complete with a DJ, a dancefloor, a beer stall and a canapé bar. When that concluded, the party continued in one of the previously used bars. For many, these gatherings were not mere wind-down sessions and sendoffs, but main attractions of the festival, during which many friendships were forged.
It is hard to come up with many criticisms that would help the organisers improve the festival. In terms of logistics, I have never seen, or heard of, anything superior, in spite of a few hickups mentioned above (inevitable for an event of that scale). The venue was very well suited for the task, and equally well utilised. The price of admission was very competitive compared to similar events. The only suggestions I can think of is for the organisers to maintain their, so far excellent, track record and attempt to attract ever more famous guests and speakers. Luring the most experienced and admired industry professionals, the best of the best, is a very difficult feat due to their busy schedules, but it is the only improvement I can think of, all other bases seem to be covered. For those on the fence about attending Promised Land 2018 I offer my strong recommendation.
Full disclosure – the above report was written from a paying customer’s perspective, I have never had a professional relationship with the organiser nor any of the affiliates, nor have I received anything which was not included in the price of admission from them.