On the road

Postcards from Milan

Scott Ault and Brian Farr are on a trip through Europe at the moment and decided to take some time to visit the Expo Milano 2015. They sent us these pictures, mostly out of context, and left it to us to interpret.

 A fully robotic bar, driven by what looks like a mini-Kuka arm.

A fully robotic bar, driven by what looks like a mini-Kuka arm.

 I suppose this is a selling point. Maybe the bartender doesn't get hit on quite so often.

I suppose this is a selling point. Maybe the bartender doesn't get hit on quite so often.

 Who doesn't love a photo op? L to R:  A guy with baguette, Jeroen Holman of Vekoma, Scott Ault of Rethink and maybe a doctor?

Who doesn't love a photo op? L to R:  A guy with baguette, Jeroen Holman of Vekoma, Scott Ault of Rethink and maybe a doctor?

 Brian Farr gazes lovingly/questioningly at his prosciutto stick.

Brian Farr gazes lovingly/questioningly at his prosciutto stick.


Star Wars Celebration

On April 17, 2015, I took a research trip down to Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim. You can tell by my face below that this was an experience I wasn't looking forward to at all.

While I was aware that this was going to be a well-attended event, I was not prepared for just how crowded this place was going to be. I got there just around 10 o'clock, when the convention floor was supposed to open, and was met with this crush of humanity:

The good news is that everybody was unfailingly polite and nice – not what you'd expect given that we were being herded into pens. But the vibe was definitely upbeat and fun. Everybody was just excited to get inside. After half an hour, our particular pen was flushed into the convention hall, past a Hot Wheels display of customized cards. My personal favorite was this one.

There was a lot (as you might expect) of creative cosplay happening. Rather than produce a gallery for you, since there are a gazillion sites that do cosplay roundups, I'd like to share my personal favorites: Deadmaus Tusken Raider flanked by two Girl Scout Troopers, joined by a tiny X-Wing pilot. Good times.

Once on the exhibition floor, there were a number of fantastic photo opps for fans to pose in front of. Several of them were fan-made, and they were very, very impressive. People loved them, and queued for quite some time. The quality of the displays was extremely high – no papier mache Jabbas here. 

 Roxy the Rancor

Roxy the Rancor

 Millennium Falcon

Millennium Falcon

 Jabba the Hutt (at the Gentle Giant booth). He was, unsurprisingly, the gathering place for Slave Leias later in the day.

Jabba the Hutt (at the Gentle Giant booth). He was, unsurprisingly, the gathering place for Slave Leias later in the day.

 Jawa Sandcrawler

Jawa Sandcrawler

 Mos Eisley Cantina. This was the site of many interviews through the convention.

Mos Eisley Cantina. This was the site of many interviews through the convention.

Sideshow Collectibles had a large booth, with many, many items conspiring to steal all my money over the coming year. But the highlight for me was the R2-ME2 display, where they invited artists to customize R2-D2. And customize they did, in any number of culture-mashing ways.

Another big highlight was the Force Awakens exhibit, where they put a number of props and costumes on display from the upcoming film. Kudos to the organizers for allowing photographs! It shows a very fan-conscious and fan-friendly attitude. It was really impressive to see the costumes up-close, as the workmanship is fantastic. Many, many Star Wars costume enthusiasts were taking a ton of reference photos, so they can start making their own outfits – as well as lamenting how smooth and clean the new designs are, leaving next to no room for error. I bet you we'll see plenty of these new trooper outfits patrolling the theaters when the movie opens...

 BB-8 and Troopers

BB-8 and Troopers

 Kylo Ren

Kylo Ren

Another fantastic display (with a fantastically long queue) was the Star Wars Battlefront booth. They gave guests a helmet and a flight jacket and put them inside a full-scale X-Wing cockpit. They then filmed the guests with a projected background, and edited them into footage from the newly released trailer. This is smart on so many levels, but it plays especially on Star Wars fans' desire for role-play and immersion. What better hook than to put you in Star Wars? While this was undoubtedly a lot of work for the operators (they were literally live-editing the footage on the fly), I bet you this will pay off for them handsomely in goodwill and shares. Everybody getting out of the cockpit had a big smile on their face.

 Just like Beggars Canyon back home.

Just like Beggars Canyon back home.

And finally, here is the tattoo portion of the convention floor. In a stroke of genius, Lucasfilm has decided to officially license selected tattoo artists to create Star Wars art. So over 40 artists were offering appointments right there on the floor, and every booth was humming with electric needles. If there is a living embodiment of the passion and commitment of Star Wars fans, this is it. 

As I was walking around, I spotted a guy getting a tattoo of the melted Darth Vader helmet from the newly released trailer. The movie is not even close to coming out yet, but here it is, immortalized. That's kind of awesome. It does make me wonder if there's a pre-release Jar Jar Binks tattoo floating around somewhere. But at least Darth Vader is probably going to remain cool for quite some time. I doubt this guy's going to regret it.

And that's the story from Star Wars Celebration. I didn't have time to attend any panels (really the meat and potatoes of the convention programming), but what I saw was interesting and well put-together. Star Wars fandom is extremely social and it was great to see it in the wild, concentrated in one place. As a Star Wars fan myself, it definitely whet my appetite for December 18, 2015. Who wants to get in line with me right now?

Rethink attends BlizzCon 2014

On November 7, 2014, Scott Ault, Steve Feicht and I made a pilgrimage down to BlizzCon at the Anaheim Convention Center. For the uninitiated, BlizzCon celebrates the worlds and characters of the video game publisher Blizzard. Blizzard makes such world-beating games as World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, Diablo and more. Their fans are loyal and intense. Scott felt a bit out of place, seeing as he was not wearing any orc armor or elvish garb.

 What am I doing here?

What am I doing here?

We were there to just absorb and take it all in. Steve used to be quite the fan of Warcraft and Starcraft back in the day, so he became our guide to the world. We left quite impressed with the quality and depth of the event. My biggest takeaway was the beauty of a convention with all theatrical lighting. There was not a house light on in the entire space. It really made you feel like you had stepped into a different world – quite the contrast from your usual convention that gives me a fluorescent headache after a few hours. The production values were really phenomenal, and they clearly spent a lot of money on the event. It felt like they were trying to give proper value for money. It showed a lot of respect for the fans in attendance.

The other differentiating factor was that it was primarily Blizzard that was doing the exhibiting. There were external vendors too, but because it was 95% Blizzard stuff you didn't get that shouty, lookie-over-here feel. It was really nice to be able to look at displays without every other exhibit actively competing for my attention.

I took a smattering of pictures of BlizzCon, which you can find below. 

 Blizzard announced their new game, Overwatch. I really liked the character design – really a grab bag of every action archetype you can imagine, but somehow it all worked together. The cinematic they showed was really top-notch too – Hollywood quality.

Blizzard announced their new game, Overwatch. I really liked the character design – really a grab bag of every action archetype you can imagine, but somehow it all worked together. The cinematic they showed was really top-notch too – Hollywood quality.

 I loved this. Three Blizzard artists on stage working in three different mediums and answering questions.

I loved this. Three Blizzard artists on stage working in three different mediums and answering questions.

 The StarCraft II stadium. Beautiful dimensional screen with projection mapped frame. This was in the main auditorium and it was packed with cheering fans. I'd read about e-sports, but this was the first time seeing it in person.

The StarCraft II stadium. Beautiful dimensional screen with projection mapped frame. This was in the main auditorium and it was packed with cheering fans. I'd read about e-sports, but this was the first time seeing it in person.

 Fans were waiting for HOURS for exclusive merchandise.

Fans were waiting for HOURS for exclusive merchandise.

 A really neat feature on the floor was the Master Control Room for the whole con. Fun idea to expose it to the public. Looked like a Bourne movie.

A really neat feature on the floor was the Master Control Room for the whole con. Fun idea to expose it to the public. Looked like a Bourne movie.

 This 360-degree camera rig was taking Matrix-style pictures of attendees in their best epic battle poses.

This 360-degree camera rig was taking Matrix-style pictures of attendees in their best epic battle poses.

And of course, there were epic statues everywhere.

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My favorite thing of the entire shebang, though, was this brave soul who was cosplaying as some sort of deer. He was literally walking around on all fours and looking out of that mesh bit in the neck. I don't have a picture of it, but he went through security in costume about a minute later. Hats off – that's dedication.

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2nd Annual Redrink Around the World

This lucky group of folks below were part of Rethink's 2nd Annual Redrink Around the World at Epcot. As part of what is sure to be a longstanding Rethink tradition, we invited a whole gaggle of up-and-coming theme park talent to share an evening of faux international travel with us at the close of IAAPA. Good times! Here's to next year.