I can still remember the day I created the first plan for Trojan Horse Was a Unicorn (THU). Back then, the thought of organizing an event was overwhelming. It was my first time organising an event like this, and honestly? I didn’t have a clue what I was doing; I felt so lost.
What I did know, though, is that the event I had in my head back then didn’t exist. I’d attended so many events, but I always felt that they lacked in providing opportunities for attendees to speak to the artists — they all felt so much more corporate. And I didn’t see why they had to be that way. I imagined that an event could still offer the same amazing opportunities for attendees to learn, but that the experience could offer so much more. I wanted to create friendships; to pull down the barriers and make an experience much more natural and fulfilling. I wanted it to be an experience, for everyone.
So, I knew what I wanted the event to be. But I had no idea how to plan it. I ended up tackling the first steps of the organisation process by creating four main focuses: Speakers, Activities, Experiences, and Partnerships. What’s interesting is that these are still the same focuses for THU 2016 as they were for year one. It’s the same structure that we build on every year.
The first step — choosing the lineup — is the most exhausting. I would say that I lose at least eight months of sleep over this every year. But, why?
I suppose, contrary to other events — where it’s easier for artists to find the time to organize schedules to have a couple of days away from work commitments to speak at an event — THU demands that speakers take part in the full experience. It’s an entire week. For many artists, this is extremely difficult. It was a problem in year one, and even though THU is now in its fourth year, it’s still the hardest hurdle to overcome.
We feel it’s so important that all speakers arrive two days before THU begins. It’s crucial they can acclimatize and prepare — many artists are traveling crazy distances to Troia, and we want everyone to feel comfortable. We are committed to ensuring every year of THU retains the “family” feel that we created in year one. Which means the team-building activities that take place one and two days before THU kicks off, are an important part of the whole experience. We can’t skip this!
So we’re now in year four, and the task of securing speakers is harder than ever. In year one, it was simple: I invited all the speakers that I admired: Loic Zimmermann, Serge Birault, Victor Hugo, Pedro Conti, Alex Oliver, Tiago Hoisel. The remainder of the lineup came from recommendations from the artists that quickly became my trusted “Advisory Board” as well as some good friends in the industry.
It was right here that Scott Ross came up. I was talking with a friend about bringing a VFX soldier to THU, and they insisted that I reach out to Scott. Back then, when so many artists were saying no to being a speaker, we honestly didn’t think he would agree. We were asking speakers to give up five days of their time. I used to have nightmares about how I was ever going to convince 25 speakers to agree to five days each! It was frightening. But eventually, we found our Knights: http://2013.trojan-unicorn.com/speakers. And we are eternally grateful to these amazing people that believed in us.
In fact, the speakers that joined us in Troia in year one helped us to define exactly who a THU speaker is! They create the rulebook for choosing speakers — from the way they interacted with the attendees and how they presented themselves from day zero to day five, we knew who we had to look for in year two, and year three, and now year four.
Of course, the Tribe is always the most important aspect of THU, for us. We want the attendees to have a say in who we bring to THU, and every year we listen. Putting together the speaker wish list is a process of Tribe recommendations, Advisory Board suggestions, and then a whole bunch of back and forth, emailing, phone calls, and sleepless nights until we reach the final list. We usually have around 500 names that we have to select from — it’s not easy, and there are always so many people we wish we could invite.
Choosing a speaker roster takes great consideration. Artists need to have different creative styles and skills; they should not just be great artists but also inspiring speakers. We have to research their backgrounds and make sure their histories will inspire the Tribe. And we ask as many people as possible for their thoughts on our selected artists before we move forward. This entire process takes hours, days, weeks. And then there are eight more months of decisions to be made, lists being re-made, agendas being re-defined. THU is constantly evolving; we are always moving forward and trying our hardest to improve the experience for everyone.
THU has traditionally offered four categories: 3D, 2D, Visual Effects, and Animation. We always try to provide a good balance of speakers (which is why we find it funny when people say that THU is a “concept art event”). This year, we’ve added two new categories: Creators and Illustrators; we’ll welcome creative people who are inspiring, but not because they are digital artists. It’s important that, as artists, we are motivated by people not just practicing digital art but those working in the field of technology and fine art in ways that will blow our minds.
What’s more, while we still have the same criteria when selecting artists, we’ve added a new rule: attendees have to receive the most exclusive experience possible. And to do this, we are inviting speakers that are not giving talks at any other major events in Europe. While there will be a few exceptions to this rule, we want to make sure that as many of our speakers as possible are exclusive to THU. It’s important that we make an experience that is different to any other.
While we make the task of choosing speakers harder every year, we are also indebted to the incredible people that help us to make these hard decisions. The advisors and friends of THU that are willing to share their wealth of knowledge with us are a blessing. We honestly can’t thank them enough!
With all this said, the 2016 lineup is not final. For me, the worst part of this process is still to come: choosing the speakers from previous years that will return as our 2016 mentors. THU has, over the years, created a huge family in which I am honoured to belong. And when so many of these amazing people I now see as close friends, it’s difficult for me to have to choose. I wish I could bring everyone, every year.
Even so, I believe it’s important to have speakers from past editions each year. While new speakers at THU take the challenge of giving talks in the main auditoriums, veteran speakers offer all-important mentorships and master classes. On top of these, they are the ones that help us to “teach” the new guest speakers. When we have only six days to hone our new family, those that have been to previous editions are there to help us guide new additions and reignite the excitement from the previous years. It’s a process of transformation; we are all learning and evolving every year.
Selecting speakers for an event like THU is never-ending. There will always be last-minute cancellations, and we have to react to every problem and find solutions that the Tribe will love. Losing an artist from the schedule at short notice can be serious, as we put so much time into selecting artists from different backgrounds, with different skills — replacing them is not easy. And the last thing we ever want to do is to damage the experience for our Tribe.
But life is always changing. Our content strategy is our guide, and our advisors and friends support us through the rough patches. While I don’t, right now, know what the final lineup for THU looks like, I do know without a doubt that every speaker will contribute to making THU 2016 an unforgettable experience.
And so, we keep going!