Growing at a rate that would be admired by even a tribble breeder, Awesome Con was projected to have somewhere in the neighborhood of 50,000 visitors this year. It’s hard to judge whether that’s an accurate number as the organizers didn’t wait to find out whether their old setup could accommodate this year’s crowds or not and moved things around to take advantage of the gigantic rooms the Walter E. Washington Convention Center has to offer. The main exhibition hall this year stretched for three blocks in the lower section of the center, while panels, exhibits, gaming rooms, and more sprawled across multiple levels and sections of the center. As a result, things never felt overcrowded despite the constant throngs of excited people in every corner.
This is a good thing, as well as a negative. It was great never feeling cramped, but with plenty of excess space, the event felt both overwhelmingly large, as well as smaller, in an odd sense. This relatively new con is still facing some growing pains as the crowds and space expand at different rates. I’m fulling confident that in the coming years things will level out , but the whole event felt spread a little too thin as it was. A much better problem than too crowded though! Lines were managed slickly and smoothly, and I don’t think I attended a single panel where people needed to be turned away due to not enough space. This is a great, low pressure event that is a great first con experience, or a welcome break from the insanity that is some of the larger conventions.
Just a fraction of the main exhibit hall:
Expanding to a full day, Friday opened at noon, with some events and gaming rooms lasting all the way until midnight. Taking advantage of the relatively smaller crowd and shorter lines on the weekday, it was a great time to freely wander the massive exhibit hall, visiting a wide range of vendors, exhibitors, artists, and celebrity guests while getting photos of some most excellent cosplay. Do you want vintage video games, custom LEGO mini figs, or leather working supplies? Steampunk accessories, handmade plush Nintendo items? All that and more was available for purchase from multiple vendors.
I had a great conversation with Grant Imahara of Mythbusters fame, and learned that he worked on the model lighting of one of my favorite sci-fi masterpieces – Galaxy Quest. I’ve heard rumors of a Galaxy Quest TV show percolating, but, as Grant pointed out to me, with the advancement of CGI, his prop building services probably wouldn’t be needed this time around.
I brushed shoulders with voice actors Jess Harnell and Jim Cummings, chatted with Man of Action (who love what Disney did with their Big Hero 6 characters), and fist bumped Captain Kirk himself. Other guests included a number of the original Power Rangers, James Marsters from Buffy, Jason Mewes, John Rhys-Davies and Sean Astin, Ralph Maccio, WWE Superstar Seth Rollins, Lost‘s Mark Pellegrino, George Takei and dozens of other comic book artists, actors, and pop culture icons. Most of the guests were available for autographs, photos, and high fives all three days.
Taking advantage of the shorter lines, I tried out the Oculus Rift for the first time, courtesy of The Museum of Science Fiction. Is it the future of interactive film? I don’t know, but it some amazing technology.
Roaming the halls, I bumped into my friend Leslie getting ready to host Brian Tee in a Q&A session. What a nice guy! Even the though I thought the recent Turtles movie was pretty sub-par, I can’t wait to see him as Shredder in the sequel now filming! Before that, though, we’ll see him in Jurassic World which I will have a review for very soon!
Even on Friday there was so much to do – I joined some fellow Trekkies in a panel discussing Voyager‘s 20th anniversary and then used my movie knowledge to win some cool prizes from The GameGuy‘s gameshow.
The Cosplayers were out in droves on Saturday. I’ve got an album of some of the best ones I saw over on my facebook page.
There were three panels that I was really looking forward to – William Shatner, Lord of the Rings, and the voice actor’s “Twisted Toonz.”
First up was John Rhys-Davies and Sean Astin talking about their time as Gimli and Sam in Peter Jackson’s epics. Sean was there last year as well and has a habit of going off on long tangents about politics and other things that the crowd might not find as interesting as he does, but with Rhys-Davies there as well, it was great fun. He could read the phone book and make it interesting, to borrow the old cliche. The two of them showed why the cast had such good chemistry on screen – it was like sitting around a campfire with a dwarf (a very tall dwarf) and a hobbit.
The most interesting tidbit I got out of that panel is that when Sean first read The Hobbit while filming the other movies, he asked Peter Jackson if he was going to make that book into a movie as well. Jackson’s response? “Probably not, there’s not enough material there for a movie…”
Mrs. Hamster, working at an elementary school library, sought out a panel talking about comic books in libraries and schools. I know she got some interesting ideas and may have more to say on the subject later on. Even I found the conversation fascinating and it’s a great example of the diversity of panels the convention made available.
William Shatner was obviously one of the big draws. Seeing him speak, though, is just what you would expect. He is very much William Shatner. The room wasn’t full but, to paraphrase a friend, it’s because the rest of it was to accommodate his ego. Still, who wouldn’t want to see Kirk give a talk in person, at least once?
One of the highlights of the con is always the voice actors’ session. With all the original Ninja Turtles along with Phil Lamarr, Jess Harnell, and the legendary Jim Cummings, this was bound to be good. If you don’t recognize some of those names, just look them up – you know their voices, I guarantee you. The script they were reading was The Wrath of Kahn and how can’t you love hearing Winnie the Pooh on the bridge of the Enterprise? Fantastic!
Back on Sunday for the final day of the con, on the agenda was seeing Grant Imahara, George Takei, and Jim Cummings. None were disappointing and I give props to the folks at Awesome Con for assembling such a wide variety of guests this year. It really felt like there was something for everyone this year. There were plenty of guests and panels that didn’t interest me at all, but more than enough that did. There was never a dull moment. Whether cosplay, sexuality in star trek, voice acting, comic book publishing, horror films, LGBTPQ sci-fi speed dating, or Doctor Who are you things, there were events for you. And that’s just a small sampling.
Speaking of films, in addition to The Spooky Movie International Horror Film Festival presenting selections, Of Dice and Men was screening here as well. I attended the premiere a year ago and it’s a great geek-centric movie that pretty much everyone can enjoy, even if they’ve never rolled a 20 sided die. Talking to them at the con, it sounds like things are going well, selling out of multiple DVD runs and showing at events all over. Check them out!
So, back to Sunday, Grant was great. He seems like a really nice guy and talked about his career in movie effects, his time as a Mythbuster, Battlebots, and science in general. Fielding questions about the robot uprising as well as giving advice on how to get kids interested in science, he was a lot of fun to see in person.
Drawing an even bigger crowd than his captain, Sulu, err… George Takei is as charasmatic as you would expect. He talked about his time on Star Trek, his work as a gay rights activist, and more. I wish I could have heard more about his role as a leading social media guru – who hasn’t shared something from his facebook page? – but you can only do so much with an hour.
Takei shared that he has a very special cameo in the upcoming Entourage film, which I can confirm, having just seen it. Look for my review this week!
What is there to say about a legend like Jim Cummings? As someone else pointed out, it’s like our entire childhood wrapped up in one person. Credited with over 400 films and tv shows, he’s been everything from Darkwing Duck – sharing the stage with him here – to the singing voice of Scar from The Lion King. He was so much fun to see and hear in person, and a great way to wrap up the weekend.
While it still has some learning to do as it searches for just the perfect size and format, it’s hard to believe that this is only the third year for this convention. Professionally and smoothly run with amazing guests and activities, I’m looking forward to next year already. If you didn’t attend this year, make sure to sign up for their mailing list and mark your calendar as soon as next year’s dates are announced. You won’t regret it.