Guest Posting

WonderCon 2024 Recap

WonderCon

Another season of conventions has started up for the year again, and one of the first is once again WonderCon, held this month at the Anaheim Convention Center.  While Disney did not make an official appearance here (likely holding back a lot of their convention presence for this year’s D23: 2024) there was still a lot to see and do for the fan of things Disney and Disney-adjacent.

The Panels

One of the special guests for this year’s WonderCon was Ashley Eckstein, voice of Star Wars’ Ahsoka Tano and head of the Her Universe fashion company.

Ashley Eckstein at WonderCon

Eckstein made a number of appearances over the weekend, starting off with “Spotlight on Ashley Eckstein,” in which she and her husband, baseball player David Eckstein, discussed the many ups and downs she experienced throughout her extensive career in show business and fashion.

David Eckstein and Ashley Eckstein
  • One of the advantages Eckstein had in getting into voice-over is that she sounds young and can therefore be hired for kid roles without the production having to deal with all the working restrictions that come with actual child actors.
  • Her advice for anyone looking to get into voice-over is to keep at it any way you can.  She auditioned for around 400 roles before landing Ahsoka.
  • She had previously gotten hired as a lead in a Disney animated show which was then recast after the first session, putting her perseverance to the test.
  • At her audition for Star Wars: The Clone Wars, she was initially reading for Padme and was so certain she would not get it, she almost left because they were running late and she was hangry.  Her agent convinced her to go back in and they picked her for Ahsoka instead.
  • After completing her part of Clone Wars, but before it came out, she moved to Toronto to care for her husband who had sustained baseball injuries.  Her manager then dropped her for not being available in Los Angeles for auditions which was another devastating setback.
  • Her response to the lull in her acting career was to start Her Universe–a fashionable genre clothing company for women.
  • She now divides her time between her professional activities and her push for mental health awareness, the newest outreach of which is her promotion of the “Hypefriend” concept:  The importance of having and being a friend who celebrates the gifts in others.
  • “If someone gives you an opportunity and opens a door—walk through it, because you never know what could happen!”

Eckstein made another appearance later in the con at the “Her Universe Fashion Show Update,” where she and her panel of Hot Topic and past fashion show winner representatives gave advice to future fashion show applicants and hinted at upcoming design lines.

Ashley Eckstein and the Her Universe Fashion Show panel
  • Show off all the details of your outfit submission–don’t give the judges any reason to say “no.”
  • Don’t sell something you can’t produce; don’t sketch fashion elements you can’t do.
  • Use all of your submissions, because you don’t know what they’re looking for.
  • Explain everything–videos are not mandatory, but often help judges visualize your entry.
  • Design couture and not cosplay.  Outfits should be inspired by the season’s theme, but should not be an exact replica.
  • Show something new and bold.  These are runway pieces, not walking-around apparel.
  • Give a head-to-toe look.

Last year’s winners, Rachel Petterson and Raeven K. gave a look at some of the collections they are currently designing with Her Universe for Hot Topic:

Another Disney celebrity present at WonderCon this year was Disney Legend Bob Gurr, at the “Funmaker Mike:  How the Fun Was Won!” panel, in which Funko founder Mike Becker and his special guests Gurr and producer David Kirschner discussed their past projects and creative insights.

Audience members at the panel also had several opportunities to get posters and Funko giveaways from the roving prize patrols throughout the panel.

For those interested in getting into Disneybounding, “Bounding 101:  From History Bounding to Disney Bounding” was the panel for you.  Cosplayers Karamia Capi, Jimmy Sherfy, and Danielle Beebe were joined by YouTuber Melissa Gene Meyer to take a look at the origins of Disneybounding and give tips for those just starting out in it.

  • To maintain character integrity, Disney has regulations prohibiting guests from wearing costumes in the park.
  • Leslie Kay started Disneybounding as a way for people to invoke the essence of the characters without breaking any rules.

  • The idea behind Disneybounding is to take everyday clothing and accessories and combine them to reference or give the impression of a given character.
  • Dapper Day is an unofficial themed event in which fans dress up and congregate at Disney Parks, often combining in their apparel the elegance of bygone days with character nods.

One of the big aspects of WonderCon has always been presentations for the person interested in creating pop culture, both on a fan and a professional basis.  In “Writing for TV Animation:  Myths and Realities,” writers Craig Miller (The Real Ghostbusters,) Charlotte Fullerton (My Little Pony,) Robert N. Skir (X-Men: The Animated Series,) and Henry Gilroy (Star Wars: Rebels) discussed the business of writing for animation.

  • Animation still has a budget; you don’t have to take a film crew out on location with actors, but everything still has to be designed and drawn.
  • Many series, such as Clone Wars, will have a limit as to how many new characters or props can be created per show, so early episodes can be less immersive until later in the season when the writers have accumulated more assets.
  • Occasionally, to save money, a show will have a “bottle episode” where a few characters are stuck in a confined environment for the whole time.  These can be useful opportunities for intensive character development.
  • TV animation is less lucrative than live-action as there are no residuals and pay rates are relatively lower.
  • In the 80s, when shows would go through syndication, networks would order 65 episodes of a show at a time, resulting in a lot of available work.  There are now fewer opportunities to break into the business as streaming largely does not depend on ad revenue and consequently companies now order 6-8 episodes a season.
  • It is easy to animate a dog talking.  It is really hard to show someone putting on a sweater.

For those looking to get into the voice acting area of animation, journalist Taimur Dar’s panel on “The Art of Voice Directing” with voice directors Carrie Keranen (Neon Genesis Evangelion, Love and Deepspace) Meredith Layne (X-Men ’97,) and Kristi Reed (Among Us) was a fascinating look into a part of animation we don’t usually get to hear about.

@justjeanine1

Voice over advice from voice over directors Carrie Keranen (Love and Deepspace), Meredith Layne (X-Men ‘97), and Kristi Reed (Among Us) at #WonderCon 2024. #voiceover

♬ original sound – JustJeanine

The Premieres

Anime is an ever-increasing part of most pop culture conventions, and was well-represented here with two rooms simultaneously playing episodes of different series throughout the weekend.  Hulu screened the first two episodes of one of their latest offerings, Sand Land: The Series.

An extended retelling of the 2023 film Sand Land, the series is some of the final work Akira Toriyama (Dragon Ball) did before his recent passing.  Set in a time when humans have destroyed their environment (shocker) and water is in short supply, a determined sheriff and a demon prince put aside their traditional mistrust of each other, and embark on a journey to find a supply sufficient for the people (and demons) they protect.  The first couple of episodes are a fun romp, as Sheriff Rao, demon prince Beelzebub, and his demon stooge Thief, begin to learn about each other and road trip their way through the desert looking for water and evading the military force of the corrupt king who appears to be bogarting the main water supply.  Hints of more serious plot turns down the road are evident from the glimpses we are given of the unpleasant political situation and the intimations of Rao’s violent past, but at least in the beginning, it’s a charming, lighthearted show.  The funniest bits are when the demons, proud as they are of their strength and fiendish ways, gape in shock at the idea that humans kill other humans, making it ambiguous, as many stories do, exactly which species is the monster.  New to Hulu this week, Sand Land: The Series is currently available for streaming.

The Floor

As usual, the exhibitor’s floor was packed with merchandise and art for the avid consumer.  Because WonderCon is traditionally a little less crowded than monster conventions like San Diego Comic-Con and Anime Expo, the shopping tends to be much better as the aisles aren’t so packed with people that you can’t get a good look at anything.

The Cosplay

Of course, one of the highlights of any convention is the cosplay.  The amount of energy and creativity people invest in their outfits and props and makeup is truly staggering, and whether they are professional influencers or three-year-old princesses, they contribute to the atmosphere at WonderCon like nothing else.

At the annual WonderCon masquerade, hosted by Ashley Eckstein, over twenty-five contestants displayed elaborate costumes with staged presentations.

All in all, WonderCon 2024 offered a great experience for guests who weren’t devoted to the big studio presentations that have become the mainstay of so many larger conventions.  Panels were almost all easy to attend with relatively few lines and the exhibitor’s floor was a pleasure to navigate without the oppressive crowds that come with the big star autograph sessions out in the booths that so frequently clog up walkways of other cons.  If you have an interest in learning more about creating pop culture, whether it be books or films or costumes, or just enjoy hearing fans talk about their fandom, WonderCon is a good option and a fun time.

 

 

 

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