Malta alone was worth the trip
I meant to do this back in 2018. Shortly after the event and while everything was still fresh in recent memory, but then life happens... I got busy, I lost motivation for it, then forgot. I didn't go to THU in 2019 since that year my wife and I took a trip to LA for the Zbrush Summit of that year. I'm doing it now since thanks to the 'rona no live events really took place. We had plans, flights booked, and were looking into hotels to join THU Japan, but that was postponed, this year's main event is also postponed... so it's a good time to remember those good times and why they matter, I guess. I put these things in record to remember as a digital scrapbook for my wife and I, and I hope that it also serves to show some people what an event like THU is like.
For years of my career I've been attending different industry events of different types and scale. Trojan Horse Was A Unicorn is its own beast and it's one of the events that my wife and I have been happy to attend on so far three times. In 2018 THU moved from Troia in Portugal to Valletta in Malta. For us it was a welcome change and I'm sure that for Andre, the founder and main organizer, it was a lot of work.
THU main days that year were from Sept 24 to 29. We arrived on Friday 21 at night and immediately started exploring the area near our BnB. We made plans to arrive two days before the start of the main event in order to have enough time to explore Malta a bit before things got going.
Malta is a beautiful island and we definitely enjoyed our time there. After realizing the first night that our BnB was on the second floor of a bar, we had a bit of a noisy night and ended up sleeping in some. That first day we walked around the Valletta area to explore the sights and they did not disappoint. Around the same days as THU there is a yearly Military Tattoo event and we got to see the parades going by as they headed over to where they would play their main show, fun stuff. We had some delicious pies and great beer at a pub that day.
The sights around the peninsula are breathtaking. The land elevations and dips make for great vistas and interesting alleys that go up and down. As artists we can end up seeing the world pretty differently from how other people might see it. We might look at a building or even a plant and wonder how we would go about building it in 3D or what brushes we could come up with in 2D to depict them quick and effectively. As a character artist I have to catch and stop myself from staring too long at people with interesting faces, hairstyles or even outfits that would look cool on a fictional character in my head. We are blessed and cursed with the curious mind that makes us want to process what we see and replicate it with a bit of our own soul through our hands on paper or in pixels. Those of us that are lucky enough to afford travel and what it can bring us, can end up so enriched by those experiences and I try to never take them for granted, because not everyone gets to enjoy these things, and that makes them worth treasuring.
There are historical monuments and cathedrals concentrated within very small area that you can walk through and get lost in, but in a good way. It is a small peninsula so you can always find your way to the east or west end and easily find your way with your phone. It's brilliant. Learning about history in our travels also gives us a bigger perspective and understanding for when we try to create our own worlds and fictions. The more we learn about human history, the more we have the tools to create fictional worlds that are believable enough to capture the attention and imagination of audiences.
Many artists, Game of Thrones fans, and THU attendants might already know, but in case you didn't, Valleta is one of several Malta locations where parts of that show were filmed. There are fortified walls and fortress zones that still have cannons in several places. It really is a beautiful and inspiring place. Working from home can get pretty lonely, those that were already working from home already knew this and some thrive in it... now the rest of the world got their free trial of that life and many have found out how much they might hate it. For me this was part holiday part work to an extent, but not in a bad way. I normally wouldn't have picked Malta as a place to visit or take a trip to. It wasn't so much on my radar and I'm glad that this event got us to go there, because it made me realize how high up on our list of countries to visit Malta should have been.
On our second full day we went further out in the island. We decided to do a day trip to the north of the island. We got on the bus that would take us to Popeye Village, where the really old movie with Robin Williams was shot. Unfortunately, we missed the second bus that we were trying to take there and ended up changing course to end up at Paradise Bay beach. We had to do a lot more walking under the sun than we expected. My wife, Inken, was not amused during that part, but the sights were worth it and all was fine when we reached the beach. It is a very small cozy beach and was worth the trip. I asked later some friends about the Popeye Village and they said it was a bit of a tourist trap and kinda boring... I think I'd still like to check it out if we get to go to Malta a second time. There's also the island of Gozo and lots more to see and enjoy.
The multiple cultural influences over the centuries make their gastronomy a pretty interesting mix. We tried several local restaurants during our stay and were not disappointed. One of the best things about traveling, as we all know, is trying out the local food. They got good fish dishes, rabbit, Maltese sausage, pies, and lots of stuff we didn't get around to trying out.
By day 0 of the event (The night when they have the opening ceremony) we were pretty tired of walking. I had an ankle injury that was still healing up, so I spent most of my time in Malta walking normal during the day, and sort of limping by night, wasn't too bad, but was a bit of a bother. One of the places that we made sure we checked out was St. John's Cathedral... man it was beautiful.
The entire interior is overwhelmingly decorated with baroque altars. A gorgeous painting here, a mind blowing sculpture there, the works. One of the main attractions there is Caravaggio's The Beheading of St John The Baptist. Did you know Caravaggio killed a pimp over a tennis match? Look it up, the man had a temper, but boy was he a master! Living in Europe and having lived in Vienna you sort of get used to these churches, but I think Europeans end up taking them for granted and don't appreciate them enough. The beauty and meaning that these places hold is immense and underrated. If you end up in an environment art team where you might have to replicate one of these places for a video game without scans or other cheats, you might become able to really appreciate what Europeans have inherited here. Being from Mexico I've come to appreciate and embrace both the heritage of pre-hispanic civilizations and the Spanish heritage that I was born into. It fills me with pride and provides me with endless inspiration for my personal projects.
On the eve of night 0 all the pilgrims that made their way to Malta came together at the THU venue for the opening ceremony, where founder André Lourenço and his mentor, Scott Ross, welcome everyone and give a briefing of what's new in the event, some teasers of what to expect, and how Malta has welcomed the event and the people attending. That year they introduced the idea of Luchadores and Super Sentais, which was part of the organizers way of organizing events of friendly competition and rivalry among the attendees. If you came in a group or like in our case as a couple, you were intentionally put into opposing factions. The main idea, like much of the event is to encourage people to not necessarily stick together only to their clique or group, but to interact and meet up with people from the same faction who might be in a group you don't know or wouldn't normally hang out with. Some ground rules of the event are laid out, obvious things that some of the younger attendees might need brought to their attention or grown ass people need be reminded of like:
-Clean up after yourself. Obvious, but important when you're in a historic place like Fort St Elmo, where the main events take place.
-Leave no one behind. Refers to making an effort to talk to people who might be too shy to start a conversation.
-Don't be an asshole. Guess partly goes back to the previous one as in reading social cues in case that shy person really doesn't wanna talk to you. The rest of this one is vague, but obvious enough.
-Get some sleep. Means that you're in for 5-6 nights of staying up late drinking an partying if you want, but it's a bit of a waste also to get so tired that you miss most of the morning events and workshops because you couldn't wake up.
-Be on time. Also relates back to the previous one, where if you slept in and are fighting a hangover, you might end up being that dummy, who walks into a talk late, trips in the dark stairs, coughs, farts and sneezes on the way down and breaks the flow of the speaker's chi... that kinda thing.
After the opening ceremony the THU oasis opens up and the first night of mingling, drinking, meeting people, hanging out, meeting up with old friends and making new ones starts out. After about 9 months of this pandemic lock-down stuff and the craziness that 2020 has been so far, you get a real appreciation for live events like THU and others. Lightbox online just took place and although it was pretty good and I'ms till checking out how it went, I know that everyone is looking forward to the proper event coming back too. As a freelancer I'm used to being a hermit in my cave and only going out so much, but my wife and I were used to socializing enough and going a couple times of the year out for a short or long trip, near or far from Austria, where we live. The multiple times we've attended THU and the other industry events that we've attended have often been full of fond memories and long standing friendships that we've built. I could go on and on, but I'll save more of that for the next parts.
Come back for parts 2 and 3 where I'll talk about the talks, workshops, and the parties and fun that were had. Remember travel and parties?