Orobouros.net @ Otakon 2006
Otakon has pretty much found its niche. After 13 years of events, Otakon has settled in nicely at the Baltimore Convention Center, where it has been held since 1999. Having attended the convention since even before the move, there are seven previous reports on my experiences at Otakon. Many of the main points stay the same. Otakon is the largest east-coast anime convention, both by attendance and physical size; Otakon's hotel spread out over many blocks over downtown Baltimore, and the convention center itself is so big that it can easily take ten minutes to walk from one side to the other.
Being held in the Inner Harbor, one of the largest tourist destinations in the whole state of Maryland, has many advantages and disadvantages. Being held during a high tourism season, Otakon attendees have to contend with not only many individual tourists and families, but major events such as concerts going on. In 2006, two major baseball teams played on all three days of the convention, right next door to the convention center. Baltimore is accustomed to such strains, though, and provides ample hotel space, retail outlets, and restaurant options, all from budget to luxury price ranges. While more expensive than many other anime convention venues, Otakon and Baltimore are only moderately more expensive than conventions held in much less popular and urbanized areas.
As far as size goes, in 2006 Otakon attracted over 22,000 attendees. Though this is short of the attendance cap that had been put on the convention in 2005, this is still a very large number of people. Many fans have been put off by the size and the resulting difficulty in any sort of socializing. Chances are very slim you'll see anybody you know at the convention more than once or twice in passing. And even then, most of the time one of you will be running off to some event. While the social element is probably the biggest draw to conventions in general, Otakon makes up for any lack of socializing opportunities with massive programming options.
At around $55 per attendee and unknown amounts of contributions from major industry, Otakon has a budget that allows for events that most other conventions cannot manage. In 1999, Otakon took up only one part of half of the convention center. By 2006, it has not only utilized all the space in the convention center Ð though perhaps not yet optimally Ð Otakon has expanded into two semi-famous local venues. This year, the masquerade was held in the First Mariner Arena, a fully-sized events stadium, and several concerts were held at Ram's Head Live, a very popular venue for rock concerts in the Baltimore area. While not yet a particularly noticeable feature in mainstream entertainment, anime and the fans' related interests are certainly making themselves visible. Otakon is considered a city-wide event for good reason.
Otakon is certainly not without its problems, but these are largely due to the rapid growth and sheer size of the convention. Despite some hiccups, after more than five years in the city and the support of the development council, Otakon generally satisfies its attendees. Hotels book out quickly, and many parts of the convention need to be planned even more than a year in advance. As stated above, Otakon has seemingly found its niche. Without the worries associated with trying to grow the convention Ð most scifi and other conventions run smoothly these days precisely because their growth periods are years, if not decades, in the past Ð Otakon is able to put the effort into improving existing programming instead of putting programming second tier to attendance.
Finally, since the main focus of this site is (now) photography, a few words on the aesthetics of Otakon, Baltimore, the Inner Harbor, and the Convention Center are in order. There is a lot of traffic in downtown Baltimore, and doing cosplay outside the convention is always a bit of a hairy issue. However, the inner harbor does provide a lot of nice locations to shoot. Humidity and temperatures are very high in late July and early August, so many outdoor shoots would probably be uncomfortable at best. The main patio of the Convention Center, though outside, does provide a fairly good shooting area with fewer attendees and many buildings in the background. Inside, the fountain area (formally called the Pratt Street Lobby, I believe) is also a very nice location for photos, though obviously crowed due to this fact. Lighting though most of the upper (300) level is decent during the day, though the other levels are really not recommended for photography. That being said, there are still a number of nice secluded parts of the convention center that are pretty much devoid of attendees. And for those who can be polite in dealing with hotel staff, many of the convention hotels are very fancy and have very nice interiors. Though often difficult to shoot, these provide some of the nicest locations anywhere.
I use an automatic Photoshop process to develop the images from RAW to the website. I'll be happy to manually fix up any particular photos by request, though, since they tend to look better and have less noise.
And more photos from various people: The Cosplay.com Otakon 2006 picture thread.
Convention reports and photos: Orobouros.net
Higher quality images available upon special request.
Images, text, and other content © 2006 Oliver Oberg.
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