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article imageTechnology leads the way forward at Toronto Fan Expo 2016

By Jack Derricourt     Sep 7, 2016 in Technology
Technology continues to drive pop culture and fandom, allowing enthusiasts and hobbyists to engage with their idols and obsessions — and that was clearly on display at this year's Toronto Fan Expo.
Toronto’s Fan Expo attracts avid onlookers and casual fans alike, year after year. Online coverage of this year’s fest is replete with costumed heroes and discussions of sensational guest appearances from the likes of Mark Hamill, John Cusack and Margaret Atwood.
Originally founded in 1995 as the Canadian National Comic Book Expo, the four day festival has grown to include not only comic book aficionados, but film buffs, cosplayers, gamers and many more.
Classic consoles for sale at Fan Expo show where game technology was when the convention started in ...
Classic consoles for sale at Fan Expo show where game technology was when the convention started in 1995.
Events like Comicon and Fan Expo continue to grow as media groups and startups alike see these massive get-togethers of culturally savvy consumers as potential proving grounds for their newest content and a necessary rejuvenation of their longest-lasting brands. Technology continues to play a larger and larger role in this enthusiastic, cultural feeding frenzy — and as the mass appeal of events like Fan Expo becomes more mainstream, this will only increase, if this year’s event shows us anything.
It’s appropriate that such a technology-centred event would bare witness to the final Canadian appearance of Stan Lee — a true Titan of comic book writing. Alongside the incredible pens of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Lee two-finger-typed some of the most memorable comic books of the Silver Age: Spiderman, the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk and the Fantastic Four; he inspires some of the most powerful nostalgia and authenticity to be found in the world of comic books. But Lee’s ideals were always settled firmly in the world of science fiction technology. His heroes interacted with a radically shifting world, made fresh and new through scientific breakthroughs. Even his catchphrase — “Excelsior!” — means “ever upwards” or “still higher,” hinting at Lee’s tendency towards progressive technologies. It makes perfect sense that the Fan Expo Stan Lee headlined would push ahead into a new world of technology and futurism.
A Ghostbusters stall set up at Toronto Fan Expo 2016
A Ghostbusters stall set up at Toronto Fan Expo 2016
Here are some of the highlights of new and exciting technologies on display during Digital Journal's trip to the Expo.
Cosplay — in 3D!
Usually the first thing on the front page of Fan Expo coverage is cosplay — the fan hobby and performance art of performing in costume as a favourite character. The Internet is awash with incredible pictures captured at conventions, showing off outfits once seen only in the pages of a comic book or in a high budget movie.
One of the 501st Legion cosplayers stands guard at Fan Expo 2016
One of the 501st Legion cosplayers stands guard at Fan Expo 2016
What some may not be aware of is the rising influence of 3D printing in the world of cosplay. The rapid affordability of 3D printing makes this technology a dream come true for cosplayers: they can literally print the objects from their favourite media to use in their costuming. Local 3D printer company Shop3d.ca were tabling at Fan Expo, showing off their Ultimaker 2+ printer and the kinds of accessories and (fake) weaponry they had helped prominent local cosplayers put together for the event.
Local 3D printers show off cosplay props made using their line of printers
Local 3D printers show off cosplay props made using their line of printers
A recent and extraordinary case of such imaginative use of 3D printing is August’s Guinness World Record set by Irish special effects expert Julian Checkley for his Batman suit: the cosplay outfit comes complete with 23 functioning gadgets. As these 3D resources become more accessible to cosplayers, the only limits for deisgners and prop creators will be their imaginations.
eSports
As esports continue to rise in popularity — partially thanks to game-streaming sites like Twitch and Beam, recently acquired by Microsoft — media groups are getting in on the action. Events like Fan Expo provide media groups with the perfect chance to show off their new eSport assets. Bell media did just that with the Northern Arena: part Bell store, part laser tag course and part wrestling ring, the arena was cast in an eerie blue light, with smoke and dim lights. A broadcast booth hosted specialists covering the counterstrike tournament, giving their two cents on strategy and goals for the competitors. The sixteen teams competed for a share of the $100,000 pot up for grabs, sitting in the centre of the room at space-aged desks of computers, while eager crowds clustered on two balconies and near the broadcast booth to get a look at the action. In a recent report, gaming market research company Newzoo predicted that the eSports market would grow by 43 percent over the course of 2016. It was packed in the arena for most of the weekend, indicating the vibrant enthusiasm for eSports out in force — and that predictions like Newzoo’s may indeed be true.
VR
It’s not just competitive tournament gaming that drew a large crowd to Fan Expo. The video game industry held their own, taking up a huge portion of the south building. EB Games had crowds yelling wildly for plush Pokemon toys. Lines to try out the new Forza game and gain a peek at the newest instalment of the Assassin’s Creed franchise were massive. But virtual reality was the real high water mark of the industry’s presence at Fan Expo.
Fan Expo attendees try out VR headsets
Fan Expo attendees try out VR headsets
Playstation VR had the most elaborate setup, hosting half a dozen participants at any given time. The hashtag #ITriedPSVR recorded to some enthusiastic results:
The HTC Vive team were also out in force, providing convention attendees with the chance to use what many developers are calling the most promising of VR devices. Really driving home the point that VR was a force to reckoned with at this year’s Fan Expo: the hotly anticipated Batman: Arkham VR experience was booked solid all weekend long at the Warner Bros. booth; as CBC reports, and many Twitter users agree, being able to tout a flashlight as the Dark Knight is one of the more impressive VR demos seen at recent conventions.
The Batman: Arkham VR experience was booked up during the entire Toronto Fan Expo
The Batman: Arkham VR experience was booked up during the entire Toronto Fan Expo
With great technology comes great responsibility
These high-tech aspects of Fan Expo certainly delighted the thousands in attendance over the course of the weekend, this writer included. As more money is invested in these burgeoning technologies, it will be interesting to see if the audience for these particular avenues of culture continue to flock to established conventions like Fan Expo. Will the tech-heavy aspects of pop culture continue to share the stage with comic book culture? If the popularity of Batman: Arkham over the weekend indicates anything, it’s how these two segments of pop culture can mutually benefit each other: the comic book hero comes alive in the changing face of entertainment technology in 2016, appearing just as relevant as ever to thousands of captivated fans. It’s a technological progression in the life of comics that even Stan Lee can be proud of. Excelsior!
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