Or “All that other stuff cosplayers work with other than fabric.” But that title didn’t sound as good.
Actually, there’s a story behind the title. A friend was lamenting her difficulty coming up with blog post topics (I clearly don’t have that problem, as evidenced by the fact that I post so often! Right? ….right?) and someone suggested, jokingly (I think?) HubSpot’s Blog Topic Generator. So I tried it out and one of the topics it spewed out was “What will sewing be like in 100 years?”
I don’t actually want to speculate about what sewing, or cosplay, will be like 100 years from now, at least not in this blog post. But the topic did make me think about the evolution of cosplay lately, and what exactly it takes to “keep up with the Joneses” in the world of cosplay these days. I’m talking about things like fancy and high-quality wigs, elaborately-constructed props, and professional photos showing off your work. I still take pride in saying that I sewed a cosplay myself, but nowadays, sewing only amounts to only one part of “being a cosplayer”, or so it seems.
This is where I pause and reiterate that I believe cosplay should be FUN no matter how up with the Joneses you are, and no one is under any obligation to “prove” that they’re a cosplayer by using all the latest materials and gadgets or posting pictures of themselves all over the internet. Also, I’m not saying you can’t be a good cosplayer if all you do is sew — I LOVE seeing crisp, clean, well-tailored costumes, and while I can appreciate a good prop or an amazing set of armor, at the end of the day I am one of those “sewing-centred” cosplayers who runs from Sculpey Clay and is baffled by heat guns, so I always come back to the fabric.
But I do want to relate here some of the things that cosplayers are working with right now in addition to sewing machines, things that, like sewing, require a combination of experience and expense and are therefore rather intimidating. Warming: tons of links and a little bit of bitterness ahead!
Talk to older cosplayers, and they’ll tell you about the days when, in order to get crazy anime hair, you had to either dye your own hair (and then go into work with green hair) or get a crappy Halloween store wig. I’m a newer cosplayer, but even so my first wig (Toph) was a cheap “punk girl” wig from a costume store. Now we have places like Arda Wigs which sell wigs in a variety of styles and a wonderful myriad of colors, and can be dyed and styled using heat (try that with a Party City wig and it’ll MELT). Want spikes? You got ’em! Want a built-in widow’s peak with a fake hairline? We’ve got that, too. Used to be, if you wanted to do pig tails, you had to make your own part up the back of the wig. Now you can just buy a pigtail wig and call it good! From someone who’s absolutely terrible at wig modification, I’ve got to say that I have absolutely no complaints about this development in cosplay “technology.” Also, I don’t work for Arda. Really. But I would if they’d hire me!
Foams and plastics
Want armor or an awesome prop? Forget cardboard; these days we have everything from craft foam and EVA foam to Wonderflex and Worbla, the second of which will run you $80 for a piece 39.25″ wide x 59″ long (and was used to construct the armor pictured in the link above). I used craft foam for Zefiris’ shoulder pads and Mami’s rifle, where all I had to do was cut and glue, but it and the other materials just mentioned can also be shaped using a heat gun or other source of heat. Need something rounded like shoulder armor? Just heat it up, put it in the right shape, and wait for it to cool. Or so I’m told.
If that’s not your thing, a friend of mine is currently making a plastic visor using vacuum forming. Turns out that requires heat, too. Who knew props were so hot? Another option is making your props from wood — provided you’ve got saws, rotors, sanders, and whatever else woodwork requires (I’ve got no idea…). My friend Karmada is a big fan of polystyreme sheeting for swords, and also constructed an entire set of armor out of the stuff.
And a very extreme example, the 3D printer. Just as embroidery machines are steadily becoming more affordable (relatively speaking, that is), so 3D printers will probably become accessible in time, making construction of a prop from a series of parts (looking at you, lightsabre) unnecessary.
Of course, buying the materials and power tools is just the first step. It’s getting them to do what you want, and to look good, that’s the real trick. It’s all well and good to say “trial and error is the way to go” until your errors cost you two weeks’ worth of groceries. Watch lots of Youtube tutorials and practice with small pieces!
Makeup and prosthetics
Let’s face it, makeup is expensive. Almost all the makeup I own was purchased for me by a friend’s mom when said friend was getting married (THANK YOU, Mrs. G!!), though I regularly buy eyeliner and I’ve added some weird things since (stuff to color my eyebrows to match my wig color of the day, for instance). With all the emphasis on photo-taking these days, part of donning a cosplay is making your face, and sometimes the rest of you, look good. Crossplay (dressing as a character of the opposite sex) might require facial contouring or even creating fake facial hair. Then there’re custom prosthetics, which may require making face or body part molds with plaster in addition to the actual prosthetic-making and coloring (and did you know, you can’t color liquid latex with regular makeup, so you may have to buy additional makeup as well in order to create seamless prosthetic-to-face look). Fortunately a lot of anime characters are pretty normal, but branch into sci-fi and you’re looking at all sorts of wackiness. Someday I’ll cosplay Madame Vastra from Doctor Who. SOME DAY!
A cosplay may not be complete without a signature prop (what’s Cloud without the Buster Sword or Fusion Swords?), but photos of our cosplays are something that, at the end of the day, we can do without. Still, as more and more cosplayers start Facebook pages, Tumblrs, blogs, cosplay websites, and so on, marketing becomes more and more important, especially for those trying to become models or “cosplay famous” in some other way. Want to get noticed? You’re going to need professional-quality photos for that, or at least shots not taken in the hallway at a con. Now, a photoshoot at a con is a pittance compared to what a wedding photographer will cost you (we’re talking, like, $25-$75 depending on the photographer, duration of the shoot, number of people, and so on), but if you want good shots of all your cosplays and no one’s stopped you for an impromptu (and free) shoot (that happened to me with Mami), it’s going to cost you.
Now, I may sound a little bitter about all this cool stuff that I can’t [afford to] do, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s COOL. The ingenuity and resourcefulness of cosplayers continues to amaze me, and I’ve seen people do things I’d never have thought possible using completely random materials in incredibly creative ways. Part of what makes the community so vibrant is the willingness of its members to try wacky new things and then to share their ideas (both successful and failed) with everyone else. What we need to focus on is that these things provide opportunities for growth and improvement for those who want to take them, rather than obligations to prove our worthiness as cosplayers.
As for me, I’m slowly expanding into the prop-making realm, one prop at a time. One of my big considerations, apart from cost (especially the initial outlay), is actually space — I simply don’t have the room to do a lot of these things right now. Another is assistance: without someone to help you plaster your face to make a mold, you’re not going to get very far! Stay tuned for… uh, graduation, a real job, and a new apartment, I guess! 😛
Meanwhile, I got myself some EVA foam and tried out my dad’s Dremel on it this weekend while visiting my family. The result was promising, except that I got covered in foam dust (I’m COVERED IN FOOAAAAAMM!). 😛 Good thing my dad has all the proper safety equipment: