Cosplay means something different to everyone. For me, it’s an opportunity to look at what successful designers are doing, and to push my boundaries and budget trying to replicate it.
NB: This is a piece about what I admire about cosplay and costume design, and would some day like to achieve. As a beginner, I’m a long way from achieving this, but the process is most of the fun!
Cosplay is the only area of design where I enjoy mimicking the original. I love to do my own creative work, but I view this as a problem-solving challenge. Perhaps the original designers used real leather, real silver, talented silversmiths; what on earth can I use within the realms of possibility? The fun is in figuring out how part of a look was created, then in coming up with my own solution.
The fun is also in spotting details that others might overlook, or interpreting them so that they look more “screen accurate” in real life. Outfits are designed to be plausibly functional and enhance the actor. They are tailor-made to suit. If this means an adaptation to the design to fit a different body type, this is more important than accuracy – if a taller character has six bands around the thigh, I may settle for four or five.
I believe Marvel costume designer Alexandra Byrne said, to paraphrase, that the costumes she creates are not costumes, but clothes. In my head, I’ve taken to calling these efforts “closplay”. I’m trying to create something realistic and photogenic, not just accurate – if the original costume disappeared, I’d want my finished product to do in a pinch.
Say a costume calls for a grey jacket – the simple solution, then, surely, is to buy a grey jacket?
But these costumes are designed for living, breathing people in full and complex worlds. The aim, for me, is not to make a costume which is clearly a costume, to have a finished product look unrealistic; the aim is to make the real world around it look unrealistic. Dull strip lighting; those carpet patterns that someone must have thought were a good idea (you know the ones I’m talking about); grey folding chairs. All artificial. The costumes I attempt to recreate are warriors’. Within their universe, their outfits were hand-crafted from animal hides, reflect the light of their surroundings, and reflect the scars of the battles a character has lost and won.
Look at a grey jacket. Is it a grey jacket? Get the jacket.
But is it the same jacket?
The original jacket, on closer inspection, looks weathered. How can we do that in a short space of time?
The original jacket, on closer inspection, appears to be more of a blue-toned grey. Can we find one in a different fabric, so the colour doesn’t look dull?
The original jacket, on closer inspection, is catching the light on the lapels in almost every scene, due to the natural lighting in the film. There won’t be lighting like this at my venue. Should I leave it as it is?
By all means, yes. But my compulsive response here is to make the jacket look like you see it on the screen. Not “oh that kind of looks like the jacket”. Not “oh yeah that is an exact replica of the jacket”. A full-on, resounding, deja-vu-esque gut response in your brain (??) that says “I have seen this before,” like recognising a childhood friend at the end of a busy street.
Stitch wires behind the lapels to adjust their contours. Mist silver spray to mimic the highlight. Believe the light is falling on you, and it will fall on you! Trick the eyes of passers-by! Their world may be 2D, but you are standing under the moonlight in an enchanted forest!1 I want to make it look as though it is the very same jacket, plucked straight from the screen.
And essentially, I want to use my outfit to recreate and evoke other design elements of the film – block colours surrounding it, light angles and diffusion – without actually needing to fork out for some floodlights, I get the fun of being Sparky and Production Designer as well as the costume department. The aim is – at least for a moment – to drag onlookers out of the world they’re in, and into the vivid fantasy world with you.
Of course, all of this is a lot more expensive and time-consuming. I tip my hat to anyone who does this casually. You’re probably a lot more fun to hang out with. I do this mostly as practice as part of my ongoing dream to create professional-quality products without the expense or experience of taking on another undergrad degree. Spray-painting a jacket is experience, right..?
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing up details for Gamora. I’ll be painting myself green, I’ll be dying my hair purple (the latter more permanently. I’m so excited), and I’ll be filming a secret surprise because it will be too much fun to let this costume go to waste on just a party or three.
I’m putting this manifesto here so I don’t have to wax quite so lyrical while I’m talking about how I made the gloves.
And, for a secret surprise cameo – who wants to dress up as Starlord??