Thursday, March 14, 2013

Preparing for a Cosplay

Hey everyone!

I've always found the initial stages of preparing a cosplay to be some of the most difficult. Choosing a costume is easy, and getting excited about it is also, quite easy. But taking that very first step to get started is just about as hard as it is to write the first sentence of an essay.

As my posts about 2012 cosplays come to a close, I'm preparing some great tutorials, as well as news posts, to share with all of you. But while we're on the topic of starting something new, and I haven't done much outside of revealing my cosplay plans for this coming year, I think this is a great time to discuss tips and tricks to starting a costume.

For this post, I'm going to be using my Oliver cosplay as an example, as it's one of the easier ones to break down. When I get a character that I want to work on, I start out by doing a lot of research.

I. Research

The best way to start out is to find as many reference pictures as you can. Find some inspiration that will get that spark going at the beginning of a project. You can find materials online, or in games, or books, or however works best for you. In the case of Oliver, I was able to find quite a few pictures online which really helped me out.

The key to choosing good reference pictures is that you want to find ones that show off the character really well. I found at least one full body picture, a close up of one with his accessories, and then one with his cape open so I could see how his undergarment looks. The more references you can give yourself to work with, the better off you'll be when you actually have to get started.

Other great resources to check out would be 3D model viewers for some of the more game-related cosplays. These are fantastic as they provide a complete look at the character, from any angle. You can essentially do this with any game character by observing them in game. This can get a little trickier with characters from books, movies, or anime. 

II. Breaking down the Pieces

This part of the process is something that helps me not only plan out the cosplay, but save money, too. When I started out cosplaying, I would often skip this step and it would lead to many many trips to the store, or buying additional yards of fabric, merely from lack of planning. What this step can do is ensure you can do all of your shopping in one trip (should the stores have what you need, although this is rarely the case as we all know).

Once I've got my reference photos, I being "breaking down" the character. I make a small outline, usually in a document on my computer, and list every part of the costume: the wig, the cloak, the shirt, the tunic, the pants, etc. This gives me a good idea of the scope of the costume, and how much work I have ahead of me. 

After that, I break it down even more! Now that I am more familiar with fabric, and what I want, I go in to each section, such as the "Cloak" and list what type of fabric I want, and how much of it I will need. I also tend to list any little things I might need too, like buttons or zippers or thread. If you're really motivated, you can take this to an even further step by checking prices of fabric and materials online, and getting a rough estimate of the budget of your costume (I have yet to succeed in following through in this step because a) I'm lazy, and b) I don't always want to know how much I'm spending on that nice red sateen fabric). 

Here's an example of the very basic outline I did for my Oliver (Ni No Kuni) cosplay:

  • White, button up collared shirt.
    • White linen
  • Blue, short sleeves, zip up the side.
    • Blue cotton
    • Zipper
  • White, knee-length, small zipper on the side
    • White cotton
    • Zipper
  • Red, attached at broach, thigh length.
    • Light-weight, flowy red
    • Liner material
  • Brown boots with light brown fold
    • Short Brown Boots
    • Light Brown Suede
  • Belt
    • Dark Brown Belt
  • Sword Holster
    • Light Brown Skinny Belt
    • Mahogany Pleather
    • Gold leather-like trim
    • Felt/velvet lining
  • Broach
    • Gold Button
    • Green Button
    • Broach Clasp
  • Necklace
    • Clay
    • Green Paint
    • Gold Paint
    • Rope/Chain
  • Wand
    • Wooden Dowel
    • Brown Paint
    • Gold Paint
    • Turquoise Gem
    • Clay for gem socket
    • Glossy spray
  • Book
    • Borrow it?
    • Or:
    • Cardboard
    • Paint

III. Getting Started

Once you've got your costume outlined, and potentially budgeted, you can add up the materials. I tend to make a checklist for myself, or just bring the original outline (so I know what materials go with what part of the costume). Depending on how long you have to make your costume, you can either do all of your shopping at once, or, break it down by what you want to work on. 

Typically, if I've got a 3-4 month scope for a costume, my first purchase will always be my wig. Wigs take forever to ship, because I'm usually buying mine from across the seas through ebay. I've found many of those sellers to be the most trustworthy, and to have the best variety in wig color, lengths, and styles. Once that purchase is made, you can just push that to the back of your mind, and focus on everything else. What's nice about ordering the wig early is that it leaves time for it to get to you before your due date. Not only that, if the wig comes and it's not what you wanted, you usually have some buffer time to order another one. 

After I order the wig, I usually start with the fabric part of the costume first. If I've got props, accessories, or armor to make, those will usually happen last. My first run, then, will be to the fabric store where I spend quite a bit of time looking at patterns. No matter what type of costume I'm making, I typically try to find a base pattern. Even if it's not exactly what I'm going for, I can alter or edit it. I like patterns for several reasons. One, they help you tailor clothes in unique ways that you wouldn't necessarily think of unless you are a seamstress, or went to school for clothing design. Two, it gives you a rough estimate of how much fabric you need. Under-buying fabric can sometimes be the worst, as you have a large piece to cutout but the pattern won't fit on your fabric - you can't sew two pieces of fabric together and then cut, that would look bad. So making sure you have plenty of fabric to work with is always important. 

I like to buy all of the additional things while I'm there, too, in case I actually have time to complete a piece. So I'll get my thread, my zippers, my lining, or my interfacing. Having all of your materials ready when you actually sit down to work helps a lot. At least for me, I don't get many construction days so when I do have time, I like to get right to work so I can get a lot done!

IV. Keeping up the Momentum

One of the cosplayer's biggest enemies is stagnation, or an unfinished costume. It's so easy to be amped up about a costume when you get started, but it's hard to keep that going throughout. Here are a few tips and tricks that help me to keep my pace during a project:
  • Set a series of goals that lead up to your deadline: Make goals for each week/weekend that you need to accomplish, such as, "I want to have this vest completed". Additionally, if you've got a night to work on stuff, set a goal for then too! An example would be, "I really want to get this zipper attached before I go to bed." Setting small, obtainable goals breaks down the project into smaller, easier to maintain pieces.
  • Switch things up when necessary: If you are absolutely dreading working on those pants for the third day in a row, don't work on them! You are much more likely to get a lot of progress done when you are working on something you want to. Go finish a set of buttons, or that prop you've wanted to get started. Then, when you're feeling refreshed, come back to those pesky pants that were giving you trouble.
  • Work in a group or with friends: Being able to share the pains of cosplay with others makes it way easier to bare. Having a group of friends that you can complain to, or work with, or share your experiences with, can make all the difference. Even if they're not right there when you're working, having a support group can help. But, having someone there who is also working and going through the same pains as you can be even better, too. 
  • Movies and music: One of the things I enjoy doing is having a movie on in the background, or soundtracks from the game/anime/movie I'm cosplaying from going all the time. This helps me get in the mood of the costume, and get excited to get it done! The movie is nice because sometimes I can take a little break and just sit and watch. Try to choose a movie you've seen a bunch of times, so you don't get too distracted.
Those are some of the major tricks that have helped me along the way. In the end, you've really just got to stay focused, and get through the rough patches. I know there are parts of sewing and costume construction that I dread, but there are other parts that I really enjoy. So by switching them up and making the process fun helps to ensure the costume gets done. Remember: if you aren't having fun making you cosplay, why are you doing it?

I hope this post was helpful for those of you looking to get started! I know this can sometimes be the hardest part (believe me, I'm in this area for two of my costumes right now!). So best of luck, and feel free to comment with your tips and ideas on how to keep going, or ask any questions that might be on your mind. 

Good luck!


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