Where shall I start? What are the first steps? What do I need to take care of? These are the questions which pain many cosplay newcomers and those who want to get into this hobby. But in the first phase also many experienced people like me are sometimes pretty desperate. Over the years and at conventions I was lucky enough to be able to run many workshops about weapon and prop making. One of their topics was also the right preparation and planning for an upcoming cosplay project. I never really summarized this as a tutorial. But after I was able to convince so many attendees of my workshops at IberAnime 2012 how easy it is to start with cosplay I decided also to facilitate my followers all over the web to get into this amazing
hobby.Well in fact this all is really not as hard as you may think. However there are some points, which many beginners are not aware of but which are pretty helpful to get started.
1. Know your skills!
The choice of your costume is the most important decision for your upcoming project. All over the web, in movies, videogames, comics and other resources you’ll find many characters with awesome designs, a lot of charm or just an amazing look. Despite of your love for this character you should always keep your own skills in mind. If you have never made an armor, it can be pretty hard to bring a well armored warrior to life.
Maybe Iron Man wouldn’t be the best choice for your very first costume.
If you never sat in front of a sewing machine, it will not be easy to sew one of these awesome dresses from Granado Espada. And if you never worked with resin, fiberglass or plexiglass, maybe you will have problems to create Siegfried’s armor from Soul Calibur. So it’s always recommendable to start with smaller than bigger projects. Surely it’s not impossible to implement something difficult as your very first project, but then keep in mind, that it won’t be easy for you and the risk to fail at different points of the costumes will be higher.
2. Accept challenges!
If you really choose something challenging for your next project, then don’t forget that it will take time. You will fail at some steps, you will be frustrated and desperate and you will cry about your project. In this case start as early as possible. To redo things, to find new solutions for your problems or just to find the motivation to keep on working on such a hard project, you will need time. In addition failures will costs more time and effort than if you just work straight ahead. I also was lost many times when I created my very first armor, I wanted to give up or just was not able to look at the chaos I’ve built for many days.
In addition I had to create a huge breastplate three times over, I experimented a lot with fixing and failed in wig styling. This all took time and in the end I was very relieved that I started half a year before the final deadline.
3. Think about the future!
It’s pretty nice if you managed to create a very impressive costume after months of hard work, like Bumblebee from the Transformers movies for example. Even more frustrating is, when you notice that you are not able to bring this costume to the convention at the end. When you choose a costume reference, also think about the future. Keep in mind that you need to transport your costume at the end. It also needs to find some storage space in your house and you will need some room to turn the materials into the final product.
When I visited my very first Blizzcon, I also brought a staff with me, which I created only for this convention and for the traveling by plane. So I chose a staff which I was able to put into a suitcase and created it out of four separated parts, which were screwed to one piece together at the end.
4. Collect references!
The more references you have from a costume the better. It’s pretty hard to create a costume based on a small picture of a comic or manga. In addition it’s much easier to create a costume based on a reference, which allows you a 3D look of your character and gives you the opportunity to notice every detail. If you chose to cosplay somebody from a video game there are often opportunities to get a 3D look of this character. I also work with the World of Warcraft modelviewer, which allows me to zoom, rotate and adjust every model, armor set or weapon I’m able to find in the game itself.
In addition it also helps sometimes to collect references from other sources. For example I sadly only had a low resolution reference of my Wizard, but since the amount of details was pretty high in the reference it helped a lot to look for Chinese costume and accessories designs.
5. You’re just a human!
You jumped through the web you surely saw many costumes already. Many of them are pretty awesome, but maybe you noticed that some of them look a bit… weird. One reason for that I noticed are often proportions of the costume and the model. When you start with a costume, always keep in mind, that you are just a human. You are not a Nightelf with the high of 2.30 meter, you are not a super model ready for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, you don’t have the muscles of Superman and you also don’t have the body shape of a Barbarian. You are just a human and no matter how much you will work out or gain weight, you will always stay a human. So it’s important to adjust props, armor or other parts of the reference to your body. In 2011 I’ve created a Nightelf Tier 9 armor for Benni.
The original reference had really huge pauldrons, which I resized and made them much smaller. I made this decision not just to get more space in my suitcase, but also because of the final look. They surely look fine in World of Warcraft, but if I would build them as large as in the reference it would look just bulky and pretty stupid. I also made the pauldrons of my Barbarian much smaller than in the reference, since I don’t have such a muscular body like the original Barbarian. Adjusting proportions give your costume not just a better look, but also let them appear more “real”. Or do you think somebody would believe that you are a mighty warrior if you are even not able to move in your armor?
In 2003 when I started with cosplay I was pretty much lost. I had no English skills and just had no idea how to begin. At many points I was frustrated, very desperate and had no fun in this hobby. Some years later I found a lot of help over the internet and really discovered the power of Google. In addition I also wanted to thank to the community and started to create my own tutorials. Despite of that, many people still have no idea how powerful and helpful Google can be. But if you just take your time, you will find a solution for almost every problem you have with your costume. On Deviantart.com, Cosplay.com, Facebook, Tumblr and all the other community sites you will find a ton of tutorials, guides and progress pictures which are able to give you a great lead through your whole project. Almost everything you want create, somebody else made before you and maybe also shared his costume progress.
In addition most people are also willing to help you if you just ask them kindly. But: Don’t be lazy! Some time ago I’ve got many messages from people who wanted to know how to create a Keyblade from Kingdom Hearts. But all you need is just to write “Keyblade tutorial” into the Google toolbar.
Also don’t except, that somebody will write you a full guideline how to create your costume. Use your own head, make your own plans about your projects and really think about what you want to do. And: Help others! Share your progress and support others with your knowledge! We are all a huge community and only with the help of everybody we are able to grow, to improve our skills and to learn new materials and techniques!
7. Start small!
It’s never easy to work with a material you never tried. Despite of reading many tutorials, you need to make your own first experiences with new materials. So start with some little tests and chose a small costume part to experiment with your material. I researched a lot before I tried Wonderflex the first time, but despite of this, it was something complete different to hold this material in my own hands. To find the advantages and disadvantages, the properties and the opportunities of this material I created something very easy and small at first: a bracer.
If I would fail, I wouldn’t waste too much material and time. Then after I was successful with this part I found the courage to build something bigger. Materials are often pretty expensive and to start with a huge or important costume parts wouldn’t be a good choice for just an experiment. So take your time to become familiar with a special material to save not just money, but also time and nerves.
8. Search for help!
Despite of many tutorials over the web, it’s always better to find a real person who can help you. If you need some support with electronics or woodworking, maybe your dad or your grandpa can you offer you helping hand or your mum or grandma can you assist you at your sewing machine. In addition it’s also easier to work in a team with friends. With a cosplay partner for example to are able to share duties and everybody is able finish the steps he is good in. Sharing work also helps to get fast progress. You are able to motivate each other, will find solutions for problems faster and support each other in downtimes. I also work with many years with my cosplay partner Selina and am very thankful for her support. We save money for shipping costs, share our tools and materials, encourage each other while our projects and held workshops together. And: We have much more fun than working alone!
Working with new materials, trying new techniques and research for new solutions will always help you for your current and your future projects. With every costume you will gain more and more experience and knowledge, you will become better and will be able not just to improve the skills you already have but you will also learn new ones. However you will reach this only if you don’t show any fear for something new and unknown. If you are not completely satisfied with one costume part, try to find a better solution. If you never worked with a material, don’t be scared to try it and if you have no idea how to create this or that don’t give up and find it out. Cosplay can be at many points very frustrating, you can cry and you often just want to stop with all this, but if you keep on fighting you will be even more proud of the final result. It won’t be easy, but if you don’t fear something new and keep your goal in mind you will be successful!
10. Bring your costume to life!
Cosplay is not just creating and wearing a costume. Cosplay means also to bring a character to life. I’m not a huge role player and I doubt that most of you are. However I try to give my costumes always a realistic look and create a in-character look at least in my photos. To achieve this it’s important not just to have the reference of a character in mind, but also to think about his life. I guess my Barbarian is a pretty good example. This wild, brutal class from Diablo III fights with pure anger and brutally, jumps into hordes of demons and crash their bones with one single hit. So when Benni was done with the painting of the armor for I noticed pretty fast that this costume didn’t really fit to the description of this character.
My costume looked new, unused and anything but the armor of a blood thirsty Barbarian. To change this I added something the reference didn’t had: I dipped my fingers into dark red acrylic paint and added blood and dirt all over the armor, the fabric and the fur. Benni cried after all his hard work, but at the end I’ve got a result which really looked like the blood-soaked and dirty armor from a Barbarian from Diablo III. So, if you create props, armor, accessories or cloth, don’t just follow your reference. Think about your character, think about his background and his life. Don’t just create and wear a costume, but really try to bring your character to life!
Well, and that’s pretty much all! It’s not really a tutorial, much more a guideline which hopefully will help some of you with your costume planning. Some of these points I really discovered after years and they helped me especially to finish not just a cosplay, but to create a real looking character. So I really hope this will help you a bit and maybe also to get into this amazing hobby!