The Life of a Cosplayer
If you’d like to see all of the awesome costumes we saw at PAX East 2013, head on over to our Cosplay Gallery.
I have a hard time just walking up to people and talking to them, which makes taking pictures of cosplayers an interesting predicament. Part of my brain tells me that these people put on a costume for a reason, that they must enjoy having their pictures taken. They must really love these characters to be willing to spend an entire day of a convention dressed as that character despite any discomfort or disruptions this might mean. Still, I can’t shake the nagging feeling that I’m bothering these people, especially when I see them wandering up a hallway, only managing to take a few steps before someone is shyly tapping them on the shoulder looking for another photo op.
I imagined that sort of thing would drive a person crazy after a while. Wouldn’t you just want to be able to head to the bathroom or grab something to eat in peace? Maybe just take a walk down the show floor and look at what you want without having to make constant stops? If that was the case, then how come the costumes only seem to get better and more elaborate year after year? On top of that, why do I see a lot of the same people doing it every year as well? Seeing as I was already worried that I was bugging these people, I decided to get my questions answered by doing the only sensible thing I could think of: bugging them for more of their time with an interview.
As it turned out, cosplayers are some of the friendliest, most understanding people I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to. They also happen to be the most dedicated, hardworking fans you’ll ever meet, as many of them lived and breathed for their costumes for hours, weeks, and months. You might be tempted to guess at the amount of time some of these elaborate costumes took to make, but I found the reality was always far, far longer than I thought. “I easily put over 100 hours of work into the costume…” stated one cosplayer. Another said that “I’ve been wearing it for a while, but about 4 months of work went into the parts that I wore to PAX.” I knew these outfits had been complex, but it’s hard to imagine just how much time goes into them.
Time is one thing, but there’s some serious technical knowledge that goes into them as well. For Carly Hampel, it was a chance to combine a lot of knowledge together into a single project. “I’m studying fashion design at Massart (Massachusetts College of Art and Design) with a focus on period piece costume design, so Elizabeth’s costume was perfect for me to make… It was really exciting to incorporate all the skills I’ve been learning at school into this garment.”
For many cosplayers, it pushes their creativity in new directions in order to create costumes and props that have the look and feel of the characters. “The hat was made by taking some pipe cleaners to make a frame around an existing hat.” said one cosplayer about part of their costume. The same person also said that “Over the next year I intend to experiment with silicone molding, 3D printing and hard foam carving.” There is a huge amount of creativity involved in many of these costumes, and the incredible amounts of knowledge certainly help in making these outfits look as good as they do.
I was surprised at the amount of cosplayers who seemed unsure of themselves before they’d made it to the convention. I was absolutely floored by the various costumes I saw in the convention center (and terrified. I dare YOU to try to ask Slender Man for an interview.); so it was a little stunning to hear that most of these people, especially first-time cosplayers, were shocked at the reaction they received. “…I was a little worried that my costume would not be acknowledged.” said one cosplayer who was literally surrounded at the time I asked to take her picture. “I thought I would more or less blend in with the rest of the con-goers, but I ended up standing out more than I had anticipated.” said another. I wasn’t expecting to hear that given the sheer scope and skill that went into all of the costumes I saw, but such feelings never seemed to last for long for these talented people.
“It took us over a half an hour to get out of the front lobby because people kept stopping us to take our picture.” wasn’t an uncommon story to hear. “I instantly felt like a celebrity. Many people crowded around to take pictures. I would be stuck in spots for 10-20 minutes just posing.” I can believe it, too, as it was hard to walk very far into certain places on the show floor without seeing someone in costume with a ring of flashing lights all around them. If many of these people had any doubts about their costumes, I think they disappeared the moment the cameras started coming out and all movement ground to a halt.
The day didn’t get any easier for many cosplayers. “…that cement floor was brutal after a few hours.” was said by one cosplayer, something I agreed with and I wasn’t even wearing heels. I also thought it was a little cold outside the convention despite wearing a jacket, so I can only imagine what it was like for some of the people wearing costumes. “My costume was fairly comfortable, though not very warm so getting to and from the car was uncomfortable…” Almost everyone I asked said something similar, and if not that, then their costumes were much too hot to wear. While talking about her cosplaying partner, one woman told me that “His costume was very warm and he had to remove his helmet about every hour to keep from overheating.” I thought back on every time I felt even slightly put off by the temperature all day, and couldn’t even imagine how bad it could have gotten for many of these people. I could at least put my jacket on or take it off.
Did you ever just enjoy a really good sit while you were the convention? Just enjoyed sitting down and having something to eat? I know that felt fantastic for me after a few hours, but many cosplayers couldn’t even do that. Christina Collins (Kiwii), who was cosplaying as Nidalee, couldn’t even sit down while in costume; as “The bone teeth on my belt made it so I couldn’t sit back on a chair, or sit on the ground comfortably.” Danielle Beaulieu had a similar problem, but one that was compounded by the fact that she couldn’t eat: “The ears that I had on my face made it so I can’t chew my food or the liquid latex would start to pull off slowly. So all weekend I could only eat in the short time I wasn’t in costume. I also couldn’t sit down or the leaves on the side would start to peel off. So I pretty much had to walk around in heels with zero energy all weekend…”
They weren’t the only ones who couldn’t eat, either. Another cosplayer said: “I had to wear a unitard under my armour for the entire day. It would be possible to strip off all the armour and use the bathroom, but it really wasn’t practical. As horrible as it sounds, I ate and drank nothing all day just so I could stay in costume!” I was exhausted at the convention when I could eat and sit at any time I liked, but many of these people put in ridiculous hours without any kind of food or rest. I can’t even imagine how cranky I would have gotten if I hadn’t taken any breaks during the convention, but they all did it with a smile.
They were also working a lot harder than I was, too. I never really thought that all of the posing meant holding some strange positions for long periods of time until I heard from these people. Danielle went on to say that “My arms started to hurt from holding so many poses for pictures, too!”; something I never even thought of. Holding bulky weapons in combat poses for a few minutes while a couple dozen people snap pictures is something that would wear down on anybody, but again, these people managed it all no matter how many times it happened during the day.
One of the things I wondered was whether that sort of thing could get annoying, though. All of the lights and photo shoots might have seemed fun and endearing at the start of the day, but what happens after you’ve gone through eight to ten hours of it almost non-stop? I heard so many positive responses about the reactions of the fans to the costumes, but I felt like there had to be a point when it got frustrating. Maybe one point where you couldn’t even get to the bathroom because fans kept lining up to take your costume, or a stolen moment of rest getting interrupted by someone with a nervous smile and a camera in hand.
No one I asked seemed to feel that way. No matter what they went through, no matter how much harder the convention was for them through discomfort, pain, hunger, or exhaustion, these people maintained a positivity that I absolutely envy. I asked each and every one of them if their opinion of the day had changed during the course of it, or if any moments, good or bad, stood out to them and the answers were purely positive. After talking about problems with getting overheated in his costume, one cosplayer said “It was AMAZING and I would do it all over again!” A couple doing cosplay said “We were nervous at first since this was our first cosplay. As we warmed up and got more comfortable with the fact we were the Disney characters of PAX, we came out of our shells. Now we can’t wait for next year!”
Why, though? Why would someone want to pay to be bugged by amateur photographers all day and not have any time to see most of the convention? Sometimes, an impressive costume can catch the attention of just the right person, as Carly Hampel found out. “I also got to meet Ken Levine, creator of Bioshock, which was AMAZING. He invited me to their exclusive Bioshock party, which was absolutely insane.” A lot of the League of Legends cosplayers mentioned the same thing, including Christina Collins. “The moment I was about to jump on stage at the League of Legends booth and being told by the RIOT crew that ‘this is what it’s all about’ and ‘I love the detail’ and ‘I don’t see Nidalee often enough’ just was music to my ears.” You never know who’s looking at your outfit, some times.
It never had to be as extreme as running into a game’s creator or anything like that for most cosplayers. There was a bond between them and other cosplayers that helped form some instant friendships. “It’s like instantly becoming a part of a family. We have each other’s backs.” said Chelsea Hughes after kindly helping another cosplayer repair his costume. LoveofCountry Cosplay told me “Someone dressed as Dante from the most recent DMC came up to me and we were just instant friends — it’s a strong connection.” Part of me wants to say that it’s a way for huge fans to find each other during these conventions, but it seems more like a way for people who are extremely positive about games to meet each other.
There is a bit of a seedy underbelly to these events, though. While most people found the convention filled with respectful people, not everyone did. While almost all of the cosplayers said they had a wonderful time and that the people were great, there were still some bad instances that stuck out in their minds. “The only bad moments were all of the guys that were walking behind me and taking photos of my back-end without saying anything…” Another had some choice things to say about a certain booth “The absolute worst moment for me was the Twitch.tv cosplay contest on Sunday. Nothing is more awkward than going on stage and having a host ask you to make out with your friend while your fiancé is in the audience. I felt he was incredibly out of line and any chance of being funny went right out the window.”
There weren’t many times that items like those came up, but they do show that there are still some bad people who are at these conventions, and it would be nice to see a little bit more respect shown to the people who put so much time, effort, and energy into trying to bring something amazing to the convention. These people have undergone absurd efforts to brighten up the show floor, but they absolutely aren’t there for you to do whatever you want to them. You know who you guys are, so please knock it off for everyone’s sake.
Despite the occasional negative moment and the constant bouts of exhaustion, not a single person said they wouldn’t do it again. As said by Christina Collins “The pain, the cold, the tiredness — it isn’t anything compared to the praise and the good will I felt from everyone who I met.” When I asked if he was up for another bout next year, another cosplayer said “Yes, without question. Why? Because it’s fun and that’s all that matters.” For Chelsea Hughes, “…Cosplaying at conventions allows me to combine everything I love about art: the sewing, the crafting, the painting and the construction. And best of all, it culminates to a final moment in which I get to showcase my work to a group of people who truly love the craft. I’ve never had so much fun with art, and frankly, I’m hooked!”
So, the next time you see someone in an amazing costume, try to think a little bit about the time and effort that went into creating that outfit. Acknowledge the exhaustion and pain that they’re going through to bring this character to life for you to see. Try to keep that in mind if you’re thinking of snapping a pervy picture, and realize that these great people are doing all of this at great expense to themselves with no thought of getting anything in return. Do what you can to make this experience a little easier for them, and make sure to really thank them for how much they made PAX East a more interesting place.
If you’re thinking of doing your own costume, it sounds like you’ll be in really great company. The cosplayers of PAX East seem to form a bond in their shared difficulties and triumphs, in the good and bad parts of cosplaying. Go ahead and let that creativity lose, as you will be in extremely good company when you do it. I can’t think of a nicer group of people I’ve ever met, and maybe that’ll be enough to make me dig my Dr. Salvador costume from Resident Evil 4 out of retirement. Just need to find someone to dress up as Leon so I can chase them while shouting in Spanish.
Joel Couture and Mash Those Buttons would like to thank everyone who kindly agreed to take the time to complete the interview, as well as everyone who came to PAX East 2013 in these great costumes. You really did brighten the place up!