Cosplay: Video game characters go from screen to stage

By Mark Ward
Technology correspondent, BBC News

  • Published

In our regular look at hackers, makers and crafters Tech Know visits people who make costumes of video and game characters.

Anyone who has spent time playing World of Warcraft knows the game is all about the gear.

Complete any quest and you will be rewarded with loot (money or items) from the monsters you kill or from whichever denizen of Azeroth gave you the task.

The gear a character wears has a big influence on how powerful they are, new sets are regularly released by the game's creators and some items require hours of playing for a gamer to have a small glimmering shard of a chance to pick them up.

As a result many players would prefer being swallowed by the dragon Onyxia than suffer the social death of being seen in last season's armour. No wonder then that the auction house is one of the busiest places in WoW.

For some online gamers, as well as those who adore anime, that love of gear and being in character does not stop when they set down the mouse or remote.

Increasing numbers are taking up their glue guns, wire cutters and sewing needles to fashion costumes so they can dress up like their favourite game or cartoon character.

Sophie Pickford has created many different costumes drawn from the worlds of anime and video games including Aphrodite IX, The Joker and Rorschach. But her most ambitious creation was her plan to look like a blue-skinned Draenei druid she plays in WoW.

Image caption,
They look good but Draenei hooves are rough on human feet (Credit: Sophie Pickford)

"It was quite a natural progression," she said "I'm always drawing, illustrating and I've got my own web comic that was influenced by World of Warcraft."

Having spent a lot of time thinking and working on 2D designs, Ms Pickford decided to go from the virtual to the real.

"I thought it would be fun to try one design on myself," she said.

Having chosen the Draenei she had one big hurdle to overcome - how to fashion the hooves they have instead of feet.

As with many other makers, Ms Pickford was inspired by what she saw online.

"I saw a tutorial about how to make hooves and thought 'If they did it then I could easily do that myself'," she said.

She has returned the favour by recording her own three-part video series of how she turned a cheap pair of high-heels into convincing-looking hooves. All it took was time, chicken wire, papier-mache, plaster and a file.

Getting into so-called costume play also led Hazel Cogan, aka Silantre, to develop new skills. In her case it was sword-making because she decided to fashion a costume of key Warcraft character Arthas (aka the Lich King) as a birthday present for her sister.

Key to the costume is the runeblade Frostmourne and it took Ms Cogan three attempts to get it right.

Image caption,
Time and patience are essential when crafting a costume

"I've never made a sword before," said Ms Cogan. "The handle was not holding the weight of the blade so I had to put nuts and bolts in to fix it."

Although Ms Cogan learned a great deal while fashioning her own-brand Arthas she has learned more putting together a costume of a night elf druid.

In particular, she has become very skilful at using a soldering iron to put intricate and detailed designs on the suede which forms the costume. The hood of the costume is made from 260 separate scales of material.

Trickiest of all to emulate were the glowing blue eyes that are common among night elves.

"The torches for the eyes were really hard to find," she said. "Most were too big to make it look like my eyes were floating or not bright enough to shine through the veil or show up after a camera flash."

Ms Cogan eventually did find some torches small enough and attached them to a baseball cap with the peak cut off to ensure they would stay in place. A stroke of inspiration prompted her to use the inside of a KitKat wrapper as a reflector.

The result is a spot-on recreation of those glowing blue eyes that look decidedly uncanny when combined with the hood.

The attraction of cosplay does not just lie in the creation of the costume. The other pleasure is in dressing up and pretending to be someone else for a while.

Image caption,
Parts of the night elf costume took a long time to create and put together.

However, there are some perils involved in putting flesh on the digital bones of game and comic characters.

Ms Cogan, for instance, has suffered for her art and sports scars from glue guns and soldering irons she picked up while crafting her many costumes.

Similarly, Ms Pickford has often had a rough time dressing up as a Draenei.

"The shoes I picked to modify were not particularly comfortable in the first place," she said. "Once I had worn them for a few hours then my feet were destroyed."

The other problem is the attention that being in costume brings when she attends comic conventions or cosplay expos, said Ms Pickford. When dressed as a Draenei she often gets her tail pulled.

"They do not do it out of spite but they do not realise how delicate they can be," she said, adding that any costume has to be stress-tested before it is worn to a convention.

"You have to make sure it does not break at the last minute," she said. "I've got a friend who had made a massive amount of armour for an anime character and it broke as soon as he got to the convention."

And there lies the attraction of creating and wearing costumes. They are, said Ms Cogan, never finished but in a permanent state of refinement.

The same is true for Ms Pickford. She wants to re-do the Draenei costume and do it better and not just for the sake of her feet.

"I think I can do better because you always learn a lot from your first mistakes," she said.

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