Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Cosplay Goals

We may not consciously know why at the time, but everyone starts cosplaying for a reason and with a goal in mind. To really make the most of the experience though, sometimes we need to remind ourselves what we're in it for. Though some may argue certain goals are more “honorable” than others, there really is no real wrong answer to this question, and what your personal answer is might help you whenever you are trying to decide what to do next. Here's some examples of goals one might have for making a costume, and how best to see them through.

Gale as her all-time favorite character
Kaylee from Joss Whedon's Firefly
Honoring A Favorite
Be it a character, a series, an actor, a writer, or anything, one big reason to make a specific costume is because you want to honor and emulate something you love and admire. This is where a lot of us start, and where some fans are most comfortable and stay. If this is your primary goal and you aren't focused on competing you really don't even have to make your costume yourself. Find a friend or commissioner to make it, or a store that sells pre-made costumes to buy it from (just make sure you shop around for the best deal!).

Honing Your Skills
Maybe your main motivation right now is to simply better your skills. Figure out what you want to improve on, and find a costume that incorporates that. It could be a type of tool or material you've never worked with, or something you just don't have the hang of yet. Be sure to read the safety manual for all tools and don't be shy asking questions on forums. There are always people out there willing to help.

Anime Boston 2007 Cosplay Chess
Photo by David Ng
Making Friends
Every convention I go to seems to have dozens of fan-run meet-ups for popular series. This is a great way to meet people. Pick a character you can bring to a meet-up, and check out the forums (either the official forum or are good bets) ahead of time to see when and where the gathering will be.

Another great way to make friends is to get involved with events, such as cosplay chess or the cosplay dating game, at conventions. You can apply with a costume you've already made, or if you contact the coordinator early enough they might have suggestions of characters they really need for you to make. Just be sure you get the costume done in time for sign-ups!

Showing Off Your Work
Ok, a lot of us hate to admit it, but many cosplayers have an inner attention-whore that sometimes we can't help but let out. While there is nothing wrong with using this as a motivation for your work, I will stress that if your goal is to get attention from your cosplaying there is a right and a wrong way to do it. Nobody likes the annoying hyper kid who gets up in everyone's face saying “do you want to take my picture?” In contrast, if you put a lot of hard work into a very detailed costume, a unique and creative take on something popular, or organize a well-made large cast group you will get lots of attention and people will love you.

The balance is coming up with a character that is not so overdone that people won't care, but to make sure it is still known enough that people will recognize you. This is not actually as difficult a task as most people think. A great solution is to pick villains, secondary characters, or classic/old-school series characters who are very well known, but not always cosplayed. As mentioned before, of course, a well made full or nearly full cast of any series is always a hit. Some memorable groups I've seen are Tenchi Muyo, Pokemon (Indigo League), and Sailor Moon.
Dead Moon Circus - Best in Show Anime Boston 2009
Winning Awards
Again, a goal we don't love to admit, but sometimes this is a driving force for cosplayers. That said, if you do compete in a contest and come away empty handed it's not the end of the world and try not to take it personally. Remember to take pride in your work for what it is as well, and try to identify where your work can improve.

The key for maximizing your chances of an award winning cosplay is actually very simple (on paper, anyway): picking a detailed outfit with a reasonably high difficulty level for your skill catigory, and lots and lots of hard work. Depending on the size of the convention you are attending will dictate what the overall skill level of entrants there is like. Smaller cons tend not to be quite as competitive, however I must stress that I do NOT encourage people to take advantage of that just to get an easy award. Same goes for fudging your application and saying you're in a lower level than you rightfully should compete at. You know what level you are, don't take advantage of the system or your anonymity to get an unfair advantage.

That rant out of the way, back to how to make a competitive costume for a contest. A lot can depend on how long you've been competing and what level you are at. At novice level the first big thing to focus on is clean, finished seams. Make sure to use an iron and press your seams. Also don't forget to hem your edges, unless you are deliberately leaving them raw for some sort of effect. Once you've mastered that start working in details or techniques of higher difficulty.

If you're a journeyman, you're probably on the right track. Keep pushing yourself and trying new techniques: things like embroidery, leather-working, or wood carving that many people just don't attempt often will really give your costume an edge.

Gale as Miaka from Fushigi Yugi
Anime Boston 2011 - Photo by Ollie
At the master level if you want to win awards you have to pick costumes (and skit ideas) that are ambitious and require a lot of hard work. I usually try to start my competition cosplays anywhere from four to six moths before the convention. My Suzako no Miko Miaka (Fushigi Yuugi wallscroll) took me a total of about 80 hours spread from January to April before I debuted it at Anime Boston 2011. I read that the girls who won the hall contest that year put about 200 hours into their costumes (which were largely armor based). If you are more diligent than me you can probably get away with shorter work periods, however don't use that as an excuse to put off your work! The sooner you get it done before a con, the sooner you can troubleshoot and fix problems, or start on something new.

There are of course other goals one might have in cosplaying. I hope my few examples here have been some help, though. Figure out what your goals are and how to peruse them and it will make your cosplaying and congoing experience all the better.