To the uninitiated, the best cosplayers resemble wizards who can bring video game characters to life. But they are human, and their techniques can be learned by anyone. We spoke with two of the best cosplayers in the country, who were more than happy to share their secrets…
Two of the biggest stars on the Australian cosplay circuit are Clare “Henchwench” McCutcheon and Tim “Piltover” Nicholas. Clare and Tim have become regulars at Blizzard events, bringing to life characters like Mei and Soldier 76 from Overwatch, and more recently, the stars of the new World of Warcraft expansion, Battle For Azeroth.
In an effort to demystify their artistic process, Clare and Tim generously made some time recently to give some useful tips for aspiring hobbyists — and to share some of the most embarrassing disasters of their cosplay careers.
Something that both Clare and Tim told us is that the aspiring cosplayer should not be intimidated, as there is a wealth of online information and support available. Clare’s advice to cosplay rookies was as straightforward as it gets: “Read the book and follow the instructions.”
“The best thing that you can possibly do is just research. It’s so easy to look at all the crazy talented people out there and say ‘Gosh, they’re so amazing, they’re so talented.’ But a lot of it isn’t about innate talent at all. It’s just about research, and application of research. And just sticking with something, and not being discouraged at the fact that you may not make a perfect sword the first time.
“As long as you are following the instructions, and learning, you’re still getting something out of that. And you’ll come to it eventually, and that’s something that you can be really proud of.”
Tim wanted to make clear just how supportive the cosplay community is, and suggested that newcomers to the hobby shouldn’t hesitate to ask for help.
“I can’t think of any cosplayers that hoard and protect their cosplay secrets. We’re all in it together, to learn and grow. If you look at the state of how cosplay has grown over the years, everybody’s growing and improving together. And that comes from sharing knowledge.
“There’s not many of us out there that are professionally trained and keep going back to classes, and that kind of thing, to improve our skill set. It comes from learning from other people.”
Beyond materials and techniques, there are more subtle factors to consider. Clare stressed to us the importance of getting inside the head of the character you’re cosplaying.
“Don’t just copy the costume pixel for pixel — think of who they are, where they’ve been. How often would they wash their clothes? Do they iron their costume? Do they maintain their armour well? For example, I just made a Horde tabard for my Battle for Azeroth orc. I picked a very rough wool for the tabard, which I’ll roughly stencil and age with my airbrush.
“Conversely, in making the tabard for Scrap Shop Props’ Stormwind Guard, I picked a luxe velvet that’s being custom embroidered in gold. I try to make every material and technique choice while keeping the character and the world they inhabit in mind.”
Tim also pointed out that it’s important not to get over-awed by the publicity photos of your peers.
“What you see on social media is carefully curated and rarely reflects the reality of cosplay. Behind every perfect piece is a mountain of failures and scraps, days of stress, and dozens of stains, cuts, and burns. Just go at a pace that you enjoy, and don’t forget to remove yourself for a little while if it becomes overwhelming.”
That said, time management is an important cosplaying skill; Clare noted that failing to meet deadlines for competitions is one of the easiest pitfalls for new cosplayers to fall in to.
“Everything will ALWAYS take longer than you think it will — so budget your time accordingly. Write a schedule and stick to it, and if plans change then update your schedule; I like to use Google Calendar.”
As companies are moving away from using booth babes and using more and more cosplayers in their stead. Tim told us that if you want to promote yourself and get hired for events it’s very useful to put together a media kit.
“Something that’s effectively like a resume that shows your work off to people. So that you can obviously show them, in not only words, but in pictures, what value you can bring to them. So that they know that you’ve not only got the creative skills, but also the interpersonal skills as well.”
Even with the most meticulous planning, disaster can still befall any cosplayer, something Clare learned the hard way when she represented Australia at C2E2 in Chicago in 2017.
“I made a World of Warcraft orc shaman. The particular model I chose to cosplay has a tonsure; a shaved head with a ponytail. I’d packed bald caps, but when I was applying my makeup, every single bald cap broke.
“I ended up having to shave my hair off on the morning of the competition, which was a little devastating, given my hair was reasonably long at that stage — I’m still growing it out. It turns out that I’d packed acetone in the same luggage, and the slight vapour from that had been enough to destroy the bald caps. So I guess the moral of the story is: always pack carefully, and always have contingency plans.”
Coincidentally, Tim had a very similar experience.
“I had a bald cap split right down the middle just before I was set to be judged in my first cosplay competition and wound up hot gluing the cap to my forehead. Since then I’ve added a ‘beta test’ phase to my workflow to try and anticipate potential problems before they come up so I can be prepared for inevitable catastrophes.”
While his scalp recovered, Tim told us that he would absolutely not recommend anyone follow in his footsteps and hot glue anything to their head.
“Unless there was a significant prize on the line! [Laughs]”